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Social Media Marketing: Everything You Need to Know to Win More Customers

By Ivy Lamb, Manta Content Editor

This originally article appeared on Manta.com

19 ways to promote your small business on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and turn social followers into paying customers.

Social media marketing is a popular tool for small business owners. In a recent Manta poll, 45% of small business owners said they currently invest marketing dollars in social media. It’s easy to see why. Online platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others make it easy and affordable to connect directly with customers and build a following for your business.

But social media marketing only works if you’re strategic about what you post and where you post it. This guide will introduce you to the key principles behind successful social media marketing for your small business.

1. What is Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing is digital marketing strategy businesses use to build awareness and engagement with customers by posting on popular online platforms life Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Social media marketing is how a small business owner builds their brand online,” said author and small business expert Melinda Emerson. “There are many social platforms to choose from, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat. When utilizing social media, a business should develop and share content that is helpful, engaging, and not too self-promotional.”

2. What Are the Benefits of Social Media Marketing for Business?

Social media marketing comes with many benefits. It can help build loyal customers and keep your business top of mind with them. It can also help you better understand your customers.

“Through social media, a company can learn what clients want, what prospects are looking for, and how businesses can improve,” said Eve Mayer, CEO and owner of Social Media Delivered. “Years ago, businesses spent large amounts of money to engage focus groups to provide feedback about their products. Today, social media enables us to gather much of the same data for very little money and resources.”

3. What Does Social Media Marketing Involve?

Effective social media marketing starts with thinking about who you’re trying to attract and engage. When you post content, always ask whether it will help your customers in some way, and not just your business.

“I view social media as an ongoing conversation with people who are interested in you and your business,” said John Paul Engel, lecturer of entrepreneurship for the University of Iowa. “You should start with an idea of the market you are targeting and archetypes for your customers.”

Engaging in a conversation with your customers means sharing relevant posts, and not just promoting your business all the time.

“Many businesses who have done social media well have figured out that it is not about broadcasting promotions, products or services. It’s about getting people to know, like and trust your brand while building real relationships,” said Shana Haynie, co-founder and creative director of Vulpine Interactive.

4. How Does a Business Create Its Social Media Marketing Strategy?

Knowing your audience is the first step to creating your social media marketing strategy. Setting clear business goals is the second. After all, you can’t measure the success of your social media marketing unless you know what you’re trying to achieve.

“It’s easy to spend a ton of time posting, liking and commenting, and in return have little to show for it,” said Cyril Lemaire, managing director of digital marketing agency Traktek Partners. “Think about why you’re engaging in social media for your company.”

Some examples of goals you achieve with social media marketing:

  • Building awareness of your business
  • Getting feedback or suggestions from customers
  • Having customers review your business or recommend it to others
  • Promoting sales, specials or seasonal events
  • Driving more traffic to your website
  • Generating phone calls to your business
  • Collecting email addresses for your email marketing

Once you set your goals, you can track whether your social media accounts are helping you to reach those goals.

5. What is a Social Media Marketing Campaign?

“A social media marketing campaign is when you use a social media platform (like Twitter or LinkedIn) to reach a specific group of people during a defined time period with a specific business goal,” said Mayer.

A social media marketing campaign is where you apply your knowledge about your target audience and your business goals into a specific plan you can monitor over a specific period of time, and then adjust as needed in your next campaign.

6. How Do I Find Social Media Marketing Ideas?

Brainstorming social media content doesn’t have to be hard, it just takes a little time and effort.

“The easiest place for a business owner to find content ideas is to consider their customers,” said Emerson. “Why do they buy from you? Why do they need your product or service? What are your customer’s pain points? Once you answer those questions, you should have plenty of content ideas.”

When you’re coming up with ideas, keep in mind that certain platforms are better for certain types of content. Perryn Olson, marketing director at My IT, shared the strategy his company follows.

“At My IT, we use LinkedIn one to two times a day for thought leadership to clients, prospective clients, and potential partners. We tweet three to five times a day, and Twitter’s primary focus is SEO and content curation. We use Facebook as a scrapbook for the company,” he said.

7. Which Social Media Sites are Best for Small Business?

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn are among the most popular sites, and all of them are good for small business. But choosing the platform depends on the type of business you own. Some are better suited to certain industries than others.

“If you’re business-to-consumer and selling branded, aspirational products like fashion, consumer gadgets or cars, your business needs to be on Instagram,” said Min Fang, head of growth for Harper Partners. “If you’re a business-to-business company like us, LinkedIn is far and away the most important social media channel.”

When choosing your social platforms, be selective. You’ll have more success that way, said social media expert Mari Smith. “Ideally, pick one or two and go deep. Facebook and Instagram is a great combo for most businesses.”

8. Social Media Marketing with Facebook

Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms for businesses, and it’s easy to see why. According to the Pew Research Center, 68% of all U.S. adults are Facebook users, which makes it a great place to reach more customers online.

But according to Smith, organic reach on Facebook—i.e., the exposure you get for free—is down to roughly 1% to 6%, which means businesses need to allocate a budget for paid posts in order to reach a large audience. “The good news is Facebook offers the widest array of ad products, plus incredible granular targeting and remarketing,” she added.

Smith recommends creating a few pieces of long-form content for the blog on your website. “These should be educational, evergreen and highly shareable, if possible,” she said. Then, drive traffic to those posts using Facebook Ads. This can help you build your organic reach on Facebook by getting your target audience to engage with your content for free; you can then retarget these followers with paid ads.

Don’t forget to install the Facebook pixel on your website so you can measure conversions, Smith said. Here’s more from Facebook on how to use the pixel.

9. Social Media Marketing with Twitter

“Twitter is my favorite platform by far,” said Ivana Taylor, small business influencer and publisher of DIY Marketers. “Twitter allows me to ‘gently’ connect with some of the most influential people in the small business space.”

Taylor recommends using Twitter’s “lists” to network and gain exposure. Think of a snappy name (“Best SMB Media Outlets,” for example) and start adding people to that list. Users will be notified when you add them, and will often follow you. This is a better strategy than just following people.

“Twitter is an insanely great way to build relationships and generate leads—just don’t sell immediately. Take the time to get to know people,” Taylor added.

10. Social Media Marketing with LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great place to promote your business, especially if you own a business-to-business company.

“LinkedIn is often overlooked for marketing because it is not considered as flashy or exciting as other social media platforms,” Mayer said. “However, its users have the highest income level of any demographic on any major social media platform.”

If you want to market to high-income individuals, or other companies, you should consider LinkedIn. Non-profits looking for corporate support for volunteers and funding can also benefit from using LinkedIn as a fundraising tool.

Use company pages, updates and ads to promote your business on LinkedIn, and don’t forget about your employees’ pages. “Harnessing your staff to spread your company message is very powerful, especially for business-to-business and nonprofit organizations,” Mayer added.

11. How Much Does Social Media Marketing Cost?

“Social media marketing can be free or cost millions of dollars,” Mayer said. “The cost of social media marketing varies widely depending on needs, budget, objective and business goals.”

Some companies are on social media, but spend no money on social advertising. In that case, the only investment is time and labor. Meanwhile, some companies spend $100,000 or more because the audience is they want to reach is so large.

It’s not likely that a small, local business would have to spend that much, but you should always keep an eye on your budget. “These wildly varying costs are another reason to set your business goals and budget before starting to do social media marketing, and to review these costs often,” Mayer said.

12. What is a Realistic Social Media Marketing Budget?

Most experts recommend that you start with a small social media marketing budget, and then increase it as needed.

“I always recommend setting a $50 to $100 budget for your first campaign,” said Jason Parks, owner of The Media Captain, a digital marketing agency that works with small and medium-sized businesses. “You won’t necessarily get an order or a new client, but you will be able to gauge how long visitors are staying on your site and the type of interaction that is taking place.”

How much you ultimately spend depends on your overall marketing budget and goals, but it’s important to always test your ads before spending a lot of your marketing budget on social media.

“Do not spend a lot until you know what’s working. Start small, make some tweaks, and go from there,” said media relations consultant Christina Nicholson. “Even the best in the business switch things up and use trial and error to find the best results, whether with an ad or the audience being targeted.”

13. How to Increase Social Media Marketing Engagement

What if no one is liking or responding to your posts? That may be a sign you need to reevaluate your approach to social media marketing.

“If you want to authentically engage your customers on social media, you must first become an expert listener,” said Brad Wilke of Smarthouse Creative.

What does it mean to be an expert listener?

  • Pay close attention to what your customers post
  • Track your posts and try to replicate the best-performing posts
  • Learn from the posts that don’t get good engagement
  • Make a point to respond to customer feedback

“If they’re complaining, address the complaints,” Fang advised. “If people are praising the company, encourage them to share their experience with their friends! Regular engagement can reinforce positive attitudes about a company and create customers for life.”

14. What Are Some Good Social Media Marketing Hashtags?

Hashtags—words and phrases preceded by the “#” symbol and used to organize information on social media networks—are a great way to gain more engagement on social media, but only if you use them correctly. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are guidelines for choosing good hashtags for your posts.

“Get ahead with social media marketing by using hashtags—not just any hashtag, but hashtags that resonate with your audience, their interests, and problems they encounter,” said creative marketing consultant Michael Roach. “Business can also use hashtags to be part of a trending conversation or special event.”

For example, Roach said a small bakery or café could utilize hashtags based on the food items they sell, like #gingerbreadloaf, #lunchtime, #onthego, #thirsty or #quickbreakfast. Do some research to see which hashtags are popular—the more frequently they’re used, the more traffic you can capture.

15. Does Social Media Marketing Increase Sales?

Social media marketing can help increase sales, but it can take time to see positive effects.

“Social marketing efforts that are done consistently over time will absolutely generate business, but it’s not an overnight thing,” said Emerson. “It takes at least seven and as many as 21 quality interactions to turn an online connection into a paying customer. Social media credibility must be built over time.”

If you’re frustrated because you can’t tell whether social media is helping your business, then you need to set up tracking with tools like Google Analytics.

“Make sure you understand what role your social efforts play in your customer’s path to purchase,” said Brian Jensen, CEO of Congruent Digital. “We’ve found that for many industries, social plays more of an assist role, or acting as a touch point during either the awareness or consideration phase.”

16. Social Media Marketing vs Content Marketing

Perhaps you’ve also heard the buzzword “content marketing.” Content marketing refers to blogs, videos, photos and other kinds of content aimed at engaging and retaining customers with helpful or entertaining information. This kind if content is often posted on social media.

So, what’s the difference between social media marketing and content marketing?

“Social media marketing and content marketing are like two sides of the same coin,” said Taylor. “What distinguishes one from the other is where the conversation takes place.”

According to Taylor, social media content is shared on a third-party platform, with the goal of generating awareness and engagement. Content marketing is hosted on your own website, with the goal of generating inbound interest and conversions.

17. Should I Get Social Media Marketing Services Through an Agency?

Is it worth paying a digital marketing agency to help you with your social media marketing? That depends on how much you have to spend, how much time you have, and how comfortable you are with using social media yourself. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision.

According to Taylor, it’s important to set your own goals and outline a strategy. But you can get help in implementing your strategy (especially when it comes to technical tasks, like setting up conversion tracking), and identify areas where you will be personally involved.

“I think that too many small business owners think it’s an all or nothing game; either I do it all myself or I hire someone,” she added. “The real answer is that you can hire and automate specific administrative tasks so that you can focus on the most important work of all: build relationships.”

18. What Are the Most Common Social Media Marketing Mistakes?

“Many businesses make the mistake of solely marketing their product or only posting info and photos about their product, business or service,” said John Surdakowski, founder of Avex Designs. “Another common mistake is that businesses will throw a ton of money at social ads, without having a marketing strategy or plan.”

Aside from avoiding these common, big-picture mistakes, you should also take care when posting not to do anything that will make your business look unprofessional. Roach shared the following tips to avoid losing followers:

  • Always check your spelling and grammar. Social media posts with lots of grammatical mistakes can make you and your business look unintelligent.
  • If posting a link, make sure it works before you publish. A surefire way to lose followers is by posting content they can’t use, or has no value for them.
  • On social platforms, never argue or engage in heated discussions. Your business should position itself as a professional entity no matter what size it is.

19. What Should You Do When Social Media Marketing Goes Wrong?

What happens if you do make a mistake and anger your customers? Don’t downplay the problem, but don’t overact, either.

“Be honest and open when mistakes happen, apologize and move on,” Emerson said. “The beautiful thing about social media is that it moves quickly and people do not often recall mishaps unless you are a major celebrity.”

To learn more about social media marketing for your small business, download the Manta ebook, “Succeed With Social Media.”