It wasn't so long ago that social media was a completely new thing. Four years ago, when we started Advice Interactive Group, many people didn’t know what social media was let alone the effect it would have on all of our lives. It was an exciting interactive medium which suddenly took the world by storm to such an extent that it became something that no business, small or large, local or global, could afford to ignore. Today, there are more than 1.28 billion active users on Facebook alone, currently the world's most popular social network. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and various other social media sites have hundreds of millions of active users as well.
Social media is effectively a platform for conversation and sharing, powered by services such as the ones mentioned above. While one of the major uses of social media is keeping in touch with friends and relatives around the world, it is also a platform for customers, investors and employees to communicate with one another, and this is where the enormous and ever-growing industry of social media marketing comes in. From this point forth, we will refer to social media marketing by its popular abbreviation, SMM.
Succeeding With Social Media
SMM is all about being present and engaging your target audience directly, but at the same time, the medium is largely unorganized and uncontrolled. In order to succeed, you will need a strategy which helps you to reach out to the right audience and join in with the global conversation that is social media. If you have yet to be convinced of the enormous potential that social media offers to small businesses, consider the following facts:
Now that you have an idea of the prevalence of social media and its rapidly growing influence, let's take a look at some of the key ways in which social media can help you connect with your target audience:
The above cites some of the key reasons to get involved in SMM, but there are many more depending on the type of business you are operating. Local businesses can also make extensive use of social media platforms targeted specifically towards traditional high-street businesses. Sites like Google Places, Bing Places, Yelp and Foursquare, among others, help you to show up in local search results and online or mobile maps. What's more is that all of the above is absolutely free to use, and while there are also paid SMM methods, the free ones are far too valuable to neglect.
1 - Understanding the Social Media Marketing Process
Small business marketers often find the prospect of online marketing a daunting one, not least because it can be difficult to know which areas to focus on. SMM is an extensive subject with a complex hierarchy which you will need to familiarize yourself with in order to plan your strategy. As is the case with many forms of online marketing, SMM typically starts with your website:
SMM starts with extensive planning, followed by research into your target audience. You will then need to move your focus to engaging your audience while publishing content (content marketing) and promoting it on your various social networks while also encouraging your audience to do the same.
2 - Social Media Networks to Use
While just about everyone has heard of the largest social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, there are many others worth a mention to. This chapter takes a look at the world's most popular social media platforms and how they can help small businesses with their social marketing campaigns.
With 1.28 billion active user accounts in March, 2014, Facebook is by far the largest social media platform in the world providing both paid and free marketing opportunities for businesses small and large.
The social networking and microblogging platform Twitter has 200 million active accounts, and it is particularly popular for businesses, entrepreneurs and celebrities to provide short, regular updates.
Google+ has 540 million active accounts, making it the second-largest social media site in the world. Most importantly, Google+ integrates with Google's other important services for both businesses and individuals.
LinkedIn has 277 million users, and unlike Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, it is specifically aimed towards a professional market consisting of both individuals and businesses.
Thanks to its unique, visual approach towards social media, Pinterest already has well over 70 million active users and counting. Both individuals and businesses can use Pinterest for sharing visual bookmarks known as 'Pins.'
Another primarily image- and video-based social media website, Instagram has more than 150 million active monthly users making it one of the most popular services of its kind.
Though not primarily a social networking website, the world's third most visited website and the most popular video sharing resource, YouTube also integrates important social features making it too important to ignore.
The above social networks largely revolve around building up relations and sharing content, but the list certainly doesn't end here. Another important type of social media is social bookmarking, a type of service which allows users to add, annotate and share content from elsewhere on the Web. Though the most of the above sites also facilitate social bookmarking, there are a number of other websites which deal primarily with this area of social media. Some of the most popular include Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious. These sites provide you with a useful platform for promoting your content.
Many other countries and geographical areas also have their own social media networks, some of which have hundreds of millions of users. For example, VKontakte, often dubbed the 'Russian Facebook' has around 250 million users mostly in Russia and the former Soviet republics, while China has its Qzone social network with almost half a billion users.
3 - Dos and Don'ts of Social Media Marketing
While incorporating SMM into your business's marketing strategy is of utmost importance in today's increasingly online world, the process is not always an easy one, and many businesses fall victim to some of the common SMM mistakes. The following takes a look at some of the most important dos and don'ts of SMM:
As the above notes point out, SMM differs immensely to traditional advertising. These days, consumers are far more likely to respond to things like recommendations based on shares and likes on social networks, and getting involved in the discussion is critical for small businesses to stay competitive in a constantly evolving marketplace.
4 - Taking a Local Approach with Your Social Media Marketing Efforts
As a small business with a physical location, it is essential to take a more localized approach when building up your online presence. While most of the world's largest global companies also have a strong presence in the world of social networking, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be using social media to market a traditional bricks-and-mortar business as well.
The first place to start is to claim your profiles on the most important resources for local listings. It costs nothing to claim your local profiles, and you should have them all up and running within a few days once you have verified that you are the real owner of your business. Some of the most important social resources for claiming your local profiles include the following:
You should also be sure to optimize your other social media platforms for a local audience. For example, you can create a Facebook Page for a local business or place and use Facebook Places, and most other social networks also allow you to specify your location and company address so that people can more easily find you when carrying out local searches.
Once you have defined your community and established your presence on social media, you will need to keep your online social activities at a high professional standard in the long term. To more effectively manage your SMM campaign, you'll need to continue to research your audience to determine when is the best time to post and engage. You will also need to track your performance through tools such as Google Analytics and by listening closely to customer feedback and keeping in touch with current trends. Above all, approach your audience in the right way, using the tips included in this guide, and over time you will be able to strengthen your relationship with your customers and reach out to new ones.