The Internet is making meaningful and paradigm-shifting inroads into the way we live our lives.
Did you know that in the last three years, one in six marriages were the culmination of relationships started online?
"Four out of every five corporations in America are now leveraging social media to help expand their client base and build relationships with customers," writes Sujan Patel, author of 100 Days of Growth.
As a small business owner, what do you need to know to make social media work for your business? What do you need to do? Here's a crash course in social media marketing.
Learn Social Media Management Software
Software will make managing your social media accounts easier and faster. And better, frankly. There are bunch of good options out there to choose from and many of them are intuitive enough that you can learn them in a day and start using them.
"Hootsuite and Buffer are good beginner apps that cover the vast majority of social accounts and are easy to navigate, while tools like Narrow.io and Twibble serve more specific functions," writes Patel.
Which tools you choose should be dictated by your businesses social media needs and your level of tech know-how.
At first, you will use your social media management software just to schedule posts on your different social channels. And you'll use them to see who is mentioning you or Tweeting at you. You'll use them to see who is complaining about you. You'll use them to answer those complaints.
Social media management software is getting better and adding new functions all the time. And as you become a social media master, you'll continue to learn how to use this kind of software better.
"You have better things to do than execute the same repetitive tasks over and over again. When it comes to social media marketing, automation is everything," writes Patel.
You can have new content on your website automatically tweeted out with a link. You make it so that you can automatically mention other users in your messages. You can have automatic messages that reply to direct messages. You can automatically post links from another expert's website.
Maybe most important to a small business owner short on time: You can make it so that posts that publish on Facebook (or any other platform) automatically also publish on your LinkedIn page or your Twitter account or whatever other network you use.
"The bottom line is this: the more you automate, the more time you have to manage other aspects of your business or create great content for your posts. Simply put, it's a must do for active business owners," writes Patel.
Automation is great, but it can also be a pitfall. You still need to authentically participate and engage with people. You still need to be human with the people you are connected to via social media. Automate, certainly, but also make sure that you are flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of your clients and the evolving relationships you are creating.
Know Your Numbers
Is your social media effort paying off? Are more people engaging with you? What kind of messages does your audience respond to best?
You'll need analytics to figure this out. And you'll need an analytics tool that you can use and easily understand.
"One great example for Twitter users is The Archivist. This tool allows you to track hashtag campaigns, capture tweets during a conference or sports event, or analyze who you have been mentioned by and how they found you," writes Patel. "Use analytical tools like these to track how many followers you've gained and lost each week, which tags are working and why, and what your followers are most interested in, within each network."
Being able to understand your Google Analytics is important. Spend some time there. Do some experiments. If you find that the way that information is displayed in Google Analytics isn't straightforward enough, maybe you should invest in a tool like Chartbeat, which will show you-with a simple interface-what your real-time website traffic looks like and where it is coming from.
According to Patel, there are three things that no one can resist: free stuff, being famous, and being right.
"Run weekly contests, have a live Twitter debate using your own custom hashtag, or post the best picture from your top followers on your Instagram and Facebook feed each day for the digital world to see," writers Patel. "Don't just put up posts to try to grab the attention of others. Make it interactive and fun."
You can also get some high quality engagement by asking your social media network for help. Let them tell you what they want from your new product. Let them choose between options.
Frito-Lay asked their fans to create new potato chip flowers and, in 2014, they got more than 14 million suggestions.
Do Some Good
People want to feel good by doing good. And if your brand can offer that, like TOMS shoes, it's a great way to connect with people online.
People will want to share something they've done that is charitable in way that they might not want to share something they've done just for themselves.
Try, Then Reinvent
No one can really tell you what your network will respond to. You have to try things-different content, different media-and see what your audience likes or doesn't like.
Patel suggests that everyone try a challenge where over 30 days you post whatever content you can come up with that you think your audience might like. Be creative. Take (healthy) risks. Then look at your analytics and see what worked. Use what you learn to come up with a strategy. Readjust. Reinvent.
Maybe your audience is really into beautiful imagery. Or maybe they are really into how-to information. You won't know until you try it.
"No one article can truly make you a master of social media marketing on its own," writes Patel. "Your audience will tell you how to iterate your campaigns - all you have to do is listen."
image via Shutterstock