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Using social media for business print Print

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Social media is used by many businesses as a marketing tool. But if you’re not smart with how you use social media, you’re unlikely to efficiently achieve the results you need. Don’t worry if you don’t know a re-tweet from a hashtag: this article will guide you through the important considerations for using social media to grow your business.

Social Media for business

Social media is used by many businesses as a marketing tool. But if you’re not smart with how you use social media, you’re unlikely to efficiently achieve the results you need. Don’t worry if you don’t know a retweet from a hashtag: this article will guide you through the important considerations for using social media to grow your business.

We’ll cover:

    • What goal are you trying to achieve when using social media?
    • And how do you know if it’s working?
    • The benefits of social media
    • The time and cost involved, including paid advertising
    • Which social media platform to choose
    • What to post

What goal are you trying to achieve when using social media for your business?

Don’t use social media just because every other business does. Without a clear goal, you are unlikely to have a winning strategy when using social media. But with a clear objective in mind, you’ll know why you are posting content, which will guide you in everything else – who you’re targeting, what to post, and how to measure whether it’s working or not.

We can’t overstate this: be clear on what you want to achieve before you start using social media. Just like any other marketing channel you use, have a defined objective, such as to:

    • Boost your online presence. Some businesses set up a Facebook profile in lieu of a website: a Facebook profile is free (no hosting fees, no domain name fees etc.) and in comparison to the effort involved in maintaining a website, it can be a simple, low maintenance way to house relevant business information such as opening hours and location.
    • Build better relationships with your existing customers.
    • Attract new customers.
    • Drive visitors to your business’ website to help drive interaction and sales. For example, you can list the winners of a social media competition on your website, so that when you announce the end of the competition on social media, you can drive traffic to your website.

The section on the benefits of social media below expands on some of the objectives you may want to achieve.

How do you know if it’s working?

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can determine how to measure the effectiveness of what you’re doing.

For example, if your purpose is to drive visitors to your website, you could measure the effectiveness of your overall strategy, and individual posts, against this objective, for example by measuring the percentage of people who you reached with your post who clicked through to your website as a result.

On most platforms it’s easy to measure the basics, such as how many people you’re reaching with your posts and how many people are interacting with them (i.e. liking, re-tweeting, sharing and commenting on the posts).

There are tools that let you do a deeper analysis too. Facebook Insights (a tab you’ll see on your business’ profile page), LinkedIn Analytics and Twitter Analytics will all let you measure efficacy based on key objectives.

On the one hand, it’s worth remembering that social networking is a process, not a destination, and it often takes time and effort before it starts to pay off.

On the other hand, be honest with yourself. If your social media efforts aren’t giving you results you want, even after you’ve tried various tactics, is it worth pursuing?

5 benefits of social media for business

Why has social media become a key marketing channel for so many businesses? Here are 5 benefits it can offer:

1. Increased visibility

Every chance you have to increase your businesses visibility is valuable. Your social media networks can be seen as channels for your business’ voice and content. This is important because it simultaneously makes you more accessible for new customers, and makes you more familiar and recognisable for existing customers.

As mentioned above, for business owners who use social media in a more basic way, a social media platform can be used in lieu of a website.

For advanced social media business owners, an example of this could be that a frequent Twitter user hears about your company for the first time only after stumbling upon it in a newsfeed. Or an otherwise apathetic customer becomes better acquainted with the business after seeing it’s presence on multiple social media platforms.

2. Accessibility

It can allow you to communicate with a large number of people in a short space of time, with a few taps on the keyboard or phone. It’s accessible for businesses of all shapes and sizes across almost every industry.

3. Business insight

On social media people talk about a great coffee they had at a certain café, or they moan about the awful service they experienced at their local garage. If you’re not on social media, you’re not giving yourself the opportunity to listen to what customers and prospects are saying about your product or service. But with a social media presence you are giving yourself an extra communication channel: you can listen to what your customers are posting about your business, your competitors and your industry – and can step in and join the conversation if necessary.

Note that in practicality, this only works if customers address their posts directly to you (or your competition if you’re researching this). There are tools that allow you to seek out what people are saying about a particular topic or brand name on social media, but it’s mainly very large international companies that use these tools; the volume of conversation and associated insights are unlikely to be valuable to a small business and the cost is likely to be off-putting.

4. Voice of the customer

Which brings us to the next key point: with social media you can have two-way conversations with your customers. Unlike many other marketing channels, it’s not just you broadcasting your message to your target audience. With social media, you can ask questions, respond to comments and build a relationship with your customers.

5. Cost

While it is not free, it can be cost-effective at reaching your customers and prospects, compared with traditional marketing channels.

Social media takes time

Although it doesn’t cost anything to set up, don’t make the mistake of thinking that social media is free. If you or one of your staff members is spending time updating your business’ social media channels, responding to posts and participating in group discussions, that’s time not spent doing other, potentially more productive, things. It’s important to think about how much time spent on social media for your business is worthwhile.

Cost also comes in the form of paid promotion.

Paid advertising on social media

Reaching your customers is not necessarily free; on Facebook you will only reach a very small percentage of your fan base – Facebook claims this is approximately 16%* - unless you pay to promote (boost) your post. Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are also following suit.

So to reach a wider audience you may need to invest money – that is, to pay for advertising. Paid advertising also allows you to target particular audiences, based on location and interests for example. This means you can pin-point your advertising to find potential customers within your target audience.

You have some options:

    • Boosting some of your most popular posts, so that they reach a greater audience than people who follow your business profile. On Facebook, these appear in people’s newsfeeds as sponsored posts.
    • You can write ads that appear either in people’s newsfeeds or in other areas of the social media platform. Some platforms offer assistance with advertising; for example, Facebook has a useful advertising guide for businesses.

Social media may be an effective investment, especially compared to some other marketing channels, but it’s worth remembering that this isn’t free.

Which social media platform should you use?

With such a range of social media platforms - from Instagram to LinkedIn to Pinterest - which should you focus on?

The main thing you’ll need to consider is what platform your customers use. Are your target customers millennials who check their Snapchat account every 2 minutes? Or professional women in their 40s who use LinkedIn extensively? Given the large following on Facebook – it’s definitely the dominant platform in terms of the number of people who use it - you may be safest establishing a presence there.

There’s definitely the danger of spreading yourself too thin by trying to handle too many social media platforms. So start with just one channel if you’re a social media newbie. When you’ve got the hang of it - and if it’s getting you results - think about expanding to others.

Here’s an overview of some of the more common social media platforms, and examples of how some businesses are using them:

    • Facebook has mass appeal and is New Zealand’s most popular social network. 1.9 million New Zealanders use Facebook each day on an average of 14 times per day**. While the tone is social, it is also useful for business purposes. The Warehouse uses Facebook extensively to promote things like their New Season Clothing event and to run competitions for their followers. ANZ runs a free create and optimise your business Facebook page workshop where you can find out more.
    • LinkedIn has a business-oriented focus; it connects people on a professional level. Professional services businesses such as accountants often use LinkedIn to connect with clients and the wider market and to stay up to date with or publish industry research and news. For more on LinkedIn, attend one of our free workshops on how to set up your business’ LinkedIn profile.
    • Twitter is a mircroblogging site, where your updates, known as tweets, must be in 140 characters or less.
    • YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram are video and photo sharing sites where you can create how-to videos, product demonstrations and share great photos of your business’ products or services. Mitre 10 has a YouTube channel that’s packed with DIY videos.

What should you post on social media?

Here are the top tips and a few taboos when posting on social media:

1. Follow others

Follow businesses similar to yours, and brands that you admire, to see what they’re doing well. Take a look at what makes their posts engaging and how their customers interact with the content.

2. Think what will engage

Get your message across with simple, snappy wording and engaging pictures. Rule of thumb is to use images or video where possible and before posting, always ask yourself ‘why would my audience care or share this content?’

For more on what kind of posts other businesses think are engaging their audiences, check out our article on social media in action: NZ businesses doing it their way.

3. Don’t over-post

You don’t want to overwhelm your readers by cluttering up their newsfeeds. Your post will show up in your followers’ newsfeeds in between posts from their friends about their recent holiday, and messages from family about the great weekend they’ve just had. Think about what you can post that will be interesting and will capture people’s attention when they’re scrolling through their newsfeeds.

4. Don’t go for the ‘hard sell’

On social media, people generally have less time for posts that push a sales agenda. The most effective business pages focus on building rapport and sharing relevant, engaging posts. But don’t hide your products and services. Having advised against the hard sell, it would be odd not to mention your products now and then. Many businesses attract followers by offering incentives such as competitions, special offers and free samples. For example, a café could offer two free coffees for the person who correctly answers a trivia question related to the business or industry.

5. Make meaningful connections

You need to build trust with your audience. If someone posts a comment about your business, respond to show that you’ve listened and appreciate their feedback. Social is not simply a broadcast channel and it’s important to respond to customers who take the time to mention you.

6. It’s not all about you

You don’t have to post just about your business; commenting on topics of interest in your wider industry, and topics that may appeal to your audience, will give you much more scope to engage people. Be careful about what you say. Avoid commenting on current events or disclosing political or religious affiliation unless you are certain it isn't going to damage your reputation or offend followers.

7. Proof Read

It seems simple, but it’s incredibly important to read over any posts to make sure they make sense or aren't likely to be misinterpreted by readers. Double-check your spelling and punctuation before posting. If in doubt ask a staff member or friend to read it before you post.

Summary and next steps

By now you’ll know that before you start thinking about using social media, you need to have a clear goal in mind. It costs time, and most likely money too, but can be worth the investment.

Learn more about using social media for your business by going to a free ANZ workshop:

*Facebook for Business insights:

**Presentation by Head of Facebook New Zealand, Spencer Bailey in a presentation on 22 April 2015.

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