“How to use Social Media to Promote your Business” is a very different question to “how to have fun on twitter?” , “how to make friends on Facebook?” or “how to get 10,000 followers on Instagram?”
In this post we are looking at using social media to promote a business. By that we mean using multiple platforms to drive the right kind of traffic to a website, generating interest and leads. What is the right kind of traffic? People who are interested in the service or product that the website is selling.
What is the point of Social Media?
For a teenager the point of social media is fun, fun, fun. Teenagers are adept at growing large followings based on their own interests and activities. Which doesn’t always translate to growing a large following for a business.
For small and growing businesses, Social Media offers an opportunity to engage in serious content marketing at a low cost of entry.
The key to success is to produce high-quality content that addresses a defined target audience. And that is what we are discussing here.
Which comes first, Website or Social Media?
There are exceptions to this rule, but we have always maintained that you need to own your internet presence. That means a website. Social media channels come and go, if they go, they take your content with them.
The overarching strategy should therefore be to use social media to engage potential customers and attract them to the website that is the focal point of marketing and information for your product or service.
Building a Social Media Presence
For a small business, the time you spend on social media marketing needs to be factored into the time you spend on the business. Most people attempting this take on too much and run out of steam before their social presence has been established.
We think that two social media platforms is enough for a small business to amplify their reach with regular posts containing useful and relevant content. More than two and you’ll need to think seriously about hiring a social media agency to run your accounts and create content.
An effective social media presence relies on a very large audience. So put the time and effort in to build that audience, you can’t buy it, you have to earn it through providing interesting or essential content focused on a single topic.
Which Social Media Platforms?
The only correct answer to this question is “The platforms where your target audience hang out”.
Do your research and do it thoroughly. Different businesses have very different audiences and there is no one size fits all approach.
If you can find content that you think is addressed to your target audience, you’re probably in the right place.
There are broad guidelines – LinkedIn is very much about the business community. Twitter has more communities than you can shake a stick at but content has to be short and the scrolling nature of the platform means that the engagement/impression ratio is around 1%.
Facebook allows longer posts and a richer experience but aggressively drives paid advertising as a means of boosting that engagement/impression ratio.
The message here is, define your audience with as much care as you did when you started your business.
How is my Content Found?
The use of hashtags is inextricably entwined with social media.
Hashtags take the form #keyword where the keyword is a term describing a feature of the article that you think you may benefit from being associated with.
Hashtags work very effectively on Twitter and Instagram, less so on Facebook.
The way to get value from your hashtags is to second guess what people might be searching for where they will be delighted if they find your article as a result. It’s as simple as that.
Some people try and invent their own hashtag but it’s a complete waste of time. If people search for the name of your company, you don’t need a hashtag to ber found.
Social Media Calendar
There has been a lot written about the one in seven rule or the 80/20 ratio. Most of it is rubbish, the principle you need to really pay attention to is that of providing value and engaging with your audience.
To that end, a social media calendar covering at least a month ahead is a great way of ensuring that you post regularly and with enough variety to be interesting. Always engage with your audience if they engage with you.
We recommend using a calendar to define a framework covering topics, and the distribution of content types. Frequency depends on your time and availability, but we recommend starting with three posts a week per platform.
Posts don’t have to be different across the platforms, remember that we’re really only interested in building an audience for your website because that’s where the selling happens.
A million likes may not generate a single sale if the audience are not encouraged to go to your website.
The One in Seven Rule
This is a dictum that suggests for every seven posts on a social platform, one should be selling and the rest content. The principle is right, the figures differ from business to business.
The fact is that nobody likes a barrage of sales material. The chances of maintaining a following this way are vanishingly tiny.
Our advice is to provide real value and opportunity for engagement in enough of your content to endorse the sales message when it comes.
For example. If I was looking for somebody to paint my house, I’d be favourably inclined towards a painter that posted about paint types, about how to deal with damp, about how many coats of paint are needed for brickwork and so on. The fact is they would have built up a degree of trust.
On the other hand I would quickly pass by a painter whose content consisted entirely of special offers.
Types of Content
Despite the witterings of the commentariat, there is no silver bullet for success in social media. The key is to find the type of content your audience like to consume and work on that basis. Ideally a rich mixture of video/text, image/text.
There is no doubt that images attract clicks and video/animation attracts more, but a message still needs to be conveyed and the media is not in this case, the message.
The broader types of content are defined by their function – broadcast and reposts. Broadcast is you addressing your audience and includes direct sales messages as well as informative and useful original content.
Reposting content is a great way to drive engagement and on some platforms increase your followers.
Never forget that content is a two-way street. You should look to engage your audience by asking questions or eliciting comments. For example, a good source of engagement is news relevant to your sector.
If you are for example in education, then reposting or quoting content concerning a controversial government announcement is topical and if you can stimulate engagement then it’s a win for you and your audience. This works pretty much across the board.
We have found across many types of businesses that a post with an image and a snappy tagline is more likely to be read than a text-only post. That is really the only truism.
We’ve had a lot of success with 360° images in the property market, and with video in the corporate world. Animation is a great vehicle for explaining things.
The key with social media is that time is short and you’re competing with pictures of puppies. You have to connect within a couple of seconds or you’ve lost out to the puppy.
Meta Business Suite
At the time of writing, Facebook offers some advantages and a fair number of disadvantages. The advantages are that it has a vast audience, the disadvantage is that in almost every way it’s a mess.
Meta Business Pages have replaced the old Facebook Business pages and functionality is being transferred. The idea is that the platform has become advertising centric and the Business pages will be the place that you buy and compose advertisments, create content and view statistics.
Unfortunately, the Meta interface is horrible and direction muddled but the adience is too large to be ignored.
Advertising includes ways of boosting items of content (a waste of money in our opinion), promoting pages (good), likes (absurd) and website visits (valuable). Because of the size of the audience and the data facebook retains about thier users, the platform is capable of precisely targetting the recipients of ads around geography, income, sex, habits and interests (based on their users interests and viewing habits).
This makes Meta very effective indeed for some types of business.
The Facebook (Meta) Pixel
Facebook enables the tracking of individual user’s viewing habits outside of facebook via the Facebook pixel. This gave it the ability to promote advertisments to people who have already visited the website. A clear advantage. However, this practice has been targetted by privacy law and interest groups and will be discontinued.
The Facebook CAPI
This is being positioned as a replacement for the Facebook pixel – it does allow some of the detailed tracking capability that the pixel supplied but it all happens at the server side rather than the browser.
This makes it easy to track things that go through the server like transactions, but harder to track events outside the system like visits to other websites..
It also encourages advertisers to share data with Facebook that identifies individual users – so you can for example upload an ‘audience’ defined by email address. When an online form is filled in an email address is supplied and the API is able to capture that data on the server. Very useful indeeed.
Our view is that Facebook treads a very thin line along the edges of what is ethical with this technology. Undeniably effective, maybe, but in developing this technology Facebook have shifted the responsibility onto individual advertisers to decide where the line is. The direction of travel is predictable.
Facebook is a unique case in that people rarely use it to search for information – you have to rely on the algorithm that populates your feed to promote your content. And that is tricky.
To gain significant traction you’ll need to run some advertising. On the plus side it’s affordable and if handled correctly can be very effective, but it’s not free.
You can use Facebook pages to feature original content, to promote events and to sell directly to your existing customers.
The key to a successful page is to feature a variety of content so that the scroll looks as if it is worth further investigation. Use the pinned post function to promote a forthcoming event at the top of the page.
Make sure that users have a way of navigating to your website from the Facebook page. Remember, we’re driving traffic to the website, not the other way around.
Some people have success with Facebook Groups as a way of corralling interest in a topic and promoting discussion, groups are a very effective adjunct to a Business page.
Not everybody likes Twitter, but we like it a lot. The reason is that it is perfect for a particular type of content – links to a website. A Tweet can consist of words, video, images, there is a huge variety of audience and the smart operators use their keywords to populate the description that is positioned at the top of your profile.
The ratio of views to profile visits is small, and of profile visits to website smaller but given the flow – see an interesting tweet -> click to the profile -> if that is interesting check out their website, the clicks through to your website are disposed favourably to your content.
You can inspect the essential stats – likes, retweets and comments on each individual post so it’s very easy to see what content is working for you. More detailed and useful statistics are provided on every tweet, covering
The number of times your content has featured in feeds
Total number of times users have interacted with a Tweet. This includes all clicks anywhere on the Tweet (including hashtags, links, avatar, username, and Tweet expansion), retweets, replies, follows, and likes.
The times people have viewed a detail about the tweet
The number of times people have clicked through to your profile to find out more about you.
The number of times people have followed you after reading a particular tweet.
Instagram started life as a photo sharing app and evolved into a fully fledged social network with some help from being acquired by Mata (Facebook). There are two types of post, images and video and the platform also hosts IGTV which is intended to compete with TikTok and other video based channels.
For brands with a distinctive visual identity, Instagram is excellent and we would recommend it highly.
The disadvantage is that it is harder to provide content that leads the viewer back to your website because the pkatform doesn’t allow you to embed links other than in the profile.
For corporates, LinkedIn is the motherlode of socil media marketing. Very little trivia, lots of serious business chat (and incomprehensible technobabble posted by mammoth IT companie’s luckless employees).
LinkedIn is possibly the first place to look if you want to build and nurture serious business relationships and opportunities.
LinkedIn Business Pages
Introduced around five years ago, Business pages were intended to act like Facebook pages. They have never worked particularly well for us. What does work is solid informational content offering an original take on subjects that interest the target audience, posted either on a personal profile or a business page. As such it should be a part of every service based business’s online marketing strategy.
Like every other platform, LinkedIn favours its native content by which I mean that it wants what goes on in LinkedIn to stay in LinkedIn. You can provide content (with links) in the form of a LinkedIn Article that peope can read in the platform or you can paste a URL which will take people out to your website.
As the second most used Search Engine in the world, YouTube has morphed from a video channel to a fully fledged social platform with formidable reach. Check out our article on SEO Tips for YouTube to get the best results.
From the business perspective content that is useful to people wins hands down against content that is purely artistic. Many companies now run a YouTube channel as a primary social media platform and generate massive engagement and brand awareness from visual content.
Social Media Management Tools
As I mentioned at the top of this article, Social Media takes time and energy to do well. Low quality content abounds and it is better to post infrequently than to provide poor content.
Helping us to marshall our social media resources, a number of platforms have sprung up that make the business of posting and scheduling easier and more timely.
We used Buffer for many years. It boasts excellent integration with Facebook and Twitter and very poor integration with Instagram. As with all of these platforms, there is a free offering to whet your appetite and various levels of paid offering with extra tools, account and post limits.
Hootsuite is where we started with social media management. A 30 day free trial entices you towards a £39 a month subscription. We ditched it for Buffer, but don’t let that influence you. If you can afford the fees, Hootsuite is very well designed and feature rich.
Our current favourite, Publer seems to have solved most of the problems affecting Buffer and is way cheaper than Hootsuite.
The benefot of using a social media management tool is that you can write content once and post to multiple channels. In addition, you can schedule posts and some platforms use AI to work out the optimal time to post.
Optimising Post Timing
This is a minefield because different platforms have very different user behaviours dictated at least in part by the functionality of the platform itself.
Twitter for example runs hundreds of posts into a feed that refreshes in real time. This means your post has a lifetime of maybe ten seconds max before it is buried in the public feed. Your followers will receive the post in their private feed and that will extend its life depending largely on how many people they are following.
Your best followers will actually check out your profile from time to. time and there, the posts have infinite life- at least on the front page.
Facebook posts have a longer life owing to the format of the platform. If you advertise, you can guarantee substantial exposure.
Instagram posts are largely dependant on the viewing device – your profile displays the posts in order of post time. The hashtag function works like a search engine – people search on words for content so success on this paltform is very much centred around hashtag use.
Optimal posting times are therefore driven by user behaviour which s in part influenced by the characteristics of the platform. We try to post at times when our audience is not working. eg, from breakfast to just after they arrive at work, lunchtime, around 5pm and in the evening after supper time.
As you can see, social media marketing can become fairly complicated. We’ve talked about a handful of channels that we have a good experience with. There are many more and we haven’t tried them all.
Our advice is keep an eye on the prize at all times. Your website is the only content you own.
If its not driving traffic, it’s not working well for you
And don’t forget – Have fun!