A recent STAPLES study found that while most small business owners are willing to use social media and know they ought to be using social media, more than a quarter don’t how it can help their businesses. An equal number consider themselves inadequate for using social media platforms.

Social media with all it’s complexity can be a scary place for a small business owner, and the idea of trying to market their company without having any experience of using various social media platforms can put them off altogether.

However, when a SME owner is determined to get to grips with social media and utilise it strategically, the business will reap benefits in no time at all. The Harvard Business Review Analytics Services (see graph below) recently conducted a survey of 2,100 organisations and asked them what they saw as the primary advantages of social media use and here are the results and feedback from the real world:

Harvard Business Review Analytics Services have shown that the benefits of using social media for marketing purposes are indeed tangible and appealing. Here’s what small business owners need to do to understand social media so they have the confidence to embark on the journey of socially marketing their products or services.

1. Start small

Although it sounds simple, it is extremely important. The first thing to do is to create an account for yourself on the social media platforms you intend to market your offerings on. Once you have picked a social platform immerse yourself into all that social media has to offer, understand the rules of opening a business account on the platform, get a feel of what type of content users post, what tone of voice they use, what posts get most interaction and most importantly think about your business and identify whether a big chunk of your target market uses that platform or not.

If not, it’s time for you to go to the next one until you find the platform that is most suitable. The point is: don’t spread yourself too thin across too many platforms otherwise you risk being overwhelmed with too much information.

2. Do a background check on your competitors

Small business owners do not need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to social media marketing. It is most likely that some of your direct or indirect competitors have already started promoting their business on social media. Try a Google search for their social profiles and investigate. Look at things like what they are posting and what followers react to and engage with, so that when you create your account you can be ahead of the game, in terms of what works and what doesn’t on social media in your field.

However, if you are a first mover among your competitors check out social media profiles of companies that are in the same industry. They might not offer the same products or services as your business but you can gather ideas from the way they approach social media marketing.

3. Know the key to social success

Right, you have started to get a feel of what social media is, what the industry is using it for, the content that goes out there, but you are stumped for ideas. What can you say or what can you do on social media that could impact your business in a positive way?

It’s alright to feel that way but it’s not okay to stay that way. Here’s why! Your target market is out there wanting to buy your product – you just need to allow them to find you and then creatively and strategically entice them to become your fans

Coconut Bliss – a small ice-cream company is an example of how you can do that. You might wonder: What can an Ice cream company do on social media? How could a relatively commonplace business achieve social proof, engagement, and ultimately sales?

This clever ice cream company successfully entices fans and keeps them interested by posting images of its products as primary content mixed in with promotions, polls, contests, and giveaways.

Their social success lies in keeping fans hooked by getting the balance right between posting promotional content and informative, fun content.

The question is : How can you keep this balance right ? The 80-20 rule is the answer.

4. Know the 80-20 rule

The 80-20 rule is known as the golden rule when it comes to using social media. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most commonly broken ones.

So what is the 80-20 rule? In a nutshell 80% of your posts should be informative — it can either be your own blog posts, images, videos or shares of other people’s posts, blogs, images or videos. Remember – these posts should be specifically orientated to your target markets’ hunger of information. Businesses waste far too much time sending tweets and posting messages about their brands which portrays them as self-absorbed and completely unaware of their customer’s needs – which is the main reasons why fans/followers will stop paying attention to what they say. 80 % of your posts must be informative. They should not be salesy in nature.

Then the remaining 20% of your posts can be promotional. You’ve earned your audience interest and trust at this point, so feel free to make the sales pitch.

5. Failing to plan is planning to fail

After doing your research in terms of what social media is, what platform is the best for your business, how your competitors market their business socially, what type of content you should be posting, you might decide that it’s time to finally go about creating a social page for your business.

Before you jump on this exciting adventure you need to pause for a minute ask yourself: What is it that I want to achieve by using social media?

Write down your goals and come up with ways to make them happen. Also think about how you want your business to look on social media, how often do you want to engage with social media, and what do you want your message to be? Do you want people to think of you as fresh and original, or safe and consistent?

If you want to monetize social media in a way that is meaningful and adds value to your business read the How to Generate Leads from Social Media eGuide.

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