If you run a small business or you are responsible for the social media strategy for the business, you could be forgiven for feeling a little anxious right now.

It seems that every large company out there has a powerhouse social media strategy, and that they are impossible to beat when it comes to reach and engagement.

But fear not, every small business has a place in the social media world, and all it takes to carve out your place is a little planning and a focus on quality. In this post, we will look at how you can carve out that spot.

Know your audience and where they are

Due to the fact that you have limited time and resources, you can’t afford to be slapdash in your approach, and you need to make a beeline for your specific audience. Thankfully, social media has its own groups and audiences that gravitate towards a certain platform. Take a look at the following list of platforms and their audiences, and you should be able to instantly work out where you need to invest time and money.

Teenage audience

Snapchat

Pros: Users know they won’t see an ad after it has gone. Snapchat is a single view application so your content and ads won’t be annoying.

Cons: It is single use so if you have audio, it could be misheard or even just missed.

Vine

Pros: Incredibly easy to use.

Cons: Incredibly hard to do it well.

YouTube

Pros: Huge audience, great for maintaining a presence on a small budget.

Cons: High quality videos now the norm and some companies can’t manage this.

Tumblr

Pros: Over 188 million individual bloggers on Tumblr, and you can communicate with all of them.

Cons: It’s time consuming. Tumblr users expect content throughout the day and that’s a lot of content.

Instagram

Pros: Over 200 million users. Enough said.

Cons: Poor integration with other social networks.

Soon-to-be wives and mums (as well as women in general)

Pinterest

Pros: Ability to share content from anywhere.

Cons: 80% of users are women (which is not actually a ‘con’ unless you have a male demographic).

Young parents and grandparents

Facebook

Pros: Keeps your visual branding front and centre.

Cons: Can be hard work to maintain your company page over time.

Business owners and executives

LinkedIn

Pros: If you provide products or services B2B, it’s the only place to be. Your audience has a budget, and they are all professionals.

Cons: Limited integration with other services and platforms.

Bloggers and some teens

Twitter

Pros: Massive and very easy to use.

Cons: It’s very busy. You need to work hard to be heard above all of the noise.

The list above may not be set in stone, but if you take it as a general lead, it should give you some idea of where you should be concentrating your efforts. The small B2B business owner who wants to generate thought leadership may turn to LInkedIn, for example. However, if they sell unique, artistic phone cases, they may want to go after the teenage audience, or hit Pinterest.

Identify which platform suits your business

This is a crucial step. Each platform is different, and we’re not talking just logos. For example, Facebook and Twitter are excellent platforms for businesses that can create (and quickly link to) unique content.

Instagram and Pinterest are at their best when they are used by companies who can take a very visual approach. This often works with company photos etc but really shines as a platform when you have beautiful products to sell that look great in photos.

Vine, Snapchat and YouTube are now becoming excellent channels for companies that have access to high quality video equipment and video professionals. If they can utilise video effectively, these channels are natural homes for them.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on channels that aren’t ‘made’ for you, but it does mean that you should choose a couple of channels to start with, and play to your strengths.

Start thinking about what you can bring to the table

Now that you have a clear idea of where your audience is and which channel to use, it’s time to start thinking about content. The biggest mistake small businesses make at this point is believing they don’t have any content.

You have more than you think. You have a business, which means you have customers. You can share customer stories.

If you sell products, you can post a picture of a new version, or share details of an update or patch. You can post some content about what’s it’s like to work in your office. Or you can scour your blog for articles that received the most traffic, and re-purpose them so you can add content to your chosen social media channels.

You can even look at any press coverage you have received and quickly share it online, a link on Twitter or Facebook is good.

And that’s before you start thinking about newsfeeds you can get involved in. Once you are hooked up to news feeds you can plan out a strategy of supplying your audience with relevant useful news on a regular basis.

And that’s before you start thinking about newsfeeds you can get involved in. Once you are hooked up to news feeds you can plan out a strategy of supplying your audience with relevant useful news on a regular basis.

Put all of this stuff together on a calendar or planner, and you have what is called a social media content plan. It’s simple, and it makes you feel better as a business because you know you have a lot of content you can put out there.

Now it’s time to get the mix right

If you head on over to Twitter (or Facebook) at pretty much any time of the day, you are certain to find a lot of promotional dross that businesses seem to think is appropriate. These promotional pieces are the social media equivalent of spam, and they fill up timelines and feeds all day, every day. It’s noise, and your small business doesn’t need to add to it.

There is a lot to be said for creating the right mix of social media content. This means creating a steady stream of content that has real variety in it. Avoid excessive self-promotional (or even mildly self-promotional) and make sure content is aimed squarely at your audience.

As a small business we recommend you follow the below guide when considering the mix of content you want to send out to your audience. Aim for something described below, and people won’t find your business annoying – and that helps quite a lot with your branding.

The mix:

Testimonials and reviews:

Head on over to your website and pick out some testimonials. Sprinkle them into your social feeds steadily over time and they will prove to be useful in bringing further engagement. Not too much by the way, no one likes arrogance.

‘Out of the blue’ stuff:

Fun pictures, quotes of the day, anything that shows your audience that you are a human company and that you like to laugh, cry and look at funny pictures too. This is something that should not necessarily be a daily thing, but once a week it works wonders for your engagement.

Self promotion:

This includes company news and links to your website. People don’t mind this as long as it happens around once a week. It has to be that infrequent. Check out those spammy Twitter feeds again and you’ll see the opposite – stream after stream of self-promotional content. You don’t want that, and your audience most certainly doesn’t either.

Social sharing:

Find those news feeds and locate those blogs, because one of the best ways to develop engagement is through the sharing of good stuff. Find content that resonates with you and your audience and post a link with a little comment from you. It keeps your feeds busy for a start and it also allows you to develop a reputation for quality content. This is important because sharing content is now very much a valid part of social media practice.

Develop a social personality that you only see on channels:

This means finding a graphic or caricature of yourself or your logo, and using that exclusively for your social channels. This can work wonders through providing your audience with a connection and an easy ‘mark’ of your presence.

Use contests:

These work by building engagement and also keeping your content varied and easy to digest. The outright winner for the best use of contests would be Starbucks, we think. Starbucks ran a simple competition where it asked its millions of followers to draw on a white Starbuck’s cup. The designs were submitted to social media with a hashtag (always helps). This massively drove engagement and at one point the campaign had well over 35 million likes on Facebook.

Here’s a link to the launch last year

Remember the golden rule here. Don’t ever spam your audience with constant self-promotional stuff. It will send them away in droves.

Keep everything small

It is important that a small business take its time on social media. We kind of touched upon this earlier in this post when we mentioned that it is best to focus only on platforms that fit your audience and your business model. But there are some businesses that can still choose from a few platforms quite legitimately.

If you are a small business and you are in this position, it is still advisable to start small. Get that content mix perfect, and ensure that you spend time getting to know one or two channels for a good few months before you start to expand.

There is good reason for this. Each channel has its own pitfalls and nuances that you need to get comfortable with before you enter every other channel under the sun. The best small businesses get used to their content cycles and their own levels of engagement with customers before they start to test out a new platform.

You may be a genius at using Pinterest, but it is a very different platform, even when compared to another visual platform like Instagram. Choose your two platforms to start with and spend time getting to know them. Once you feel like you are at least beginning to gain engagement and control, then start considering the use of other platforms.

It may be tempting to ‘be everywhere’ but this is only possible on social after you have ‘been somewhere’. Develop competence on a certain platform, and show your expertise with a comfortable cycle of content and engagement. Then once you have that engagement and your audience are genuinely happy to have you on the platform, start to venture out.

In summary, to ensure that you get on top of social media quickly as a small business, know your audience, chose the right platform, keep the content coming and ensure that you don’t overextend your reach.

It takes time to build a strong presence on social media but the above points will most definitely help. If you take your time and focus on building strong foundations, soon you will find that your business will have plenty of weight online. You may never reach the heights of Starbucks (Twitter followers 2.5 million and counting), but you can most certainly step up and enhance your own brand.