When it comes to your online presence, knowing where to start can be a challenge. On one hand, social media allows you a platform unlike any other that makes it possible to become an overnight success, yet on the other hand, it’s also chockfull of people and competitors all vying for the same thing. It can sometimes feel like a losing battle and massive waste of precious time, and just when you think you’ve learned the trick, the rules can all change. Sounds exhausting already, doesn’t it?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Erin Benzakein of Floret Flowers aboard to share some of her insight on everything life and business, from reasons why you should be the face of your business and how to grow a great team. This week, we’re wrapping up the series with the two-word phenomenon that nearly everyone knows about and uses, but few learn to harness: social media.
Erin would rather spend her days in the flower fields, far away from a WIFI signal or a smart phone, but as a business owner reliant on her community, she also knows how important and powerful social media is to maintaining and increasing the success of her brand. The key, for her, is all about working smarter, not harder; focusing and maximizing her efforts online only where they’ll count. In a time when the list of apps and platforms grows daily, Erin encourages mastering just a few rather than all. Today, she’s capping off her series with some tips, tricks and platform-specific nuggets of wisdom that she personally uses and lives by when it comes to the beast that is social media. –Sabrina
When you’re a small business owner, it can often feel like you’re barely keeping your head above water. There are emails to answer, calls to return, customers to make happy, supplies to order, new products to create, budgets to balance… and the list goes on and on. There never seem to be enough hours in the day, and social media marketing ends up becoming just one more task on an already overcrowded to-do list. With so many new platforms cropping up and frequent changes to the networks we all use daily, it oftentimes feels like a losing battle. It’s no wonder why so many small business owners have such a love/hate relationship with social media. As the options continue to increase and the rules keep changing, it can leave your head spinning.
I work with hundreds of budding and established business owners every year and some of the things I hear most often when we’re discussing online marketing are “I know social media is important, but I have no idea where to start.” “I’m just so overwhelmed!” “Is it really worth the time and effort? Will it actually help my bottom line?” “I just want to do it right, but I have no idea how.”
My answer is always the same: social media is an important tool in your marketing toolbox and when used effectively, can be a great way to help grow your business and connect with others in your industry. But without understanding the basics and then honing your approach, it can quickly become just another marginally entertaining time-suck.
Because time is precious, it’s important to focus your social media efforts where they’ll really count. But figuring out what to do and where to do it takes a little trial and error, because each person and each business is so very different. Over the years I have dabbled in various platforms and have, for the most part, narrowed down the areas where I see the most return on my investment. Rather than trying to be active on all of them, I instead focus on maximizing the ones that I enjoy and that generate the most new business.
Here are a few tips for using social media effectively. My list begins with some key “universal truths” and then dives into specific details about some of the platforms I have found to be the most rewarding:
Pick your platform: Rather than trying to be the jack-of-all-trades and the master of none, I highly recommend picking just one or two of the major social media platforms on which to focus your efforts, at least when you’re getting started. Whichever network you choose will largely depend on your particular field, what is most popular in your region, and the demographic of your clients and customers.
Context is key: Every social media platform has its own unique language and its own culture. Spend some time learning the language and norms (they each have their own quirks and unwritten rules) of the platform that best connects with your market. You’ll notice that Twitter is dominated by short bits of clever text, while Instagram is flooded with beautiful photos and Facebook is all about conversations and sharing. It’s important that you “speak” the language of the platform you’re using in order for your content to connect.
Share your story: Building a personal connection with your followers is one of the hallmark keys to great marketing. Your business is about more than just the things you create, do or make. It stems from you and putting yourself out there is key. A personal touch can really help you connect with your ideal clients, build brand loyalty and ultimately grow your business. Don’t be afraid to periodically share behind-the-scenes shots, or posts that give followers a glimpse of your creative process [See related post on Being the Face of your Business].
Post high-quality content: Regardless of what platform you post to, be sure you share only high-quality content that will connect with your target audience. This may seem obvious, but there are a lot of small businesses that really miss the mark here. Photos are a big key to great content creation, so make sure your images have a good composition, are in focus, and are relevant to your business and whose captions encourage engagement (click, like, comment, pin, save, share, retweet, etc.).
Be consistent: If you’re going to invest your energy into using social media marketing, having a steady stream of great content is essential to your success. There’s nothing worse than following someone who’s silent for weeks and then posts a half dozen photos in a row, only to disappear again. Your followers are eager to be a part of your journey, so let them. It’s up to you how often you want to post, but just make sure you’re showing up regularly. To stay organized, you can make up a calendar to help you plan out your posts, so that you have a steady stream of consistently good content.
Utilize your analytics: It’s important to periodically review what’s working and analyze the types of posts that are getting the most play. Seeing where your followers are from, their age and gender demographics, what time of day they’re most active, and the types of posts that generate the most likes and comments can be helpful going forward. Facebook and Pinterest have analytics built in and you can access your Instagram analytics through such sites as Iconosquare. Again, the key is to analyze and then strategize, so that your social media posts are effective and get the highest engagement possible. Find out what’s working and repeat it!
Avoid using heavy photo filters. This may seem a little counter-intuitive, especially considering that many people joined Instagram originally to have access to the filters — which give photos a fun, vintage feel. While filters are fine for personal use, you want the images for your business to look authentic and reflect the true colors and textures of your art or product, so go easy.
Use #hashtags in your captions. Hashtags are viewable to anyone with an interest in your hashtag, even those beyond your followers. Researchers (and through my own experience) have found that posts with hashtags have higher engagement rates than those without. The use of hashtags can expand your reach to anyone interested in that particular word or phrase.
Follow, comment and engage! Be an active community member by following other leaders in your industry and related fields and adding comments and posing questions to others’ posts. You’ll be amazed how many new followers you can pick up by simply posting on others’ photos.
Post content that people will like (and comment on and share!). Maximizing “engagement” is the name of the game when it comes to Facebook. So what does that mean, exactly? In order for your followers to actually see what you’re posting on a regular basis, they must “engage” with your content, meaning they must like, comment or share it. Posts that get more likes, comments and shares show up more in the News Feed and are seen by more people. If your followers don’t engage, they simply won’t see your posts, thanks to the magic algorithm Facebook uses to decide which pages’ content appear in your followers’ feeds. The more that followers engage with your posts, the more likely your content will appear in their feed and the feed of other followers.
Strategies to increase Facebook engagement.
- Pose questions and urge fans to answer in the comment section. “I adore lilacs, what’s your favorite spring flower…?”
- Ask fans to vote for a favorite.
- Offer a giveaway. To enter, ask followers to like, comment or share the post.
Pin your own work. While re-pinning inspirational photos is fine and part of the fun of Pinterest, be sure to pin lots of high-quality photos of your own designs and creations to your Pinterest boards. Ideally, you want to pin your photos from your own website (versus a photographer’s or something from another site) so that your images link users back to your site. Pinterest is a big, big driver of traffic to websites.
Pin vertical photos. Because of the way Pinterest is formatted, vertical photos appear much larger than horizontal shots. I’ve found that my vertical photos are pinned much more frequently than ones that are virtually identical, but oriented horizontally. If you have basic photo editing skills (or through use of free sites such as Canva or PicMonkey) you can “stack” several photos to create a longer vertical block so that it appears larger in your followers’ feeds.
Write descriptive captions. When adding pins, be sure to write a descriptive caption, particularly for your own photos. Consider search terms that your target audience may use to search for your product (in my case, it is including flower varieties and popular wedding colors) in the caption. Well written caption descriptions can make it more likely your pin will appear when users use the search function.
OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES:
PicMonkey: A great web-based photo editing and enhancement tool for text overlays, etc. which are great for making pretty social media posts. Most of the basic features are free; advanced features available for an additional fee.
Canva: A web-based graphic design program to make customized Facebook covers, Pinterest collages and other social media and marketing materials. It has lots of easy-to-use design templates, artwork and fonts to use to create your own promotions. Free if you use your own images.
Iconosquare: An awesome resource for digging into your Instagram analytics and making quick sense of what’s working.
Social Media Examiner: This website calls itself “Your guide to the social media jungle” and has lots of examples and best practices for advanced social media usage.
While my list is hardly exhaustive, I hope you’ll find a tip or two that speaks to you and that can help you take your business to the next level. Social media can be extremely valuable to your efforts to expand your reach, build your brand and attract new customers and clients. By creating compelling content and being strategic about where you invest your time and resources, your posts can build your business and inform, engage or inspire your audience. And that is something everybody can “like.”