Today, social media is everywhere.
Social media platform logos are visible on the Web, posters, books, and even cartons of milk. All but the most reclusive among us will recognize names like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s hard to find anyone with an Internet connection who hasn’t visited one of these sites.
But can a side business like yours benefit from social media? Does social media work the same for you as it does for every other business?
Social media is about being social. It’s about providing a way for your current and future customers to learn about you—to engage with you and your business. It lets your contacts recommend you to their friends, family, and acquaintances.
With social media, potential contacts get a glimpse of who you are before they decide to connect with you. This works equally well for businesses of any size, whether large corporations or tiny micro-enterprises run on the side.
Avoid These Mistakes
There are three common mistakes businesses make when using social media.
First, they don’t understand that social media is about engagement and does not usually bring an immediate return on investment (ROI). Just as with any relationship, it takes time and interaction for people to trust you enough to do business with you. Social media is a way of engaging and interacting. But even with social media, establishing trust takes time and consistency.
The second mistake is using business profiles only to sell products or services. Social media certainly should include highlights about what you have to offer. It should also provide a way to connect and do business. However, your social media profiles should be designed to facilitate conversations with people. Let them see who you are—not just what you sell.
Finally, business owners often use one-size-fits all content. Linking all your social media profiles to the same post doesn’t work well. Each platform is unique. Keep your content and engagement on each platform unique. Your followers can tell the difference and know when you are just blasting content and when you’re really paying attention. Make a good impression by sharing relevant content in the most relevant format possible.
Before creating profiles on all the social media platforms, consider the different atmosphere of each one. You want to be where your customers and clients already are. Find out where they’re hanging out, and start there.
How much time or money do you have to invest in social media? Consistency is key, so it often makes sense to hire a social media manager, if your budget allows.
A Brief Survey of Social Media Platforms
Lets look briefly at the top four social media platforms. I will evaluate their overall focus and share some tips for managing a business profile on each one.
Without a doubt, Facebook is the largest and most popular social media platform. No other platform comes close. If you have time for just one social media platform, Facebook should probably be your focus. Facebook helps drive traffic by letting you link to your website from your profile. Then, every post you create can link to another resource on your site—or anything else you find on the Web and want to share.
Facebook is the only platform that requires a personal profile before creating a business page. However, you are not required to use your personal account unless you wish.
Posting on Facebook should be done about once each day. You can post anything you wish, but be aware of Facebook’s algorithm. This algorithm determines who sees your posts in their news feed. It does not like links that leave Facebook, so don’t make every post a link to your website. Share other interesting content, and especially consider uploading personal videos. Facebook Live lets you stream video directly to your followers. It is an excellent way to connect personally with your audience.
Schedule your posts. Facebook provides an easy way to schedule posts in advance, and it’s free of charge. Take an hour and schedule posts for the coming week. This saves a ton of time!
You can see how well your followers like the content you share with Facebook’s handy Insights tool. With it, you can learn the time of day your contacts are online and schedule your posts accordingly. But remember that Insights is not a long-term analytics tool. You can only go back 28 days. Check it often and take screen shots for long-term tracking.
Pinterest lets users find fascinating images from all over the Web. Instead of searching everything like Google, Pinterest concentrates on providing the best search results for images.
It is a great platform for bloggers who share recipes, infographics, and entertaining images.
Stores can use it to share their sales flyers and more. Women-focused and DIY businesses often do well on Pinterest. You may be surprised that people shop on Pinterest quite a lot!
The images you post here should be detailed and will benefit from thorough text descriptions. Your Pinterest profile can list your website, and every photo you pin can be linked to anywhere on the Web.
Post on Pinterest as often as you wish. Ideally you should pin several images each day, but definitely post at least once a week. To date, there are no free scheduling tools for Pinterest. Plan ahead to allocate Pinterest posting time each week. If you want to save time, BoardBooster is a great paid scheduler that costs about $5 a month.
Analytics and insights are available through a free Pinterest business account. Track which pins are getting the most engagement and use that knowledge to create similar pins moving forward. Engagement on pins is more important than followers. Don’t be discouraged if your followers don’t grow quickly. If you are getting engagement, you are on the right track!
One word summarizes Instagram: Pictures!
This platform is perfect for photographers, food bloggers, travelers, decor, and most any business that sells a product. It also gets results for service-oriented businesses.
Create a visual theme and add memorable atmosphere to your profile—just using an image filter can be enough. Include a link to your website in your profile. On Instagram, individual photos do not contain clickable links. Some people write a URL in the post along with their image hoping people will copy it and visit their website. However, copying a link is not convenient for users on mobile phones.
Post to Instagram one or two times each day.
Hashtags drive engagement with users, and you can list up to 30 on every post. On Instagram, the more hashtags the better—use them all if you can.
There are several free options for scheduling Instagram posts, but my favorite is Later. Their calendar layout lets you see at a glance exactly what you are scheduling. Their $19 a month paid option lets you create a special link for each of your images. This way you can connect your Instagram posts to your product catalog or e-commerce platform.
You must manually publish each Instagram post via a smart phone. While you can schedule a post in advance, it will not go live until you manually publish it through the Instagram app.
Analytics and insights are available for the previous week with an Instagram business account. You can use these through the app on your phone. Their analytics show the times and days of the week your followers are most active. As with Facebook, take screenshots so you can track long-term performance.
Fast-moving and fun, Twitter is a great place for business owners who like to share a lot of content. Anything goes, so share your own content or something great you read. You only get 140 characters for each tweet so it can take some getting used to!
Twitter is used by the largest variety of ages. If you want to reach the younger population, it is a good tool for your business to consider. Like Facebook, your profile can include your website, and every tweet can link anywhere you choose. Hashtags are also important on Twitter with two to three per post being the ideal.
The recommended number of posts to Twitter varies widely depending on your source, but the least is five tweets per day. There are several free options for scheduling posts to Twitter. My favorites are Buffer and Hootsuite. You can choose to publish a post any time or to add posts to a queue where they will be posted on a schedule of your choosing.
The analytics and insights portal on Twitter is very helpful. It tracks your activity, the engagement with your tweets, and the growth and demographics of your followers.
Other Social Media Platforms
Obviously there are more social media platforms than just these four! Check out YouTube, SnapChat, LinkedIn, and Google+. See if they would also be good fits for your side business. Watch where your competitors are engaging. Learn from how they are using social media. Keep a close eye on your target customers and clients to see which platforms they are using and how they are using them.
Having social media profiles and posting to them is not all there is to social media marketing success.
Engagement goes both ways. Take time each day to engage with your followers and seek out new ones. Use hashtags and keywords to search for profiles that fit your target. Look at the followers of a competitor and start following some of their followers. Like their posts. Comment any time you see something that resonates with you. Be real, and engage with people—including influencers and competitors in your own industry.
There are so many ways to engage on social media.
You can join Facebook groups and Pinterest boards. Follow and take part in Twitter chats. Host a giveaway or challenge. Participate in challenges. Use live video on Facebook or Instagram. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination!
Mind Your Images
Pictures, images, infographics, and charts are all an important social media tool. Remember to create a unified look across all your social media. Use similar colors and fonts as well as cover and profile images that match or compliment the other platforms. Canva is a great free tool for creating images with a professional flair. With Canva, you can create your own brand colors and upload logos so every image you create will represent your brand.
Remember that social media is the new word of mouth, and it is all about being social.
Don’t wonder if your side business should be using social media. Just ask where and how to use it most effectively. You simply cannot afford to miss out on using social media!
The absolute most important thing to remember is this: just have fun! Your goal is to let people get to know you and eventually do business with you.