A beginner’s guide to social media

If you’re not already familiar with using social media to promote your business, it can be hard to know where to start. Which platforms should you use? What are the benefits? And – crucially for many SMEs – just how much time is it all going to take? Here’s an overview of how to approach social media and make it work for you. 

Which platforms should I use?

These questions will help you decide where to focus your efforts:

  • What do you want to get out of social media (eg new clients, brand awareness, feedback, inspiration), and how will you measure this?
  • Which platforms do your clients/suppliers/partners/competitors use?
  • Which platforms are you already familiar with?
  • What is it about your business that will appeal to your followers?
  • How much time do you want to spend on social media?

There are two important things to remember:

  1. Don’t try to use every social media platform – it will take up too much time and you’ll end up spreading yourself too thinly.
  2. Tailor your content – don’t just post the same thing across multiple platforms; it can be annoying for your followers, and is not an effective use of the different strengths of each platform.

How should I approach social media?

> It’s not just about you

Always keep in mind the ‘social’ part of social media. It sounds obvious, but many businesses just promote themselves and don’t engage much further than that. Treat social networking as you would face-to-face networking, and remember that it’s not just about you, and it’s not just about selling – it’s about having conversations and building relationships.

Your content should reflect this, with a mixture of entertainment, tips, useful information, news, links/references to other people, and only a small proportion reserved for self-promotion.

Don’t forget that social media can also provide you with really helpful information about what your competitors are up to – as well as insights into what your clients are into – so build in time to monitor this.

> How to present yourself

  • Be an expert in your field – show that you are trustworthy
  • Be clear about what you’re offering – show how you can be of benefit
  • Be different – what is it that makes your company unique?
  • Be engaging – show that you care about your followers – ask them for their opinions, recommendations, ideas
  • Be consistent – in your writing style, point of view, use of images etc
  • Be sociable – by sharing other people’s content
  • Be generous – by giving out useful stuff for free (eg how-to guides)

How much time will it take?

This will obviously vary greatly, but however much time you allocate to using social media, make sure it doesn’t slip off your radar by being consistent about when you do it (eg 10 minutes each morning, or an hour every Friday afternoon).

In order to make the most of your time, you need to be very clear about your objectives, so it’s helpful to have a strategy that identifies regular tasks. You should also allow some time for measuring success (eg counting shares/likes/ comments etc), as well as reviewing and adjusting your strategy accordingly.

What are the benefits?

It may seem like a lot of effort – is it worth it? Here are some of the benefits of using social media:

  • Drives traffic to your website
  • Boosts your search rankings
  • Attracts new clients
  • Fosters loyal clients
  • Provides marketplace insight
  • Develops business partnerships
  • Reduces other marketing expenditure

Jenny Brindley is a freelance writer and editor who specialises in working with SMEs to enhance their web presence. Contact jenny.brindley@gmail.com for details.

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