3 Ways Small Businesses Can Effectively Utilize Social Media

Unless you have been under a rock for the past decade, you are probably aware that social media is a tool that small businesses can utilize to promote themselves. Social media is an incredibly powerful platform to connect with your customer-base, receive direct feedback, and engage in productive, two-way communication with a wide swatch of stakeholders.

The best part about social media is it is seemingly so simple: you set up your accounts, populate them with clients and prospective clients, and off you go. The thing is, it’s not as easy as that.

We’ve all seen great examples of terrible social media; accounts left to whither and die, devoid of quality content or engagement at any level. Or the accounts that are so bloated with irrelevant links and posts that their followers grow immediately annoyed. Even worse, the ones that post planned content, but don’t stick to their brand, muddling the overall message.

There is hope.  From these terrible examples (that are most likely clogging your newsfeed right now), there are lessons to take and your small business doesn’t have to suffer the same fate. Below are our suggestions for effective small business social media:

Be consistent, immediate, and authentic.

Frequency of posts is a tricky thing to figure out. Too little, and you have little chance of engagement.  Too much, and you’ll scare away your client-base.  A basic rule of thumb is a couple Twitter posts a day, a couple Facebook posts a week.

When interacting with clients on social media, be sure that your responses are timely and kind. Unlike advertising, which is one-way communication, social media is a dialogue with your followers. Keep it conversational, and respond thoughtfully and quickly.

In addition to the proper frequency, you have to be concerned with the content. It is easy to sniff out bad sales pitches on social media, so ensure the content you create isn’t just driving sales; which brings us to our second tip…

Don’t sell (specifically); Network.

Social media is not for repurposed ads; it is for dialogue with your followers.  Although social media can be utilized for promotions, these promotions should aim to be informative rather than persuasive.  Keeping a warm, friendly, conversational tone, and considerately communicating with those who engage you is key to growing your followers.

Stay on brand.

This cannot be stressed enough. Please, for the love of god, understand your brand before attempting to do anything with social media. When used well, social media will strengthen both your brand AND your relationship with your clients. But if you stray from your brand, it damages your business’s reputation and complicates your message. Keep it simple, stay on brand, and your social media will become a powerful promotional tool.  Posting content that is not consistent with your brand will only do your business harm.

A final warning:

A lot of small businesses earnestly attempt to do their own social media. But after a few weeks of posting consistent, relevant, brand-specific content in a reasonable frequency, many small businesses drop off and give up.  The reason? The lack of immediate results.  The fact of the matter is that social media needs to be recognized as a communication tool; a tool that can consistently improve your relationship with your clients and help strengthen your brand. By sticking with it, you only have greater relationships to gain, and those relationships will eventually translate to greater sales.

Social Media Marketing

In 2007, social media was an unchartered marketing landscape. It was a new market for businesses to strengthen their brand and engage with customers in a way that hadn’t been used before. For the most part, corporate social media repurposed the messaging from other media channels and would attempt to follow the same one-way communication model that they had used in the past.

In 2015, social media marketing is head and shoulders above its shaky beginnings. Now, social media is used as a dialogue to engage customers, share up-to-the-minute information, and reinforce your brand on a daily basis. Your customers expect this level of engagement, from the very biggest corporations to the smallest of small businesses.

When starting your social media campaign it is important to come up with a strong strategy.  Keep the following list in mind when you are developing, implementing, or analyzing your social media campaign:

  1. Know your goals: What is your company trying to achieve through its social media? From client retention, client acquisition, or brand awareness, it is important to understand the story your company needs to tell. Ultimately, this will drive the content you will generate moving forward.
  2. Know the platform: Decide which platform is the best to connect with your customers. There are plenty to choose from, but there is no point spending precious time developing a campaign for Instagram if prospective and current customers aren’t there.  Seeking engagement on platforms devoid of potential customers is time and money consuming, so save yourself the hassle and come up with a strategy to best use the right channels.

Personalization and Engagement

Once your brand is established it is important to think of how the public will continue to interact with your brand moving forward. The best way to get your potential and current customers to carry your brand is through engagement and personalization. Personalization draws your customers in, while engagement keeps them with you.

Through personalization, you give your customers the opportunity to interact with your brand playfully. A perfect example of this was Coca-Cola’s Share a Coke with… campaign. Starting in Australia in 2011, Coca-Cola changed their can and bottle branding to include individual names. This campaign now runs in over 80 countries, each individualized for the most popular names in each market. This campaign was ragingly successful, giving Coke an increase in its market share for the first time in years. Customers could not only engage with the brand at the point-of-purchase through searching for their names from the wide variety, but also on social media, sharing their experience with friends. In addition to the collector aspect, Coke also offered customers the opportunity to order their name (or other brand-friendly nouns) on personalized cans.

Similarly, Heinz Soup in the UK offered personalized ‘Get-Well Soon’ cans of soup for order through their Facebook page. Capitalizing on the onset of cold and flu season, Heinz not only tapped into the personalized marketing that Coke has enjoyed success with, but also leveraged the emotional appeal of a bowl of soup for your ailing friends.

Social media has been an excellent vehicle for taking your brand that extra step and engaging your customer base. For a great example of engagement through social media, look no further then the Taco Bell Twitter and Facebook accounts. Starting in 2007, Taco Bell took to social media as an inexpensive way to spread their brand. Like many companies at the time, Taco Bell initially repurposed media content from other channels and forced it to fit in social media. Through the years, Taco Bell has upgraded, creating social media specific content, as well as getting its base of followers to engage and share their brand through creative campaigns.

Taco Bell does not shy away from two-way conversations with its clients, and even competing brands. Through personalized tweets, including responses to loyal followers, Taco Bell has found a way to engage customers, personalize content, and reward loyalty.

Social media, engagement, and personalization allow you to take your brand from a stuffy, one-way communication to an interactive and engaging platform. Your customers are beginning to expect this from companies, so it is important to plan for this now. Think: how can I make my brand messaging appeal to individuals, and in what ways can you engage at an individual level with your customers?

How and Why Should a Business Use Social Media?

We all know that a large and growing number of businesses are using social media as part of their marketing. But for those of you that aren’t yet on board,
what are the benefits of investing in social media? There are multiple reasons:

  1. Social media helps you deliver better customer service. Social media permits customers to have pre-sales or support related questions
    that can be quickly addressed. This real time communication helps to make customers happy which in turn creates loyalty and positive word of mouth.
  2. Social media lets your business build its brand and differentiate it from competitors. Through social media you can effectively
    generate more awareness about your business and establish its unique personality – giving it a human voice that people will relate to.
  3. It helps you to manage your business’ reputation. Social media give you the opportunity to deal swiftly and sensitively with any
    customers’ comments or complaints. This instant feedback demonstrates high levels of customer service and diminishes any negativity. Negative sentiment can
    often be turned into a positive through the demonstration of strong customer service and problem resolution.
  4. Social media allows you to obtain real customer insights. You can quickly and easily obtain feedback from customers, which will give
    you a clearer sense of how your business is doing and identify challenges that can then be addressed.
  5. Social media will drive website traffic. Being active on social media will help you increase the amount of traffic your website
    receives. Not only do successful social media activities increase click-throughs to your site, it also improves search engine rankings.

So we understand why businesses should be using social media, but the next question is which social media platforms should I be using? And what should I be
posting on each?

It’s often suggested that businesses should be active on all forms of social media. This may be true, but unless your company has a dedicated social media
coordinator, finding the time to maintain every platform out there can be extremely time consuming.

For businesses, William Joseph recommends being active in the following:

  1. Twitter. Small to large businesses should operate a Twitter account. This is used to start, join and lead conversations and interact
    directly with customers. Postings should be made several times each day. Relevance, personality and brevity are key here to making your voice heard.
  2. LinkedIn. Businesses (especially B2B service providers) are strongly advised to possess a LinkedIn account. This platform is excellent
    for sharing job postings, company descriptions and research findings. Postings are advised to be made approximately two to four times per week. For
    businesses seeking clients, they are advised to grow their LinkedIn networks by adding as many real connections as possible. Use your second and third
    degree connections to request personal introductions for real opportunities.
  3. Facebook. Facebook is a solid platform for brand building, recruitment or client acquisition. Businesses should consider using
    advertising or paying to promote their page on Facebook, but they are advised not to make the page itself look like an advertisement. A business’ Facebook
    page should inspire conversations and share information on events, accomplishments, observations, employee profiles and the like. It is always advised that
    questions are asked to followers to spur interaction. Of all social networks, Facebook is best equipped to share responses to a post asking a question or
    sparking conversation. Posts should be made once or twice per day. There is no shortage of options for analyzing Facebook data.
  4. Google+. For businesses that already have a presence on other major social media platforms, Google+ is a recommended next step. This is
    a more formal and professional venue than Facebook where hashtags have major search value. Operating a page on Google+ has the large benefit of
    significantly increasing the business’ search engine optimization. It’s recommended that posts link often to content on the business’ website to direct
    this search boost where you want it most. Post frequency is advised to be once or twice per day.
  5. YouTube. For companies that have video content and/or wish to give an explanation or share expertise, YouTube is a great fit. Videos
    should be only 2 minutes or less and posts should be made about once per week. YouTube is owned by Google and, as such, YouTube videos feature prominently
    in Google search results. Keep this in mind when naming and describing videos and direct people looking for insight or explanations within your industry
    topics to your brand’s page.

The Rise of Branded Content

Branded content is a form of advertising that has risen significantly in popularity over the past few years. Branded content is essentially entertainment content that has been “branded” by a company. There are many types of branded content that exist today; apps, video games, music, web pages, television, and even entire feature films are funded entirely by companies.

Websites such as BuzzFeed have become hubs for branded content. BuzzFeed has coined itself “the viral web in realtime”. Going “viral” is a buzzword that attracts big brands in a major way. Brands such as Nokia partner with BuzzFeed to post “13 Things Your Cell Phone Says About You” Virgin mobile is also a content marketing all-star on BuzzFeed. When Instagram was released for Android, Virgin Mobile released “11 Things No One Wants To See You Instagram” and it became a viral hit.


Brands do need to be careful of what they are branding, even though most branded content tends to be a little lighter and fun, brands still need to be strategic to ensure the content is aligned with their target audience and brand strategy. Use of a strategic agency can align your brand with content that speaks to your product or service.

What do you think? Are sites such as BuzzFeed the future? Does this mean the end for branded blogs? Leave your comments below.


The Visualization of Social Media

One of the things that I love about social media is the constant evolution of social media applications to please the end user. The latest direction the evolution is heading toward is a highly visual experience. The rise in popularity of applications such as Pinterest and Instagram has led to the creation of new highly visual social media platforms such as Pheed. Pheed is a new platform for web and mobile devices where people can share all forms of digital content including photos, videos, audio, and text. Popular social networking services are keeping up with the trend by changing their applications to have a much more visual presentation. Twitter has introduced a new app called Vine that allows users to create and post short video clips to be posted on their Twitter feed.  Facebook has once again completely changed their newsfeed in order to be cleaner and focus more on visuals compared to previous newsfeeds. MySpace is even back with a brand new look that uses a lot of imagery and animation.

From a business perspective this change in social media means businesses need to put much more emphasis on the visuals they use. The visually-focused social media crowd will become more engaged with your company the more visually appealing your advertising is. Nike is a company who has already caught on to the trend of visualization – head over to Nike’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube, and you will scroll through pages of beautiful imagery and video clips with Nike branding. They have embraced visualization so much they have even created a website where users can upload their Instagram photos and Nike will design a shoe to match elements from the photo. From a creative perspective this is a very exciting time, now more than ever people are showing their appreciation for captivating visuals so creative and artistic people now have a larger audience than ever before.

Facebook News Feed
New Facebook News Feed



Social Media Explained.

It is clearly an understatement to say that social media is a hot topic. Social Media has been scrutinized, debated, misunderstood, used for good… and evil. It has been used by large multi-national companies to small one-person shops. And you know it has hit the mass social conscience when your parents and grandparents are using it.

Until recently, I assumed that the majority of people understood the differences between the various social media services. It is one thing to know about what services are out there, it is another altogether to know how to use them effectively.

A little while back my father, who is in the process of retiring, asked me about social media for his new consulting business. Like most people, he is on the usual suspects like Facebook and LinkedIn already, but was interested in knowing if there was anything else he could use to promote his business and tell his brand story.

I began to explain to Dad that there were a lot of social media services out there and that each one has a specific use depending on his desired response. However with each subsequent sentence I noticed an increasingly blank and confused look on my Dad’s face. Here I thought that I was giving advice and knowledge worthy of a TED Talk and I had lost Dad no more that 3 sentences in.

It was at that moment that I realized all the knowledge and experience I have makes no difference if I can’t explain social media in its simplest form to people who are not familiar with it. I was far too caught up in all the granular details, when all Dad wanted (or needed, to be more accurate) was a simple and understandable explanation.

The funny thing is… as well as I understand social media I struggled for a way to break it down to something understandable for him. It was at that point I told him that I will get back to him and went on a research mission searching for a way to describe and explain social media quickly and effectively. An elevator speech of social media if you will.

I came across a wonderful post on geek.com called “Social Media Explained with Donuts.” This was the clearest break-down of social media services and the differences between them that I could find. It goes something like this:

  • Twitter – I am eating donuts
  • Facebook – I like donuts
  • Foursquare – This is where I am eating donuts
  • Instagram – Here is a vintage photo of my donuts
  • YouTube – Watch me eating my donuts
  • LinkedIn – My skills include eating donuts
  • Pinterest – Here is a donut recipe
  • LastFM – I am now listening to donuts
  • Tumblr – Here is a story about  donuts
  • Ask.com – Can I get pregnant eating a donut?

The examples above are just a few of the more popular social media services out there but this is a great example of how to explain social media effectively and quickly. Needless to say this was a far more superior way of describing social media to my Dad.

This is now how I begin all conversations with people, including clients who are in the beginning stages of using social media.

Thank you Dad for another valuable lesson learned!

10 Rules I live by in creating a following on YouTube or any social media

The rules below are from my own experience and although the lens I look through is limited, I believe many can benefit by adapting these to fit their own purpose.

A few years ago, I finally got the nerve to buy my first motorcycle. I had ridden dirt bikes as a kid but the fire breathing monster I bought bore little resemblance to anything of my childhood. After a year of riding, I found myself increasingly frustrated when trying to describe what it felt like to “split the mustard n’ mayo” with my bike. So I decided to buy a few cameras and try my hand at shooting my own motorcycle videos.

Admittedly, at the beginning I had no idea what I was doing. Being a film nerd and making a film were entirely different endeavors. But I persevered through the learning curve. I wanted to share my feelings about riding. The best place to do so was YouTube. Facebook might be the buzz word of the day, but here, the sheer volume of content would be both a challenge and an advantage for me. I was utterly amazed to discover that YouTube users as a whole, upload 35 hours of video every minute of every day! If I were to find a captive audience, I would find it there. Considering the unimaginable amount of footage I would be competing against could easily drown me out – I would have to learn from the mistakes of others who had gone before me. The biggest mistake I saw was what happens when people were seen as inauthentic. I decided to make a list of rules I would live by when navigating the fickle waters of social media. So far, they have served me very well, and have garnered me a very loyal following.

1. Create by my own compass.
I wanted to make content for myself and no one else. I saw how the motivation to spend countless hours in front of a computer faded once one started feeling like they were fulfilling other people’s requests rather than their own. No matter much I appreciate each and every subscription, its about the work – not the subs.

2. Answer every comment and thank every subscription.
Being seen as responsive and active in the community is crucial. People are immensely appreciative when you do simple things like answer their questions and thank them for subbing. Also, it has the added benefit of creating free advertising for yourself when other people see your comment on that person’s page.

3. Watch, comment, and subscribe to others in the community.
It can get difficult to constantly keep up to date with other producers of similar content, but it creates authenticity for your online persona and secures you a place as a leader in the group. With so many people creating content, I made the choice to subscribe to only those I thought had truly stellar work. This way my list was kept to something manageable. Also, when I added someone new, they knew I was sincere.

4. Avoid showing any personal information.
Luckily, the particular YouTube community I joined was perfectly comfortable with online personas. So it did not affect my authenticity. Primarily I wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. The last thing I wanted was to have someone showing up at my house in the middle of the night. I hide my license plate as well in my videos for this reason.

5. Treat every single person the same way you’d treat them in real life – even trolls.
Feeling anonymous can be a double-edged sword. People sometimes forget they are addressing real people, therefore it can be easy to be rude or harsher than you would be in person. It’s also difficult to anticipate people’s reactions to your work, let alone your comments. So to be safe, I try to imagine my grandmother watching and/or reading everything I produce and/or write. If she would be offended, I try another tactic. It’s important to note, she wouldn’t have to be interested in the subject, just not offended by how it was approached.

6. Treat my YouTube persona like a brand.
Just like a company or product, I tried to give myself, my channel, and my videos a look and feel that was consistent, but not repetitive. This was especially challenging for me in the beginning since I was still learning how to create content and my goals didn’t always match my abilities. Just by going back to the first couple of flicks, it’s easy to see how my brand evolved along with my skills.

7. Put my faith in the word of mouth.
Being that most of my job is about pushing out a message to others, I wanted to allow for the organic process of social media to take root and grow without my interference. I continue to do this today by letting each video I create stand on it’s own merit. If it fails to connect with the audience, the number of views will show it. One should note, that doing it this way means you need patience, but it is absolutely worth it in the end.

8. Constantly push myself to build on what I have learned.
As much as this was a way to share my passions, it was also an exercise in learning a new skill that I hoped one day I could capitalize on with my work in the Design industry. The more I learned here, the better off I would be down the road.

9. Have fun and not try to take myself too seriously.
This one seems to be obvious, but surprisingly, many people forget about it. Keeping it fun means I would keep doing it.

10. Never censor my detractors.
Part of being authentic is letting people hate you. You can’t please everyone and it is useless to ever try. Whether you are a company or a just a one-man-army like myself, it is notoriously tempting to keep the good stuff and erase the bad to keep your image pure and sparkling. But it’s so important to keep the whole mess. When people made disparaging remarks about my work, I thanked them for their input, defended my choices if applicable, and kept their comment as part of the public record of that video. My hopes are that when other people read them and my responses, they appreciate my confidence in allowing both sides of the conversation. Unlike push media, social media at it’s root, is a conversation. Limiting it in any way is defeating its purpose. Don’t forget, trolls need love too.

Consumers are like dogs

No, this isn’t one of those “blame everyone else because my marketing isn’t working” rant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. As marketers, we tend to forget one of the most fundamental rules in delivering our message – tone of voice.

A friend of ours has been taking her dog to obedience classes  and is quite proud of the progress they’ve made together. Yet there is one significant factor that is not allowing that success to translate to the pup’s behaviour at home – at least not all the time – our friend’s partner speaks with a relatively raw Scottish accent. So, when our friend commands the dog to, “Lie down!” everything works out just fine. But when her partner tries the same with her guttural treatment of vowels and slightly different emphasis of constants, the resulting, “Lah duuunne!” causes the dog to tilt his head sideways and whimper in confusion. As dogs are, he’s desperate to please, but just doesn’t understand these two simple words because the tone of voice is simply wrong to his trained ear.

As consumers, we are not so different than our friend’s dog. We too are often desperate to please (even if only ourselves). This desperation has trained us to search for purchases in our continual attempts to satiate our need to be happier, healthier, faster, busier, smarter, more attractive, bigger, smaller, more fulfilled people, spouses, friends, parents, children, employees, managers, sisters, brothers, teams, leaders and masters of our own destiny. Yet, we often avoid brands that might offer exactly what we’re looking for simply because we didn’t understand the message. Our brains reject the marketer’s effort to reach out and connect with us if we’ve don’t hear the right or expected tone of voice – the words are never processed and the information that the marketer wanted us to know is never absorbed.

Sometimes it’s because copy proofers have reworked a sentence so many times that it has lost all the personality that the copywriter originally intended. Or we’ve “scaled it back a bit” because we haven’t given the client enough credit as being open to pushing boundaries and exploring new approaches. In this digital age, it’s often because we tend to be so focused on the functional applications of our interactive elements that we forget that they are actually communication channels first. Or that the 140 characters we’re limited to force us to abbreviate every word we want to use, eliminating any chance for nuance and context. OMG LOL.

Whatever the reason, no matter how sophisticated the strategy is or how innovative the implementation is, the effort is for naught if the “ear” of the audience isn’t understood well enough throughout the planning and creative processes to ensure we speak to them in a tonal language they understand.

So remember our friend’s poor dog as you develop your next marketing effort, and remember that it’s not necessarily the words you choose that will carry the day as much as it is the tone in which you deliver them.

Do you really “Like” my brand?

At the forefront of social media conversations, the topic du jour seems to be the importance of generating ‘likes’ or ‘fans’. Your company has 2000 likes on Facebook? Well, ours has 6000. Does that make us any better?

I have found some interesting articles on the subject, most recently relating to a keynote discussion at the Social Media World Forum Europe, held in London on March 29th. In his address on the Socialisation of the Internet, agency sales group head at Facebook, David Parfect, challenged this thinking. He stated that “just because a brand has 17,000 fans on Facebook, that does not mean these fans are engaged with them. That is just where the marketing should start.”

I cannot agree more with David Parfect. Generating a ‘like’ is similar to having a customer subscribe to your email database. If you do nothing with that subscription, in terms of engagement, you’ve lost. Regardless, so many times success is measured by the number of fans on your Facebook page, not how successfully you engage with them, or how many continue to interact with your brand. It also reminds me of online advertising – an impression is great, but if it’s not meaningful or engaging, it’s relatively useless.

I thought this was important to point out as brand building is as much about engagement as it is about awareness. Yet, so many times we seem to get lost in the numbers – how many ‘likes’ we have, how many followers or how many subscribers. Take a minute to step back and look beyond the numbers – think about quality engagement and building brand advocates rather than simply someone who will like your brand today, and forget about it tomorrow. These kind of brand advocates are harder to find, and even harder to measure, but they are worth it.

When it comes to Social Media, we’re not on the elementary school playground anymore. Even if people like you, they don’t necessarily want to hang out with you all the time.

How would you measure success when it comes to Social Media marketing?

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