One of the things I enjoy the most about what I do is being able to help small business owners excel online. Digital Marketing’s greatest benefit is that it levels the playing field between large companies and small businesses.
Today, it’s no longer enough to have a large advertising budget. Companies can succeed with a solid marketing plan and strategic use of social media. Yet, I still see a lot of small businesses (and some large ones) failing to make use of their digital presence.
If you’re a small business owner, here are some common missteps you should look to avoid, along with some tips on how to improve your social media tactics.
1. Creating too many social profiles
I understand the temptation behind creating several social media accounts. There are millions upon millions of people using social media platforms every day. Some small business owners think that it’s only right that their business be there, too.
Unfortunately, just having a presence isn’t enough. If a customer (or potential customer) finds your empty Twitter feed, or a Facebook profile that hasn’t been updated in months, that could lead to a negative first impression.
As someone who manages several social media profiles for brands, I can attest that it is time-consuming and requires a lot of planning. You can’t apply the same approach to every social network. People use Facebook differently than how they use Pinterest. The same goes with Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
What to do instead
It is crucial that you define your business’ voice before starting on social media. Once you’ve defined your voice, your social media plan should focus on creating a presence on the platforms where your audience will be.Before starting on social media, define what your small business' voice will beClick To Tweet
If you’re a home renovation business, your voice could include both promoting your services and offering tips and advice. Things like how to prepare for winter, or ways to save on energy usage.
In that case, Facebook and Pinterest would be optimal for your small business. Facebook for the sheer numbers of people on there every day and Pinterest because of the popularity of home improvement boards.
2. Posting the same messages on every platform
This is a pretty frequent occurrence. Many small businesses will copy a post they shared on one social media network and paste it on their other social profiles. (I should note here that this is a common occurrence on the social profiles of many large brands too.)
Using the same message on all platforms is convenient, but it won’t help you reach your audience.
Many small businesses don’t have a dedicated person for social media so it’s easy to understand the one message for all platforms approach. It’s important to remember: poorly executed messages will only hinder your social media efforts.Social isn't one-size fits all. You have to cater your messaging to each social network. Click To Tweet
What to do instead
Optimizing your messages starts with identifying what networks your small business should be on. Once you’ve narrowed it down, you can then spend the extra few minutes to craft platform-specific messages.
Let’s say you own a restaurant and you are looking to promote your new menu. You’ve done your research and identified Facebook and Instagram as the platforms your audience is on.
Your Instagram posts could feature close-ups of final dishes, captioned with popular hashtags to help maximize your reach.
On Facebook, your posts could feature pictures of the meals being prepared; offer visitors a “behind the scenes” view. This helps create a sense of openness while still promoting your new menu.
3. Not replying to customers on social
For better or worse, social media has eliminated the concept of business hours. Customers expect to be able to communicate with your business when it’s convenient for them. This may be at 9 am, 9 pm or anywhere between.
Don’t panic, no one expects you to be awake and online 24 hours a day. But they do expect a reply.
Once you have set up your social profiles, you have to check in on them, at least a few times a day. If someone has a bad experience with your business and then shares it online, having to wait days for a response will only make them more upset.
You wouldn’t ignore someone standing in your store asking questions; that would be a lost opportunity. Not replying to people on social media is the same thing.
What to do instead
If you have a social presence, you can expect to get customer inquiries and complaints online. Even if it is something you would rather not discuss in public, you should still touch base with the person and invite them to contact you.
Set clear expectations about response times. That will help reduce the stress of having to constantly check your social media profiles. State on your profiles when someone on your team is online so people know when they can expect a response. If you only have the manpower to check between 9 and 5, let people know.
Take a page from some of the big companies to see how they set expectations for customer response time. Here is TD Canada Trust’s Twitter bio; you can see they’ve let people know they are only 7 days a week from 6 am to 11 pm EST. They’ve also provided a link for further information about online communication.
Whatever you do, don’t abandon your profiles after you’ve set them up. You’d hate to miss out on opportunities to engage with customers because an inquiry came in after hours.
4. Using Social media only for promotion
I’ve met with plenty of people over the years who view social media as a “free” way to advertise. Social media isn’t free and it’s certainly not to be used solely as an advertising platform. When was the last time you heard someone talking about checking in to Facebook to catch up on sales pitches?
People have various reasons for being on different social media platforms. On Facebook, people like the ease of staying in touch with family and friends. On Twitter, people enjoy the ability to follow news updates as they happen.
People are on these channels because they enjoy the sense of community and belonging. If you are able to gain someone as a follower, you will need to do more than just broadcast to keep them.
What to do instead
To start, change the perception that social media is an advertising platform. Think about a mix of messaging you can use. Besides promotion, you can post educational content, news, or contests.
By giving people various types of content, you’ll be better able to keep them engaged.
I always think of Caterpillar as a great example of a company that has a strong community online. If you look at their Twitter timeline, you’ll see that they have over 78,000 followers. You’ll also notice that there is a mix of messages posted.
They share product information, but they also offer “behind the scenes” content, and tips.
— Caterpillar Inc. (@CaterpillarInc) October 27, 2015
I love the Caterpillar example because it shows that any business (regardless of glamour) can be successful on social media.
5. Failing to measure their efforts
I think this point is tied to lack of understanding of how to best track their online efforts. Let me explain. I’m sure a lot of people know how to create a shortened URL. You take your long URL and paste it into a service like bit.ly or goo.gl to get a condensed version. That’s a great practice but what’s often missed is the added bit of code to help measure that posts’ reach.
What to do instead Start creating tracking URLs for your various posts. Then, create a different message for the various networks you’re going to post to. Let’s say you’re going to post Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. You should create 3 tracked versions of the URL: one for Facebook, one for Twitter and one for LinkedIn. Tracked URLs are important because they help you measure your social media posts’ engagement.
A tracked URL allows you to see how many clicks posts received, how long those visitors stayed, along with some other data. With this information in hand, you can see if your content is resonating or if you need to rethink your strategy. An example Here are some of my tweets. In this post, I simply shortened the link.
Just looking at the shortened URL doesn’t tell you if there is tracking. However, when you land on the page, you can see there is no tracking. It’s just the page’s URL:
In this tweet, I created a tracked URL.
— Liz Da Ponte (@lizdaponte) August 3, 2015
You’ll notice on this page’s URL, there’s a bit of extra code on the end:
That extra bit of code tells me how many people came to my site via that tweet. I can then use that information to gauge whether my messages on Twitter are resonating with my audience.
It doesn’t make a difference for the end user whether there is tracking or not; the link will work exactly the same. For a small business owner, the information that can be gleaned from measuring your posts is invaluable.
What do you think of this list? Do you have questions about maximizing your social media presence? Ask them below!