Seven steps to social media success

Did you know that around 2.5 million Kiwis use Facebook each month? And of these people, 1.9 million use it daily, checking it on average 14 times a day?

That’s a lot of attention. And that’s just Facebook.

Your current and future customers almost certainly use social media. Your competitors are likely to be there too, building awareness, attracting prospects, strengthening relationships with customers, and even making sales.

Are you doing the same? If not, the seven steps below will help you to do so.

The good news is that, for a typical small business, all that’s required to succeed on social media is some time each month, a bit of imagination and a modest budget.

Before we go further, though, remember this: it’s better to have no social media presence than a poor one. That is, if you start using it, then you need to either keep doing so or close it down. A dormant social media page reflects badly on a business.

1. Research

The first step is to review the major social media platforms and decide which of them you want your business on. The key factor here is your target audience and where they are online.

The more you can define your target audience the easier it will be to come up with the top platform(s) you should use.

Note that you don’t have to be on every social media platform available. Focus on one platform initially – two maximum – and make the most of it. Facebook will always be a top contender because it’s so popular, but look at others. LinkedIn, for example, might be a best first step if your business sells to other businesses.

Ask your current customers where they hang out. There are plenty of advice articles online about what each platform is best suited for, too.

Also check out what your competitors are doing. What platforms are they on? Don’t leave it there though. What they are posting? How do they interact with their followers? What works for them and what doesn’t? Learn from them and aim to do better.

2. Plan

Once you’ve decided on the platform(s) it’s time to get inside your customer’s head. That means thinking about what content they would find RITE (relevant, interesting, timely and entertaining or educational). In addition, think about what content would suit your business and would make sense to your customers if it came from you – and isn’t simply copying your competitors.

Consider your social voice as well. It’s good to be consistent in your communications. If you’re a one-person business, then your social voice will be your voice, of course. But if someone else is running your social media account, then you’ll need to agree things like go-to topics and no-go topics, and the kind of language you’ll use. A useful exercise here is to consider how you talk to your customers in person (noting that although social media communication can be informal, as a business you need to keep it professional).

Set initial key goals for your social media account. If you’re just getting started, the primary goal will be growing your audience by posting and promoting great content regularly. The related metrics for this goal include the number of followers or page likes you get.

These metrics are not the be all and end all though.

To maximise the value of social media for marketing, you need to build a high quality audience over time.

That is, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. A small audience of engaged people who buy your products is better than thousands who don’t.

So, after a few months, once your audience is growing, your content machine is running well, and you have a feel for what’s working and what isn’t, you should consider creating SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) goals.

This means potentially adding new goals around engagement (e.g. shares, views and getting, and responding to, comments). A few months later, you could even experiment with occasional sales promotions posts and related goals, if that’s right for your business.

3. Create

Despite best intentions, many businesses fall at this stage and end up with static social media pages.  The trick is to be realistic about how much time you can regularly devote to creating quality content, and then commit to the task.

Initially, aim to set aside a few hours to one day to put together four posts for each week of the coming month. Repeat this for the next two months and you’re off to a great start. If you find it difficult at first, don’t give up. After a few months you’ll start thinking about posts in advance, and it will become part of your natural workflow.

Variety is the spice of social media life, so mix things up. Think about photos and videos rather than just text. Write your own posts, but if you’re stuck don’t be afraid to find RITE content online to link to. If you are a prolific writer and already have blogs on your website, link to them.

As Facebook’s VP of Advertising Technology, Brian Boland, said:

“Publish great content — content that teaches people something, entertains them, makes them think, or in some other way adds value to their lives.”

For example:

  • A building firm might put up before and after photos of projects – with a positive customer quote – on Facebook or Instagram to inspire others and showcase work quality. They might add photos of the team who built it for a ‘behind the scenes’ human touch.
  • An accountancy firm might link from LinkedIn to advice blogs on its website to highlight company expertise and knowledge.
  • A florist might produce a series of how-to videos on arranging your own bouquets to underline their skills while building a devoted YouTube audience that they could potentially sell to.

Note that your content needn’t be big budget or complex to perform well. Sometimes the simplest things get the best responses. For instance, this brief product video for Tile(which allows you to track lost items, such as keys), which we posted on Warehouse Stationery’s Facebook page, has had around 125,000 views, 500 comments and 340 shares. Ponycycle New Zealand’s short, simple product video has had over 37 million views, with no paid promotion!

To encourage engagement more, you can ask questions in your posts, or run competitions that require people to comment on, or share, a post in order to enter. People in your audience who are also influential online can add a major boost to the reach of your content if they share or recommend it.

For sales, promotions can work – we regularly run them on the Warehouse Stationery pages – but make sure that you make them as RITE as possible and don’t overdo them. I’d recommend that no more than 25% of your posts should be sales focused.

Once you’ve created your content, and before you start posting, you’ll obviously need to set up your social media page. Each platform has guidelines for profile pages, the correct size for images and so on. Make sure the look and feel of your page matches that of your business.

4. Post

You can schedule posts in advance to save time later on – either using the platform’s functions or free tools such as Hootsuite – or post them one by one manually.

The ideal rhythm for posts for different platforms is up for debate, and there is plenty of research on this. But the limiting factor at this stage will probably be how much time you have to create content to post. As I said above, don’t attempt more than you can sustain.

One high quality post a week that works well is better than five mediocre posts that go unloved.

Again, see how often your competitors are posting.

5. Promote

Nowadays, just as you have to pay for advertising space on TV or radio, to get seen and grow quickly on the major social media platforms you need to spend money. Only a minority of your Facebook followers will see your organic (i.e. not paid for) posts, for example.

That doesn’t mean you have to promote everything. Facebook says it prioritises content that is relevant and gets lots of positive engagement, so your top organic posts will get seen by more of your followers than average posts. But the fact remains that to get them in front of even more people – including those who don’t already follow your pages – you need to pay.

Make the first few posts organic, so you have time to get comfortable with the process and see which posts perform best. Then promote the top performer – even if it’s just a $20 spend initially. The platforms offer a host of options related to targeting and other things that you’ll need to try out.

Over time you’ll build an understanding of what results to expect, as well as what works and what doesn’t. Then you can make a qualified judgement on how much to invest on a regular basis.

6. Engage

Whether you schedule your posts or put them up manually, you’ll need to be ready to respond to people. This is social media, after all. I’ll provide more detail on how to best do this in a future blog, but for now the key point to remember is that you need to respond in a timely, professional, authentic manner, and with empathy.

How a company handles a complaint in particular says a lot about the business.

A swift response and resolution can actually build credibility and goodwill. It shows other customers that if they have an issue they won’t be ignored. So it’s worth spending time on planning how you’ll manage them.

Think about how you handle complaints in person, via email or on the phone. The key difference between these communication channels and social media is the latter is public. So the conversation needs to be managed carefully. After the initial response it’s often best to move it onto private channels – such as email or Facebook Messenger – at least while you find a solution.

Importantly, don’t delete anything unless it is inappropriate; e.g. abusive or racist. You can spell out what is unacceptable, and will get deleted, in the ‘profile’ or ‘about’ sections of your page.

7. Evaluate

There are many metrics at your disposal for each social media platform. For example, Facebook has Platform Insights, which shows – among other things – page likes, post reach and engagement, as well as how paid and organic posts have performed. The key metrics to monitor will depend on your goals, as mentioned in Step 2 above.

Overall, an experimental approach works best for social media. Keep trialling different types of content, ways of promoting, even times to post – and check the results. Focus your time and money on what works well and stop doing what doesn’t. That way you’ll develop a sustainable presence online, and an audience that gives their attention, and custom, to you.