As a social media manager, it’s my job to show small businesses how they can use online platforms to both increase their client base and create more sales. While they appreciate the service and understand that social media is a supposedly helpful tool, most small business owners aren’t sure which platform works best for their services, let alone what messages they should post.

Not attracting as many customers as you'd like? Never fear. Get tips on using social media for business so you can promote yourself. #businesssmall #smallbusinesstips #smallbusinessmarketingOver 70 percent of small businesses used social media in 2018, according to a survey by business and consultancy platform Clutch. Ninety-five percent of small businesses intended to increase their budget for digital marketing over the coming year, with the majority of that spending going toward an increased social media presence, a 2018 survey by the business-advisory company The Manifest confirms.

Across the board, small enterprises recognize the importance of broadcasting their services and products on social platforms. It’s an essential tool in drumming up new clients and customers.

If you own a small business, you might be wondering how you can use the tools at your disposal to cut through our content-saturated social media landscape and promote yourself effectively.

While each business is different, there are a number of best practices that work for any enterprise. These strategies are guaranteed to increase your audience size while potentially attracting new customers.

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1. Use the Best Social Media Platform for Your Business

Business owners often feel overwhelmed by the options. Should they use Facebook or Twitter? Is it important to have a Yelp page? Does it make sense to have a YouTube presence?

Each business has different needs, and the online platforms you use should fit with what your business needs to promote. You don’t need to have an account on every social media outlet. For instance, an online advertising business doesn’t need a Yelp page when most clients will discover you via Twitter or Instagram.

It’s better to have only one or two active accounts than six ones that you don’t touch.

Having an out-of-date Facebook page collecting dust might look unprofessional to some, or worse, incline potential customers to think that you’re not soliciting new business.

How to Pick the Right Platform

Choose your social media outlets based on what will be most relevant to you.

If you own a restaurant or other food-based business, Yelp and Facebook are important. Twitter, on the other hand, may not be well suited to your promotion needs. Likewise, if you’re a freelance graphic designer, you may want to put your energy into Instagram, LinkedIn, or even Pinterest.

In short, determine where your primary audience is, and tailor your social media presence to fit. Emulating the social media strategy of another company can be a waste of time and money.

It’s best to draw up a strategy unique to your business needs and make a conscious decision to be on a couple of specific platforms. That way, you’ll be more successful in getting through to your base demographic.

To that extent, it may be helpful to employ analytical tools to obtain data about your followers.

Crimson Hexagon and Meltwater are good tools to use to help clients understand the partnership between their audience and their social media behavior, and how to best plan which channels and time periods to use,” says Tiffany Schreane, a marketing and data expert and professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Also consider tools such as HubSpot Content Strategy to help with social content creation.”

Social Media Analytics

You can also use the analytical tools built into the platforms you’re already using to identify where you are reaching customers the most. For example, Facebook Business Insights and Twitter Analytics come bundled with their respective platforms and are therefore free to use.

“Most social platforms have their own analytics system that offers an in-depth look at who your primary audience is, so I would start with those because they're budget-friendly,” social media strategist Lauren Anderson says.

“Working for a small business, it’s all about finding the right information at the right price.”

In short, gather hard data for your audience reach across the social media platforms you’re currently using and let it inform your content strategy going forward. Getting lots of retweets on Twitter, but not seeing many Instagram likes? Adapt your online presence accordingly to maximize your reach while employing your time wisely.

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2. Don’t Overpromote or Underpromote

Your customers and clients will get tired of hearing the same message over and over again. If your entire feed consists only of posts indicating how great your business is, you probably won’t get many new followers. People who feel as if they are interacting with an online salesman will frequently turn away from the messaging.

The Effects of Overpromotion

“People don’t go to social media to be sold to 24/7, so if all you do is promote, you will come across as pushy and sales-y,” says digital marketing strategist Lynley Hipps. “And in doing so, you could damage your brand reputation for your potential audience.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never promote your business. You want to be on social media to bring in more customers or clients, but overpromoting will hurt your brand rather than enhance it.

“To me, overpromoting means not including content other than call-to-actions, or posting about your goods or services more than a few times per week,” says senior content manager Anastasia Iliouof Medicare Plan Finder. “Your followers will see that as annoying.”

Creating a more immersive social media personality for your company is a sure-fire way to avoid the pitfalls of overpromotion, according to Iliou.

“You have to create a brand for yourself on social media — a brand that people want to follow and engage with,” Iliou continues.

“That means talking not only about your business, but also topics relevant to your audience and your business. You might think that the only relevant piece is your goods or services, but that’s not true.”

How to Avoid Overpromotion

Instead, promote your business only a handful of times throughout the week, while simultaneously publishing content related to your business that is less outwardly self-aggrandizing.

“When I’m planning a client’s social media strategy and calendar, I usually plan around 20 percent of their weekly posts to be promotional,” Hipps says. “However, almost all content you post has the potential to promote your business — not necessarily promoting your product or service, but promoting who you are as a business.”

“You can demonstrate your company’s values, wins, or satisfied customers without being overly promotional,” she continues.

It’s also easy to post content that revolves around topics that are relevant to your audience. For example, if you sell Popsicles and summer is coming, you can support a conversation around staying cool in summer. Consider the services and goods you offer, as well as the conversations that surround your business, and tailor your posts to fit those discussions.

The Effects of Underpromotion

Conversely, make sure that you’re not underpromoting your business — either through not posting at all, or posting in a way that does not drive new clientele to your business. “Simply sharing articles and photos to your page with no other connection to your business can be hurtful,” says small-business manager Nicole Firebaugh of PMR of Marion, Illinois.

“People may interact and share the posts, but nobody will be seeing who you are or what you do, and therefore when they need your goods or service, you won’t come to mind.”

It’s important to balance your content schedule to not oversaturate your followers, while at the same time curating your content to direct the conversation toward your business. It’s a difficult endeavor to thread the needle between overpromotion and underpromotion, but finding the right balance can ultimately net new business and more profit.

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3. Engage Your Audience

One aspect of social media that differentiates it from traditional advertising is the ability to engage with your audience on a personal level.

Fostering conversations between businesses and their customers is something that a television or newspaper ad could never do.

Business owners with an online presence can engage with their audiences in unique ways. For example, an author might ask followers which book cover they prefer. Or an ice cream shop may ask customers what new and interesting flavors of ice cream they want to try. Meanwhile, a hair salon can poll followers on which celebrity has the best haircut this summer.

All three of these posts give the audience an opportunity to engage with their favorite businesses, allowing the customer to feel connected and valued.

Using Social Media to Improve Response Times

Some businesses will use a site like Twitter or Facebook as the only means through which a customer can receive support or provide feedback. If you have someone managing your social media accounts, customers will receive more immediate responses than they would through email correspondence.

This will increase both the customer’s satisfaction and the likelihood they’ll recommend your business to friends and peers.

The best strategy for engaging with clientele on social media platforms lies in your business’s ability to subvert the traditionally negative experiences individuals have, with good customer service.

“The number one strategy for engagement is to be crystal clear on your audience, their needs, and their challenges,” Hipps says. “Then post content that answers a need, solves a challenge, or, at the very least, validates their concerns so they know they’re seen and understood.”

Almost everyone has some horror story from being placed on hold while phoning a company’s customer service line. Social media tools allow you to provide the necessary care and consideration to your client base in a way that encourages repeat business and happy trails.

4. Provide Value

With so much information on social media, it might be difficult for customers to sort through what’s useful and relevant to them. Business owners can help by posting a mix of messages, engagement posts, and self-promotion blurbs that will provide value to their customers’ lives.

For example, there’s an auto-body shop that often posts before-and-after pictures of damaged cars they fixed. However, one of their most popular recent posts is a link to information about auto recalls and defects. Unlike their earlier posts — which only a handful of people clicked on — over 250 people found the recalls and defects to be relevant enough to click through.

As such, a company providing value to their customers via social media is a less direct form of engagement. That said, it pays dividends in building your business in the eyes of your clientele.

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Building a Reputation

“Customers — or potential customers — want to be catered to and want to know that a company or brand ‘gets them,’” says social media strategist Leanna DeBellevue. “We all know that people buy from companies that they know, like, and trust. By sharing information that can be helpful, the customer sees that they are concerned that the recall information gets out to the public and are willing to share it. It builds brand trust and loyalty.”

Testimonials by small-business owners confirm DeBellevue’s advice. “Some of the most impactful examples of my own social media success came from LinkedIn,” says business coach and digital marketing expert Pedro Campos.

“I’ve landed multiple discovery calls just by consistently commenting on other people’s posts and providing value.”

Going out of your way to demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends, while indicating that you are personally invested in the success of your customers, goes a long way in establishing a relationship of trust with new customers and assuaging the concerns of your existing client base.

“When you take the time to leave meaningful comments, people appreciate it and will naturally want to know more about what you do and help you in any way,” Campos adds.

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The Best Industries for Social Media

While all businesses can benefit from promoting themselves on the web, the medium of social media is better suited for certain key industries. Here are some of the sectors for which sites like Facebook and Twitter are particularly effective in spreading the word, according to artificial intelligence-driven social media analysis by Socialbakers.

1. E-Commerce

E-commerce is a no-brainer for this list. It’s the business of selling goods on the internet — be it through popular homemade-goods sites like Etsy or on an individual webpage — and it’s heavily reliant upon social media as a way of reaching new customers through targeted ads, as well as handling returns or feedback.

2. Retail

While you might assume retail goods stores would carry almost anything you might need, the ability to advertise nationwide sales and markdowns is no longer restricted to newspaper inserts or coupon books. Many retail giants employ Facebook as a means of advertising the best deals.

3. Fashion

Clothing is well suited for photo-centric social platforms (particularly Instagram), especially as smartphones are able to present high-definition photos quickly and seamlessly.

4. Consumer Packaged Goods

This category is a bit of an outlier compared with the rest of this list. However, the opportunity for individuals to interact with their favorite food and beverage brands gives packaged-goods companies the ability to strengthen their brand while providing a valuable experience to their longtime patrons.

5. Services

The ability to respond to feedback and answer customers’ questions in a timely fashion is essential to any service-providing business owner. Social media provides a one-stop location for both answering customers’ concerns and promoting their business, especially in localized markets.

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The Bottom Line on Using Social Media for Business

Some business owners don’t see the value in having a social media presence, but the ability to interact directly with customers on behalf of your brand can be a huge tool for your longstanding success.

Businesses that use social media effectively may be rewarded with more customers and better sales. By choosing the best platform for your industry, carefully scheduling your content rollout, and interacting with your customers in a consistent fashion, you can absolutely use digital marketing tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to help your business grow.

Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.