Social media best practice for business
Social media advice for businesses looking to set up, evaluate, manage or improve their social media campaigns across a range of channels.
Social media is a constantly evolving set of methods and technologies which allow people to interact, communicate and share ideas online.
Customers increasingly look to engage with businesses or brands online in multiple ways. They expect a variety of rich content including audio, video, blogs, online forums and social networking. Customers often want to build a relationship with the brand. This requires a two-way dialogue between the customer and the business.
Social media can be a great way to engage with customers, with relative ease and little cost. It can form an important part of your marketing strategy. Using social media for maximum benefit to your business, and overcoming the many challenges, requires careful thought and planning. It's important to understand and exploit the business services offered by social media platforms to make a success of your campaign.
This guide will help you to think about what your social media strategy should be, the main channels you should consider using, and some of the legal implications for your business.
Advantages and disadvantages of using social media
Understand how social media can benefit your business through increased brand awareness, and the potential pitfalls such as ineffective use
Social media can be a useful tool for businesses, bringing advantages such as engaging with your audience and boosting website traffic. However there can also be disadvantages, including the resources required and negative feedback. Considering these pros and cons can help you decide the best approach to social media for your business.
Advantages of social media
The business benefits of effective social media use include:
- Brand awareness - Compelling and relevant content will grab the attention of potential customers and increase brand visibility. See branding: the basics.
- Brand reputation - You can respond instantly to industry developments and be seen as 'thought leader' or expert in your field. This can improve how your business is seen by your audience. See public relations (PR).
- Cost effective - It can be much cheaper than traditional advertising and promotional activities. The costs of maintaining a social media presence are minimal. If you choose to invest in paid advertising, you can spend as much or as little as your budget allows.
- Website traffic - Social content can boost traffic to your website. This can lead to increased online conversions such as sales and leads.
- Evaluation - It is easy to measure how much website traffic you receive from social media. You can set up tracking to determine how many sales are generated by paid social advertising.
- Customer interaction - You can deliver improved customer service and respond effectively to feedback. Positive feedback is public and can be persuasive to other potential customers. Negative feedback highlights areas where you can improve.
- Target audience - Customers can find you through the social media platforms they use most. You can choose to maintain a presence on particular platforms that are in line with your target audience. For example, if you are targeting young people you could reach them through Snapchat. If you are seeking business customers, LinkedIn may be the best channel. See social media platforms.
- Brand loyalty - You can build relationships with your customers through social media. This can help increase loyalty and advocacy.
Disadvantages of social media
Some of the downsides of using social media include:
- Resources - You will need to commit resources to managing your social media presence, responding to feedback and producing new content. This can include hiring and training staff, investing in paid advertising and paying for the costs of creating video or image content.
- Evaluation - While it is easy to quantify the return-on-investment in terms of online sales generated by social media advertising - there are some less tangible benefits. It can be hard to measure and place a monetary value on the brand awareness and reputation that social media can bring. It's difficult to know how social media effects sales in-store.
- Ineffective use - Social media can be used ineffectively. For example, using social media to push for sales without engaging with customers, or failing to respond to negative feedback - may damage your reputation.
Social media business opportunities and challenges
Effective use of social media can bring great opportunities for your business, but will require some thought and planning. Moving with fast-paced developments in online technology can help to enhance your brand, boost your profile and perhaps even win new business. However you need a healthy perspective on what your business is able to put into social media, and what's realistic to expect in return.
Social media opportunities for business
Home computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, even internet enabled televisions mean people can easily access the web from anywhere at any time. Faster connections, new devices and new online applications have all helped to change the way people work, socialise and shop.
It is now easier than ever for businesses to:
- directly target customers with marketing campaigns
- promote new products or services
- build brand awareness
- personally interact with existing and potential customers
- measure referrals from your social media activity to sales
Social media can be a cheap and effective way of starting a marketing campaign, with a big impact possible from minimal investment. Your social media strategy should contain a smart mix of engaging content and a friendly and responsive 'persona' can grow a focused community which is interested in your product/service/brand and can recommend your business to others.
Social media should be incorporated into your public relations (PR) strategy. PR means getting people to talk and think about your business in a positive way. Social media provides a platform for your customers to talk with each other. How you manage that platform and engage with what your customers are saying is an important part of your PR strategy.
Social media challenges for business
There are so many social media tools and platforms it can be hard to know where to begin. For small businesses the key issue is resource - if you don't have someone able to manage a social media campaign, it can be a drain on your time and a potential distraction from your core business. Some of the main challenges to consider are:
- What do you hope to achieve by using social media?
- How much time you can devote to social media?
- What are the most effective platforms to use?
- What are you trying to achieve for your business?
While social media gives you the chance to build brand awareness and customer loyalty, there are also dangers in participating in a public conversation forum. You need to have a clear idea of how to handle negative feedback about your business. You need to ensure that what you post and how you interact with people presents a professional image to the world. Writing down a set of rules for how you will manage social media can help you to steer through the challenges - see how to develop a social media strategy.
It's important to consider the legal implications and best practice using social media in order to avoid problems.
Business use of social media has also raised customer expectations. They now expect immediacy in their online interactions - where content is regularly updated and any comments they make are quickly replied to. You should consider how these expectations will be managed.
Develop a social media strategy
Social media can help some businesses achieve their objectives, eg marketing their services, driving sales and interacting with customers. Planning ahead can help you make the most of this opportunity. Before you start using social media, you should think strategically about what you hope to achieve and if you have the resources to manage it properly.
You social media strategy should be in line with your overall marketing strategy and plan. See the following guides:
Social media goals
If you can devote the time to managing a social media channel, you need to define your goals. Examples of goals include:
- driving sales
- product promotion
- brand awareness
- customer service
- building your industry reputation
- forming relationships and networks
- managing enquiries
Ensure your social media goals are related to the overall aims of the business and wider marketing strategy.
Once you have decided what your main goals are, you should set measurable objectives. Your objectives should be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. For example, if your main goal is to drive new sales, you might set an objective to generate 20 new sales leads per month.
Plan your social media activity
Once your objectives have been set, it is time to plan the activities that will help you achieve them. Your plan should include:
- Social media channels: You don't need to be on every platform - decide which are best suited to your business and goals. For example, if you run a local consumer business like a shop or restaurant, Facebook may help you reach your audience. A larger company interested in using social media for recruitment could consider LinkedIn. See social media platforms.
- Content: Build a plan for the content you will post. This could include a mix images, links to blog articles, videos or infographics. Think about what will interest, entertain or be useful to your audience. Use a mix of this engaging content alongside more sale-focused content about products or deals. see content marketing.
- Resources: Decide who will manage your social media channels - including creating content and reacting to comments. Ensure the team or individual has the right skills and enough time. Consider if training is needed. If you decide to use paid promotion, allocate a realistic budget.
Measure your impact
Once you are up and running, it's important to monitor how effective your time on social media is. There are lots of free and paid tools available to track your social media activity and measure its impact.
If your goal is driving sales then monitoring referrals from social media channels is important. Brand awareness and promotion might be measured through the level of interactions, or traffic driven to your website.
Monitoring the engagement and reactions on your social media posts will help you plan future content based on what is successful.
Crowdsourcing on social media
Social media can be an excellent way to reach out to both existing and potential customers and take advantage of their creativity. There are two ways to involve your network in developing new products and services:
- Crowdsourcing - asking your network to share solutions to a particular problem your company is experiencing, either on their own or in groups. The community collects, develops and ranks the contributions to reveal the strongest performers.
- Open innovation - allowing people to submit their own competitive ideas and inventions for your company to harness.
Advantages of using social media for innovation
With so many minds able to network together, crowdsourcing and open innovation allow people to work together on a massive scale. By involving your online contact network, you can benefit from:
- the wisdom and creativity of people outside your own workforce
- the increased likelihood of people picking up on and developing innovative ideas that might otherwise go unrecognised
- the outside perspective of customers - and potential customers - who may see issues and opportunities you're unaware of
- increased customer loyalty and brand advocacy that comes from having a say in your company's offer
- lower costs when developing new products or enhancements, and more certain market success for them
Disadvantages of using social media for innovation
Some potential drawbacks include:
- a lack of long-term motivation from participants
- a lack of written contracts, non-disclosure agreements or employee agreements
- difficulties managing a large-scale project and maintaining a working relationship with crowdsourced workers
For crowdsourcing to be truly effective, you will need to reward the people who make a difference to your profitability - for example, by giving prizes or simply crediting work. Beware of causing discontent by failing to recognise the efforts of contributors.
Ten tips for using social media
Some tips to help make your social network work for you, including choosing the right platform, planning and measuring performance
More and more businesses are turning to social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook, to attract sales, engage with customers and build brand awareness. You will need time and effort, in addition to a strategy and a plan, to successfully achieve your end goal.
Here are some tips to help make your social media work for you.
1. Choose your platform wisely
Before setting up a profile you should research the platform. Spend time finding out: who is using it; why they are using it; and how they are using it. You don't need to use every social media platform. choose platforms that are in-line with your marketing goals and target audience.
See the following guides:
2. Plan, plan, plan
Develop a plan for how you intend to use social media. This should include who will be responsible for managing the platform. Will this be one person or a team of people? Think about how often you will post content and what type of information you will share.
3. Measure performance
As with any business activity it's important to evaluate your performance to know how you can improve. How social media success is measured can vary from business to business and depends on the target you set, but could include:
- increased sales
- improved customer service - eg reduced waiting times for assistance, complaints, or reasons customers have complained
- increased website traffic
- customer engagement with your account - eg on Twitter you could measure how many retweets and interactions you receive
4. Let others know
You can raise awareness of your social media presence by including links to your account in email signatures, on business cards, on invoices and your company website. Many businesses also highlight their social media presence on printed literature and marketing materials.
5. Look professional
Most social media platforms allow you to personalise your business profile. This may include the addition of a picture and company details. Your profile on social media is a good way to communicate your brand. Give thought to any images you use, and if necessary get help from a graphic designer. Ensure your company details are error-free. Write a description that effectively communicates your business message.
6. Add value for your customers
Added value will grow your following no matter what channel you choose. This could include things like running competitions exclusive to social media, offering discounts or sharing specialist advice or information relating to your industry. See content marketing.
7. Be consistent
If you commit to having a social media presence be consistent with your use of it. In most cases it's not good enough to post content one day and follow this up with a long period of inactivity. Social media is a communications platform and should be regularly updated in keeping with the etiquette for the particular platform.
8. Find out what works for you
When you use social media you will notice trends in what works in terms of engaging with your community. It could be types of posts, times of posts, tone of posts or all of the above. Identify what works best for you or for those in your industry. Develop your own strategy for using your social media.
Social media is continually evolving, new networks are appearing and new functionality is being introduced to networks. Adapt to changes and experiment with them to see how they can benefit your business.
9. Different platforms need different content
It might save time to update all your chosen platforms with the same content but remember that people could be engaged with you across all of your social media platforms. Some customers could get frustrated at seeing the same message repeatedly. Each social medias platform is different, so the message you send out through each should vary (even if only ever so slightly).
10. Communicate with staff
Make your staff aware of your social media presence and communicate with them on how each platform is intended to be used to benefit the business.
Your employees are brand ambassadors and are often the people dealing with customers. It's important that such staff are aware of what social media platforms you are on. You should also highlight what customers may expect from their engagement with your business through social media.
Managing social media in our business - The MAC (video)
The MAC (Metropolitan Arts Centre) is Belfast's newest arts venue. Ciaran Corr, Media and Communications officer from The MAC, talks about how social media is managed in their business.
The MAC has four social media channels, which they use to communicate with different audience groups. Ciaran explains how they do this. He also highlights how the MAC recruits staff through social media, and discusses how they developed social media policy/guidelines to match their brand.