The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Social Media for Small Business Owners

Small Business's Beginner's Guide to Social Media

Determining which social media platforms to utilize as a small business owner can be like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet and having a dinner roll sized plate on which to put your goodies. Even as recent as a few years ago, there were a few stalwarts that every business knew they needed a presence – now, the sheer amount of options available in terms of social media platforms can be overwhelming to small business owners, especially those in their 40s or 50s.

The what and how of social media platforms

But don’t fret – we’re going to take the time to briefly give an overview of each of the most popular platforms available, what it can offer to you as a business owner, and how you should approach each one to maximize your efforts.


What is Facebook?

By far and away the largest social media platform, Facebook is arguably the most important social media platform your small business can have a presence on. It comes down to a sheer numbers game – with well over 1 billion monthly active users (MAU), you simply can’t afford not to be on Facebook. Facebook also has the most varied users in terms of demographics. As it has become so large and omnipresent, it has become part of the everyday societal lexicon. With it being in the news, being the subject of a major motion picture that was nominated for lots of Oscars, and by having one of the most talked about IPOs in recent memory, even your luddite parents and/or grandparents have at the very least heard of Facebook and are probably on it – after all, nearly one out of every seven people on the planet are.

How you should use it

By simply creating a business profile page on Facebook, you are now discoverable by the millions of people that search Facebook every day. This can be done in mere minutes, is incredibly straightforward, and free. Once there, you’ll want to have a regular stream of updates to stay relevant and gain new likes from people, who will then see your updates in their news feed. Posting pictures from events or new products, giving updates as to what’s coming down the pike for your business, or asking questions of what your followers would like to see in the future from your business are all great ways to engage your Facebook audience.

Facebook also allows for hyper-targeted advertising, allowing you to select a very small group of people based on a variety of different factors (age, gender, location, etc.). You can also set an incredibly low budget (as little as $10) to toe the waters of your ads’ efficacy. Facebook also allows users to “check in” when they are at your place of business, which posts an update to all of that customer’s friends letting them know where they’re at. Not only is this great free advertising, but you can offer deals to incentivize people to check in to increase awareness. Try your best to maintain a regular schedule of activity, with at least one post or update per week, and watch your likes grow.

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What is Twitter?

Growing quickly (232 million MAU), Twitter is an app that can be essentially viewed as a mass text-message machine. Users can post updates (tweets) in 140 characters or less that get sent to all of their followers, who can than comment or share (re-tweet) it. Users can also hashtag a phrase, which if it gains enough popularity, can become a trending topic, meaning a significant amount of users are tweeting about a particular subject or event. The average Twitter user skews a bit younger than the Facebook user, and a large portion of them predominately use their mobile phone to interact.

How you should use it

This is perhaps the most asked about social media platform for older or less tech savvy small business owners, as Twitter has been in the news a lot recently (also due to a very successful IPO). Business owners who have the time to be active on social media should absolutely be on Twitter, especially if their products or services cater to a relatively younger crowd. Twitter moves fast and specializes in short exchanges, so it’s perfect to build relationships with your followers (customers).

Respond directly to questions, tag people as they come into your small business, follow all your customers and interact with their tweets, and use appropriate trending hashtags (or start your own) to gain more visibility. Also, due to its brevity and audience, feel free to have a bit more fun on Twitter and approach it causally – stilted, stiff “business” tweets won’t gain nearly as much traction as those with a bit of irreverence thrown in.


What is YouTube?

It may surprise you to learn that YouTube – not Yahoo! or Bing – is the world’s second largest search engine. That’s right – the undisputed king of Internet videos is also second only to Google in terms of how people are attempting to find content on the Internet. That alone should prove the value of making a business account on the platform and adding content as regularly as you can. And just in case you’re unaware of what YouTube is, it’s the world’s largest video hosting and sharing platform. Users can upload videos of whatever they choose (without nudity and or excessive, real-life gore/violence) and share it with the world. Users can also comment on the videos of others.

How you should use it

Pretty straightforward here – simply posting videos of your small business and placing them on YouTube under your business account, you’re off to a good start. Videos can be interviews you’ve done with local media outlets, a simple video overview of your business and what it offers, testimonials with happy customers…the sky’s the limit. Once you have the videos online and posted, however, be sure to promote them by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and the other platforms you may be on to ensure that people are watching.


What is FourSquare?

FourSquare is a mobile application (app) that allows users to check in at your place of business. Not only does this notify that users friends of where he or she is at (similar to Facebook), but what sets FourSquare apart is the “gamification” aspect. This essentially means there is a competition element to the platform – checking in to various businesses at various times can earn you badges to show off to your friends, and if you can check into a particular business the most frequently during a set period of time, you become the FourSquare Mayor, which acts as a further point of distinction.

How you should use it

Obviously this strictly applies to brick and mortar businesses, and is definitely most effective for those that offer goods as opposed to services (although the only thing that really matters is a high amount of foot traffic). As a small business owner, you can offer incentives for those customers who earn specific badges or become the mayor – a 10% discount across the board is often enough to inspire people to stop by frequently in hopes of becoming the next mayor. FourSquare is also perfectly suited for timed-deals – giving away a small freebie to anyone that checks in on a certain day or during a certain time can be a great way to drive visitors.


What is Yelp?

Yelp is the largest business review site operating today. It allows users to sign in and leave reviews (based out of five stars) on the business they frequented. It also allows for people to leave worded reviews along with their starred reviews to go into further detail about the particulars of an experience or the business itself.

How you should use it

First and foremost, you need to make the decision if you want to be on Yelp or not. The pros include the fact that hundreds of thousands of people use it religiously to find the best place to spend their hard-earned dollars, and having a profile on there makes you discoverable to the entire userbase. The cons include the inevitable bad reviews – even if you’re the best game in town and provide your customers with impeccable service, there is bound to be an example of somebody leaving a bad review. They might not have even come into your small business – they may just be at odds with one of your employees. It is a risk – the most important thing to remember is to not overreact to negative reviews a la Amy’s Baking Company (Google it if that reference loses you). You must have a thick skin and be able to accept criticism.

If you’re confident in your company and its offerings, definitely take the few minutes to create an account. What’s nice about Yelp is it takes minimal maintenance on your end – after initial setup, most of the content will come from user reviews (which are hopefully positive).


What is Pinterest?

Think of a pinboard that spawns across the entire Internet where anyone with a connection can put something up on it, and you’ve got a fairly decent overview of just how Pinterest works. It’s a completely visual, virtual tackboard where users sign up and pin things that they like to their own personal board.

A user’s newsfeed is comprised of images that either Pinterest thinks he or she will be interested in or pins from the user’s friends. You can create as many categories of pins that are completely unique to you, and users can begin to follow you if your tastes are similar. A pin consists of an image found elsewhere on the web – a user will grab it, pin it to a category on their own board, possibly write up a few words on what it is or why they like it, and then pin it. Any Pinterest user who clicks on the image will be taken to the original source page.

How you should use it

Pinterest is unique as it is by far the most female-dominated social media platform out there – according to a recent Nielsen report, approximately 84% of Pinterest users are women. Take this into consideration when weighing whether or not your small business should be on Pinterest – heavily male-focused content will have a considerably more difficult time gaining traction on the platform. But if your offerings attract a good percentage of women or are gender-neutral, Pinterest can be a fantastically rewarding platform to be on.

The first step would be to make your website Pinterest-friendly – make sure there are lots of images and/or galleries to browse, and try to focus on content that’s unique and sets your small business apart. Also, be sure to engage people and pin things yourself that aren’t directly related to your business – businesses that come off as constantly trying to advertise themselves will have a tough time (which is actually good advice for all social media platforms). And finally, be sure to watermark or brand your photos so that when they are pinned and re-pinned, everyone knows where they originated from.


What is LinkedIn?

What sets LinkedIn apart from all of the others mentioned in this list is that it’s primarily business to business (B2B) focused. Individual users create accounts that act as a sort of living, breathing, online résumé. They can join groups of similar work-related backgrounds or skillsets, connect with fellow employees or colleagues at different ones, and also be on the lookout for new gigs as they open up as many businesses post job openings increasingly on LinkedIn.

How you should use it

This is definitely the most straightforward, “business” platform we’ll cover, but that is due to its B2B nature. As a business owner, you’re there to learn and connect with other small business owners, establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry, and possibly find the next new big hire.

Creating a business profile for your company should be done as it takes no time at all, and it will allow current and former employees to list you in their online résumé which will give you increased visibility. But you should also take the time to create your own personal LinkedIn profile and brand yourself as well. Join groups that are relevant to your skills and knowledge base and relevant to your business. Answering questions, engaging your colleagues and even your competition, and becoming involved with the groups will help establish you and your small business as a leader in your field.


What is Tumblr?

Blogging could very well be considered the first type of social media, or “web 2.0” – Tumblr is the natural evolution and extension of blogging. It’s a social network dependent upon media rich blog entries. Typical entries are focused around pictures, animated pictures (GIFs), or videos. Similar to Facebook’s “like” system, users can “heart” their favorite blogs, or re-blog (share) content that is exceptionally well-done.

How you should use it

The best way to approach Tumblr is as a natural extension of your business’ blog, which as we’ve discussed on previous blog entries here, you should most DEFINITELY have. Try to stay mostly relevant to your business but again, don’t come off as pure advertisement. Posting a photo or video of an interesting customer and writing about the resulting interaction is a great idea. Making your official blog on Tumblr opens up your content to an exponentially larger amount of people than might find your blog if it only lives on your company website.


What is Instagram?

What a difference a filter can make! Instagram is a mobile app that enables users to take photos through their smartphone and edit them through a variety of methods to give each pic an artsy, sometime vintage look (you can also opt to not use any filters, but Instagram will automatically crop your photo to make it square, a la classic Polaroid shots). Users then apply different tags (via the almighty hashtag) which allows other users to search and quickly find images based on their interest.

How you should use it

Instagram is purely image based – all of your content you add through Instagram will be photos. If your business has a lot of different products that are visually appealing, you could see some strong successes through Instagram. If you are a commodities broker or insurance agent, you’ll probably struggle to find compelling things that are business related for you to photograph and tag. And similar to YouTube, the images you create on Instagram will gain you the best visibility and traction when shared on another platform – due to Facebook’s recent purchase of Instagram, sharing your tagged pics to the world’s largest social network has never been easier.

Weigh the pros and cons of each & launch the one’s that fit

As you can see, there is no shortage of social media platforms available to you as a business owner. You’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of each platform and whether or not the audience and the nature of the platform itself is a good fit for your small business. The most important aspect that you need to consider when determining your presence on these will be the amount of time you can devote to each. Yelp and LinkedIn require only a minimal amount of time, but if you can’t respond within a few hours on Twitter, your followers may soon lose interest in what you have to say as it’s a very fast-moving and engagement heavy platform.

Every minute you spend on social media as a business owner should be actively increasing your followers, your brand recognition, and overall awareness – otherwise, your time will be better spent managing other facets of your company. Due to its variety and cost-effectiveness, you will undoubtedly find a host of options that will perfectly suit your small business and its needs.


Jerry Whitehead
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Jerry Whitehead

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