Small business tips: how to use social media to boost business
Social media is transforming the way business is carried out. A recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK found that nearly 80% of consumers would be more inclined to buy more often in the future because of a brand’s presence on social media.
For small firms, knowing how to capitalise on this is crucial. Julia Bramble, founder of social media consultancy Bramble Buzz, says: “If businesses haven’t got the right [social media] presence then they’re really going to be missing out, because customers are expecting to find businesses and brands on there.”
What SME owners must focus on, says Bramble, is their target market: “The key message is to think about who your customers are, think about everything you know about them, where they live, what their lifestyles are, what their interests are, business wise and outside of business, and that’ll give you big clues as to the social networks they’re likely to be using.”
Once you’ve got your social media strategy in place, she adds, you need to think about how this is going to translate into sales and development for your business. Will it drive traffic to your website? Get bums on seats at an event? Or drive footfall into stores? “How does all that fantastic activity and buzz translate into tangible results for the business? That’s the key to getting social media to grow your business,” she says.
Claire Mitchell, founder of The Girls Mean Business, saw the conversion of her Facebook ‘likes’ into a business venture as an opportunity she couldn’t let pass her by. Having done some business coaching already, she decided to use The Girls Mean Business brand to offer coaching programmes, webinars and e-books for women entrepreneurs.
Using Facebook has expanded her reach on a global scale. Her page now has nearly 14,000 ‘likes’, from countries as far and wide as Canada, Australia, the US and South Africa as well as the UK and the rest of Europe. She says: “The Facebook page really took on a life of its own, which was wonderful.”
Knowing what to do with social media in order to be successful is key and Mitchell found several things to be vital for engaging customers: asking users questions – whether general or business-related – sharing users’ quandaries with others, putting feelers out for advice and solutions, and posting inspirational quotes. She says: “I get great feedback that it helps people, because when you’re sitting there in your house running this business and trying to juggle it with kids or other jobs, it’s a really lonely place to be sometimes and it just makes people feel as though they’re not alone.”
For Adam Ball, owner of the design company Concept Cupboard, Twitter made it possible to expand his network. He says: “Twitter gives you a free platform to let the world know who you are and what you do. When you’re looking to approach someone for potential partnerships, meetings and so on, this can be a great tool to reach out to people. A lot of professionals use the platform and it can be a great way to introduce yourself, as long as you’re not just spamming people. I’ve had quite a few meetings set up from a conversation that started on Twitter.”
While Facebook and Twitter are social networks with the emphasis on social, Kimberley Waldron, co-founder of SkyParlour PR, has found LinkedIn, which is aimed at professionals, to be instrumental in building contacts internationally. She says: “In the past 12 to 18 months it’s generated some real opportunities for us. I spent five weeks in New York in February this year going around meeting potential customers and trade bodies, and 90% of all the contacts and meetings I had been set up via LinkedIn.”
One feature of LinkedIn that has been particularly fruitful for Waldron is the recommendations: companies or individuals can recommend someone as a potential colleague or client. Having a visible online reputation creates an instant transparency and, Waldron believes, makes potential clients more likely to trust you. She says: “We pitched to a big business earlier this week and straight away the guys we pitched to checked out my profile and added me on LinkedIn. They feel that they trust me because they can see my career history and the recommendations from other people, so it takes away a little of the, ‘Who is this person?’”
Emerging social media platforms are also making a huge difference to how small businesses market themselves. Rebecca Mortby, for example, co-foundedGreenfinch Graduations, a graduation planning service for the families of international and online students in the UK, in March this year. She has been able to tailor Pinterest to meet her company’s specific needs: “We started to share hints and tips on everything from graduation outfits and hairstyles to getting around on the day, useful posts and links for international and online students and news and motivational quotes and stories.”
Pinterest has also allowed Greenfinch Graduations’ customers to tailor their package how they like. Mortby says: “The option to set boards to private has allowed us to share ideas and visions with our clients. They and their family can also then add ideas to the boards and effectively communicate their vision without the need for lengthy phone calls, email exchanges or even a shared language.”
The success of Pinterest is an example of how effective images are as a stimulus. Instagram is another social media platform which has exploited this, as Lyndsey Haskell, who owns the gardening retail site What You Sow, has found. She says: “Instagram has really helped What You Sow go from strength to strength. I post styled pictures of my stock as well as on-brand images of my gardening adventures; plants, flowers and gardens I’ve visited. A large part of the What You Sow identity is lifestyle orientated, so not only can people see images of things I’m selling, but they get a real sense of my gardening inspirations too.”