How to Use Social Media for Business

A guide to how to use different social media platforms for your business.

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

One of the biggest challenges new businesses face is gaining brand awareness. Even mature businesses often have to work at maintaining both their visibility and their relevance. Social networks can be a great help with both, provided that you use an effective social media strategy.

What is social media?

The term social media simply refers to online platforms where people gather to interact with each other. Different social platforms tend to attract different types of people. Each platform has some form of common denominator. This could be a demographic characteristic (e.g. age), a geographical link or an interest.

A few social media platforms (especially the major ones) attract a wide variety of people. These social platforms tend to have informal divisions into subcommunities, each with its own common denominator.

Top social media platforms:

How to use social media for business

It’s important to understand the basics of social media because growing a social media presence really comes down to three simple factors.

  1. Knowing your target audience

  2. Choosing the right platforms

  3. Creating the right content

Knowing your target audience

If you have already created a business plan, you will already have defined your target customer demographic. If you haven’t, do so as a priority. The whole point of social media marketing is to promote your brand to potential customers. This can only work if you know who your potential customers are.

Choosing the right platforms

Small businesses should generally aim to start out on one social media platform. Over time you may wish to expand into others. It is vital to ensure that you have the necessary resources before you do so.

When you’re using social media as a business, you have to do more than just post whatever you fancy. You have to create the right content for the specific audience on that particular social media channel. You then have to promote it, respond to people who engage with it and analyse its performance.

Businesses that are active across a number of social media platforms tend to have dedicated social media teams to manage them. These may be in-house or outsourced. Either way, they have a suitable level of resources for their level of social media marketing activity.

Smaller businesses may not even be able to have a single employee to manage social media as their full-time job. Even with help from freelancers, small businesses need to be very careful to avoid over-committing their resources.

This means smaller businesses in particular need to assess the return on investment they are likely to get from any given social media channel. In essence, this means you need clear answers to the following questions:

  1. How many people in my target audience are on this platform?

  2. How actively do these people use this platform?

  3. Is user growth trending upwards or downwards or is it stable?

  4. Is user activity trending upwards or downwards or is it stable?

  5. How much competition is there on this platform?

  6. How many opportunities for collaborations are there on this platform?

  7. How resource-intensive is this platform?

Remember, bigger is not always better

When you look at social media platforms, your natural tendency might be to head straight to the big names such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. This is totally understandable but it may miss out on your most cost-effective social media marketing opportunities.

In some niches, forums may be a far better place to start. These still attract a lot of traffic, and that traffic is often highly engaged. Forums tend to be fairly undemanding in terms of resources. They’re often largely based on text although you generally can post photos if you wish. You can also usually post links to external resources such as videos or web pages (e.g. blogs you’ve written).

Consider splitting the difference and focusing on a social media platform that effectively also functions as a forum. Facebook and LinkedIn are the two obvious examples of this.

Another possibility is to target up-and-coming platforms such as Vero (and arguably Discord), or sites that are readjusting their focus such as Twitch. These social networks have relatively small user bases compared to the big names. Because of this, they can be overlooked by both social media marketers and advertisers. This can create a window of opportunity for small businesses to establish their social media presence there, before larger competitors arrive.

Developing your social media strategy

Many small businesses still keep social media purely for marketing. Others also use it for advertising or direct sales. Regardless of which approach you choose, your primary aim is always to create engaging content. This means content that encourages people to interact with it in some way, for example by liking, commenting on and sharing it.

In general, content created for social media marketing tends to be more shareable than either adverts or direct sales posts. This is why it’s generally best to make social media marketing your main focus. It should account for 80%+ of your content. The remaining 20% can be used for advertising and sales if you wish.

Creating the right content

Each content piece should have a clear value proposition. This means it should inform, inspire or entertain. From a small business perspective, the very best content is typically content that educates and either inspires or entertains, or both.

While your social media content should mostly feature your products or services, it should rarely if ever focus on them. Instead, focus on your customers. Think about how to encourage them to see value in what you do. Instead of using social media to send messages, use it to tell stories. Use your customers as the main characters in those stories and tell them from their point of view.

Choosing the right format

As a rule of thumb, short-form content such as images and short videos is very easy to consume and share. This makes it great for laying the building blocks of brand awareness. It is also useful for humanising a brand and developing trust between the customer and the business.

What short-form content does not do is build niche authority. For that, you need long-form content such as blogs, podcasts and long-form videos. You may not be able to blog directly on every social media platform. Most platforms do allow you to link to other blogs (such as your own).

YouTube is often the best social media platform to host podcasts and long-form videos permanently. You do not have to produce them there. For example, you could livestream on another social network and then convert the stream into a YouTube video.

In general, always be on the lookout for ways to recycle your social media content. One approach used by many content creators is to create your long-form content first. Then use this as the basis of multiple pieces of short-form content. This approach really helps to make the most of your social media marketing budget.





Other useful resources

  • Canva is the go-to resource for creating images for the internet. For small businesses, the free version is often sufficient.

  • For extra video-editing power, Adobe offers a free version of its video editor.

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