Just about every business owner and executive in the world uses social media. But I would say that a small minority uses social platforms productively. That’s because some aren’t bothering to market their businesses through social media at all, and a lot of those who are trying aren’t getting results.

There are several reasons for this disconnect. On one end of the spectrum, you have business people who claim that “social media marketing just doesn’t work.” Experience has shown me that they are incorrect, and are missing out on one of the biggest opportunities available to small and medium-sized businesses in decades as a result. On the other side, you have hundreds of thousands who are attempting to get customers and build relationships through Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites, but just aren’t getting any traction.

In this chapter, I’m going to walk you through the simple steps to using social media marketing in a way that’s good for your schedule, your budget, and your business.

Build Your Business Profiles

If you want to engage in the kind of social media marketing that leads to results, then the first step is having a working set of profiles. That’s not the same as having personal profiles, or business pages set up on only the social sites you prefer.

This is an issue I see all the time. A given business owner will enjoy using Facebook, for example, or Pinterest. However, because of the nature of their business, the age of their customers, or other factors, there just aren’t many buyers to be found. And so, they throw up their hands and decide social media marketing is a waste of time when in reality the problem was they didn’t bother promoting themselves in the places where it would make the most sense.

You wouldn’t build a restaurant in the middle of the desert 50 miles from the nearest town and expect diners to wander by when they got hungry. In the same way, you can’t set up profiles on the social media sites you like if they aren’t popular destinations for the people you want to market to. Remember, search engines and social media sites are very different animals – when someone goes to Google, they are looking for an answer to a question. When they log on to Facebook, for instance, they are probably trying to be entertained or stay in touch with family and friends.

You can only stand out and grow your business by catching their attention. That means first showing up where they are.

With that caveat out of the way, it’s important to establish and maintain profiles for your company. This could mean business pages on Facebook or Google+. It might also involve separate accounts for Twitter and organization profiles on LinkedIn. Whatever you do, make it clear that the profile represents your company, not you as a person. Then, post-professional messages rather than personal rants. You’re looking to engage customers, not to air personal grievances.

Building business profiles on major social media sites – complete with photos, logos, and contact information – is the first step in the marketing process that too many business owners ignore. Make your company easy to find by setting up and branding your social accounts.

Make Managing Social Easier

A common complaint among business owners and busy executives is that they simply don’t have time to waste on social media. That’s a valid concern. After all, what’s the point of tweeting something if you’ve got real work to do?

Acknowledging that time is an issue isn’t the same as saying you should ignore your social profiles, though. Instead, it just means you should be managing them more efficiently.

There are several different tools out there (Hootsuite being one of the most popular) that will let you watch all of your social profiles from one portal, and even schedule posts in advance. That way, you can plan out your messaging ahead of time and then set aside a few minutes when it’s convenient to release your content.

Doing so helps you free up portions of your day, but it also comes with another critical benefit: It forces you to think ahead about what you want to say to your social followers. Far too many marketers struggle to stay on script and message when it comes to their social accounts. Instead of posting material that relates to their industries or is relevant to their customers, they get drawn into petty discussions or share memes that are fun for some of their audience but turn other buyers away.

Magazines and television networks don’t decide what content to display at the last minute, and neither should any serious marketer. If you want to make social media work for your company, then develop a core message, plan out your content updates, and then stick to a winning theme or strategy. That will help you develop a committed following, make it easier to find time for social media, and prevent you from facing every new tweet or update wondering what you should post.

Make Social Engagement Your First Priority

In the same way that sharing much of the content on your website hoping for the best won’t necessarily lead to an improvement in your search engine positioning, just adding daily or weekly updates to your social profiles won’t do a lot for your following, either. Engagement has to be your priority (followed by some response mechanism) for this to be successful.

To understand why, it’s important to know that social media sites – and especially Facebook and Twitter – have become overcrowded. There are billions of tweets sent every day, and even more, material posted to Facebook. As a result, most people only see a fraction of what gets put online by the businesses or individuals they are following. Automated software has to be used to determine what is relevant, newsworthy, or important.

As a way to remedy the problem, developers at Facebook and the other social sites have come up with engagement formulas. These essentially push content that gets lots of likes, shares, and comments to the top of the user’s feed, and de-prioritizes updates that get no activity, or originate from accounts that generate fewer updates and less engagement. It’s a kind of popularity contest and one that has important marketing implications.

How important are engagement metrics to your social media marketing plan? In one study, researchers found that less than 15% of what a company posted to its Facebook page was being seen by followers. That means a lot of their content was just going out into the dead air.

It might be tempting to see a statistic like that and decide to skip social media altogether, but that ignores the other side of the equation. While many businesses are getting no attention from users on Facebook and Twitter, a small handful is seeing their posts get a disproportionate amount of viewership. The difference, once again, is in engagement.

One way you can build engagement is by defining your audience and consistently posting material that appeals directly to them. That is, know whose attention you want to grab, and then use items that pique their interest.

Another is by choosing the right images. Industry surveys suggest that posts with images get 20 times more engagement than text posts. The results are still mixed when it comes to video, but you’ll get many more likes and shares with a clip than you will a paragraph of writing. Drawing attention is the name of the game, so use content formats that jump off the screen.

Using the right titles, labels, hashtags, and groups are important. As more and more marketers throw content onto social media, it’s becoming critical that ideas be organized and categorized correctly. Otherwise, buyers might not come across something that would get them to react.

And finally, you may consider advertising or boost your posts if you want to increase your exposure. Someone who clicks on your ad a single time on Facebook, for example, will see future updates from your business page. For just a few dollars, you can promote your message to a well-defined audience that’s built around a common interest or demographic.

Offer a Clear Call to Action

Engagement might be the first goal of social media marketing, but it’s not the end of the puzzle. While many business owners enjoy checking to see how many likes and shares they’ve gotten for something they’ve posted online, what do these metrics tell them? Why does it matter how many people viewed something, or even clicked the button, if they ultimately won’t contact the business or make a purchase?

To convert your growing social following into a marketing asset, you need to offer a clear call to action from time to time. This could come in the form of a coupon code, a one-day-only flash sale, a free sample, or an announcement that’s exclusively for your social following. You want to give the men and women who have become fans of your company a reason to keep following you. In a perfect world, your great content would be enough. In most situations, an extra incentive here and there isn’t going to hurt.

Note that there is a fine line to walk when it comes to the “marketing” portion of your social media marketing plan. Although all of your posts should be relevant to your business, you should use your outright sales messages sparingly. You want people thinking about your business, and getting their news from you, but you don’t want your business’s social feed to feel like a string of commercials. Once that happens, buyers will start to tune you out, regardless of whether they bother to “unsubscribe” or not.

Bearing that in mind, the clear call to action you offer might not always be a click to your website or an instant purchase. You could ask fans and followers to vote on an idea, to share a story, or even to support a cause you have reason to believe they are invested in.

At some point, you do need to turn your social followers into customers, or at least leads. The easiest way to accomplish that is by giving them something, or at least moving them into your sales funnel by having them check out a blog post or subscribe to your email newsletter. Just remember that people primarily use sites like Facebook and Twitter to have fun. If you bombard them with too much pure advertising, you’ll lose engagement… and the ability to market to them through social media in the future.

Decode the Social Puzzle

Social media is still evolving in 2017, and so are the best ways to use it. Even more than search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, the best social strategies are always customized. What works particularly well for one business won’t necessarily fly for another.

Using your intuition and analytics, you should be on a mission to find out where your customers are, what messages they’ll respond to, and how you can pull them from their profiles into your sales funnel. The answers may require a bit of trial and error and could change over time.

I’ve already known some business owners who say that social media has done more for them than search engine optimization ever did. Others proclaim that the value to be found in social advertising, and particularly Facebook’s pay-per-click platform, is unprecedented. They’ll tell you that most businesses ignore it, it allows you to target demographics, and you can get more traffic for your dollar through social ads than anywhere else on the web. And, of course, I know a handful of people – including a few web designers – who are still trying to find a mix of tactics that work.

Decoding the social puzzle isn’t just about generating leads or creating click-throughs to landing pages, though. Because social apps and platforms are such a big part of our daily lives, you can use your profiles to communicate with buyers one-on-one, conduct customer service, and build buyer loyalty. You can build a brand, establish a following, and create viral messages. Or you can simply share fun facts and interact with your current customers in a way that’s convenient to them.

Experiment with the various major social sites out there and see which ones work best for you and your customers. Then, pay attention to the numbers to see where they lead you.

10-Point Strategy Guide to Small Business Website Design and Internet Marketing is a ten part Blog series by Founder and Owner of WebWize, Inc., Glenn Brooks.

Glenn has been part of the website design and development industry since 1994, over two decades.  Before WebWize he spent more than 15 years in the Advertising, Marketing, and Print Industries.  Don't miss this opportunity!

10 Part Strategy Series TOC

Strategy #6: Use Social Media Productively
Strategy #7: Integrate Video Into Your Internet Marketing
Strategy #8: Revitalize Your Email Marketing
Strategy #9: Cultivate and Grow Your Online Reputation
Strategy #10: Refine and Improve Your Sales Funnel

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About Glenn Brooks

Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has been providing web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing and printing industries before starting WebWize.