Internet 101: Eight ways to use social media to grow your business

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While almost every small business needs a presence on social media, it is easy to waste your time and money using the various platforms that are available. Inspired by conversations on UK Business Forums, Dan Martin examines ways entrepreneurs can ensure their social media efforts bring the maximum benefits.

This article is the fourth in a series of content focusing on internet marketing and ecommerce, brought to you in association with .co.uk, the number one domain for British business.
Be strategic
To get the most out of social media, you need to be strategic. You could join all available social media platforms and post randomly without thought, but that’s unlikely to bring results. UKBF member ‘Fire’ recommends asking yourself three key questions:
  1. Why are you engaging with social media? The answer should most definitely not be "because you think you should" or "because everyone else is". Is it to raise your profile and increase brand awareness? For customer service purposes? Or another reason?
  2. How will you use social media to achieve these objectives and how will your social media engagement support the delivery of your overall business ambitions?
  3. What social media activity are you going to undertake? Use this to underpin your social media strategy which must be action specific.
You also need to think carefully about which platforms will work best for you. Is your target market on Facebook? Or are they more likely to use Twitter? Maybe Instagram is the place for you, or perhaps you should concentrate most of your attention on LinkedIn.
"Choose social media channels that align with the usage characteristics of your customers,” Fire adds. “Consider the demographic of your customer (typical gender, age range etc) and how they will likely engage with your business. Use these informed assumptions to focus your efforts through the most appropriate social media channel."
Content is king
If you want to maximise  the returns from social media, you need to post great content. There’s no pointtalking about yourself and your company all the time; you need to offer something useful.
UKBF member Ethical PR comments: "With Twitter, as with any social media, it's about providing relevant, interesting content for your followers/fans/target audience.

"For example on my social media spaces I talk about charity PR, PR campaigns, marketing and design that I think are interesting/quirky/best practice, charity issues, funding issues, development, economic and social issues." UKBF member 'fruch' adds: "Remember that it's social networking. Constantly shouting at everyone to buy your products and not interacting goes down as well as it would at a dinner party."

Be easy to find
If you want to engage your customers in as many places as possible you need to make it easier for them to find you, so ensure you promote your social media profiles wherever you can; on your website, in your email signature and on your website are some examples.
Are you on Google+?
It’s one of the newer social platforms but experts suggest that Google+ is growing in importance. With Google dominating the internet search market, there are indications that if businesses want to appear as high up in search results as possible, they need to have a presence on Google+.
One key benefit of using the site is the ability to claim authorship of your content. This means it will add a link to your Google+ page to all content you write, which stands out in search results. We explained how to claim authorship in the previous Internet 101 article ‘A small business guide to SEO and PPC’.
If you use Google Adwords to promoteyour products and services, it is possible to link them to Google+. "You can now set Google+ annotations and reviews on your text ads which will attract potential customers to click your ad instead of your competitors," advises UKBF member Uzair Kharawala.
Google+ also recently added the ability to create a custom URL making it easier for customers to find your page.
One other big benefit of Google+ is Google Hangouts. This allows you to set up live online video streams through YouTube. "These video conversations are a great way to have more personal conversations with your followers," says ‘Vistatico'. "You can use them for many different purposes but a few good ideas to get started are product demos and customer service Hangouts which can be hosted at regular times so customers can ask questions and receive direct answers." ​
Selling
While the hard sell is unlikely to lead to many results, don’t completely dismiss using social media to sell; afterall your business needs to make money!
IanG says: "I have a vehicle dismantling business and although I'm not all over social media like some of the larger brands, I do take the time to photograph things going on in the workshop, new parts, rare parts etc. which builds a bit of conversation. I’ve got a few things like stock and price lists in the notes, which help as a reference to point people to. It's not my sole source of sales but it can create some leads."
It's also worth going niche.
While sites like Twitter and Facebook appeal to the mass market, there are many forums and platforms focusing on specific sectors and industries. "I've seen massive success harnessing the raw power of the likes of Reddit, YouTube and niche-related forums," says 'GodOfSEO'.

"I know onemarketer who spent five hours a month posting across four related forums with his shop in his signature and  managed to make over $10,000 in profit from the referral traffic."

Service your customers
Social media is a great way to deal with customer service issues. In the past, it was hard to get real-time feedback and deal with problems but social sites allow you to manage these issues efficiently. While some customers may tweet or post directly at you, others may just mention your brand without tagging your social media accounts so it’s vital that you monitor conversation. You can invest in paid-for tracking services but it’s easy to do it for free. Set up a stream in a social media management service like HootSuite or TweetDeck which shows all tweets mentioning your brand or other related keywords. You could also use a service like Tweetbeep to set up email alerts.
Paid advertising
Most social networks now offer the ability to pay to advertise.
Twitter, for instance, allows you to create promoted tweets which appear in the feeds of users when they post particular phrases and keywords. You can also target your message to individuals in particular locations across the UK and the world. Similarly, Facebook allows business owners to pay to promote particular posts and target users with a specific offer or discount. You can also use paid solutions to build likes and followers.
But is social media advertising worth the cost?
The key to making it a success is carefully tracking your results. Start with a small budget and monitor which content and messaging works best. You can then adapt it accordingly. You also need to work out how much a customer is worth to you. How much are you willing to spend to get a lead?
"Facebook advertising can be beneficial depending on a few different things," says 'Thomas Smith SEO'. For example, how large is your targeted audience? How big is your competition? What is your budget? With the answers to all of these questions, Facebook ads can be very successful indeed.
Andy Barr, founder of 10 Yetis and a UKBF member, recently ran a promoted tweets campaign to promote a job advertisement and a piece of content. He tweeted about the results of his campaign:

Twitter promoted tweets observation 1. adding pic DOUBLED engagement. 2. Have a clear call to action. tbc

— Andy Barr (@10Yetis) January 18, 2014

Twitter promoted tweets obvations cont. 3. Select wide and big ticket twitter accounts when asked the type of ppl u want 2 get in front of

— Andy Barr (@10Yetis) January 18, 2014

Integration, integration, integration
While it's vital that you have a presence on social media, that doesn’t mean you should stop focusing on your own website.
"It should never be either-or; you need an integrated approach to marketing and handling your presence on the internet," says 'OldWelshGuy'. "You need to have some stuff purely on your website, and some stuff purely on your social presence, then you can encourage cross pollination between the platforms you use."
As part of our Great British Business series, Jon Simon, co-founder of Pieminister explained how integrating social media with his website has been a key driver behind his business’ success. “Our Twitter account, our Facebook account, our blog, our website, our YouTube account and our Pinterest account are very interlinked,” Simon said. 
"We try to drive traffic between them and as much traffic as possible to the website. That's where people get the big Pieminister experience other than walking into one of our stores. It's our virtual shop window and having that platform to communicate our company messages in a clear, concise and fully branded way is vital."
You should also remember that while social platforms can drive traffic and generate leads, you don’t own the platforms you’re using. If the social media site owner decides to delete your content, it could be problematic. Many customers will also assume you have a website and be suspicious if you don't. AlexandraS says: "A business run solely from Facebook always smacks of amateur to me. Plus of course should you choose to limit your "website" to Facebook then you are totally at their mercy should they choose to issue you a smack-down!"

About Dan Martin

About Dan Martin

Dan Martin has 10 years experience as a journalist writing about entrepreneurs and the issues that affect them.

After three years working as a researcher for Sky News, he joined BusinessEurope.com as a reporter. This was followed by two years working as news editor for Startups.co.uk during which time Dan also contributed to Growing Business magazine. In 2006, he joined Sift Media as business editor before being promoted to editor of BusinessZone.co.uk. He also has responsibility for UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online forums for small business entrepreneurs. In addition, Dan founded The Pitch, BusinessZone.co.uk's nationwide competition for small business owners. He host the grand finals in 2009 and 2010 in front of an audience of 300. 

As well as interviewing many entrepreneurs, Dan has written content for leading business organisations such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, British Chambers of Commerce, Forum of Private Business, Investors in People and Business Link for London. Among the publications that have quoted Dan are The Times, Mail On Sunday, Financial Times, Personnel Today and Bristol Evening Post. His articles have also been published by publications including eGov Monitor, Virgin Express in-flight magazine and Personal Success.

Dan regularly speaks at events about small business and social media issues. Among the events he has presented at are the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies' annual conference, Learning Technologies, Publishing Expo and World of Learning. He has also chaired high profile debates featuring senior representatives from Business Link and the Federation of Small Businesses and Dragons' Den judge James Caan.

Dan was named the 10th most influential political blogger on Twitter by the Independent and won the public award for best B2B tweeter at the Golden Twits 2010. He also organised the Bristol Twestival, part of a global Twitter driven charity initiative, in February 2009 and March 2010. Volunteers from 175 cities around the world organised events using the social network. In total, $350,000 was raised for charity: water in 2009 and $500,000 for Concern in 2010. In Bristol, £1,500 and £5,600 was raised.

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By jdixon2614
29th Jan 2014 12:42

I think the article raise a very good point that it is important to not just randonly post links and content on social media sites, but instead concentrate on a few and work hard at it. I have tried facebook and twitter in the past without any success at all with regard to traffic generation. For me, and because my site is business-related, I have found that linkedin offers the most appropriate promotional platform.

John
www.mybookkeepingmanager.com

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