Social media for small business

As seen in Westchester County Business Journal

When leveraged strategically, social media can help businesses strengthen relationships with existing clients and attract qualified prospects and leads. With so many platforms to choose from, businesses are tasked with determining not only which are best-suited to meet their business’ needs, but identifying how best to allocate resources among the platforms they choose.

Know your audience

How do you know which platforms your clients would be open to receiving information from you on? Just ask. Something as simple as deploying a three-to-five question electronic survey can help identify the social media platforms best-suited to your business.

Now, let’s focus on prospects. While some will have similar communication preferences to your existing clients, demographic data also come into play. Whether it’s Pinterest and Instagram or Twitter and Facebook, take the time to research who is using the platforms and then identify if you should/how best to leverage them.

While the data you collect will be invaluable, it’s important to be realistic about whether your content and resources can sustain an effective social media marketing program on the platforms your research has identified as the strongest contenders. Which leads me to:

Know your content

Some businesses are inherently visual and others are highly technical. Thus, the company that will thrive on Instagram isn’t necessarily the same business that can sustain a dynamic, lead-generation blog. With your primary and secondary research in hand, audit your existing bank of content — sell sheets, case studies, whitepapers, sales kits, etc. — and identify what could be potentially repurposed for your chosen social media platforms. Further, assess the skills across your marketing team and determine how best to leverage your team’s talents to populate your chosen social channels.

Lastly, know your content generation bandwidth. Can you commit to a weekly blog post? Twice-daily tweets? Resources are limited and the last thing any company wants is to start off their social media marketing program with a bang only to have it die off due to lack of resources.

Here’s a social snapshot

So, which platforms are best for which businesses? The answers are far from universal, but here are some tips to help you get started.

Facebook is good for short-format copy, photos and videos. It also lends itself nicely to contests — so long as you comply with the company’s contest and prizing guidelines. Know that a lot of Facebook users access the platform from mobile devices, so the shorter your updates, the better. Think about it — are you likely to click “read more” as you scroll swiftly through your news feed while waiting in line for coffee or catching up on news between meetings?

Twitter is a great tool for driving traffic to your website and other online content hubs. With its 140-character limit, succinct updates reign supreme. It’s also a great tool for businesses to engage with media. If you choose Twitter to be part of your social media toolkit, plan for time to engage with other users, be it by retweeting, favoriting or engaging in conversation.

Pinterest remains popular for lifestyle brands. Clothing companies, interior design firms, bakeries and destinations alike have successfully leveraged this visual marketing platform to help their clients and prospects imagine themselves buying these clothes, decorating their homes with these products, eating these cookies and relaxing at these resorts. Pinterest’s user base is predominantly female (to the tune of 80 percent), an important demographic consideration for every brand.

Instagram has gained attention for offering an opportunity to communicate through compelling photographs. Consumer brands such as Nike have mastered this newer social media marketing channel and been commended for their use of the tool. As with Pinterest, Instagram is built on visuals. It also tends to attract a younger demographic.

LinkedIn is a great business-to-business social media marketing tool. Through a company profile, you can share thought leadership such as media coverage and blog posts. The beauty of LinkedIn is, with some carefully-crafted company policies, you can harness an entire sales team or workforce to spread your brand’s message to a bigger, broader audience.

Blogs are for dialogues and Twitter is for snippets. Companies that require a longer format to effectively spread the word can achieve great success by blogging. Coupled with premium content offers such as whitepapers, tool kits and e-books, blogs can serve as online lead-generation hubs that generate measurable results.

Regardless of the social media marketing channels you choose to augment the reach of your business, be consistent, be creative and remain audience-centric.

Danielle M. Cyr is vice president of integrated marketing for Co-Communications, a marketing and public relations agency with offices in Mount Kisco, Manhattan and Farmington. She can be reached at Danielle@cocommunications.com.