Choosing the right social media marketing platforms for small business can equal the difference between success and failure for your business. By now we are well and truly aware that social media is any online platform or location (such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), that provides a way for people to participate in conversations with each other. Social media is simply the platform for communication but what sets it apart from other communication channels is that content is created and shared by individuals rather than gatekeepers such as media networks.

So yes, for individuals social media is a way to connect and share content with friends and like-minded people but for small businesses it provides a whole new world of opportunities, welcome social media marketing.  Social media marketing provides a way to tap into what people are saying about your brand, your product and/or your service, a way to participate in the conversations, and most importantly an opportunity to be open to new ideas and then use these insights to make better business decisions. Sounds like a win, win… right?

Opportunity is only a great thing when harnessed and to make the most of social media marketing for your small business you need to allocate time, effort and resources.  Something that I have often observed with small businesses when it comes to social media marketing is an ad hoc approach and then disappointment when outcomes do not equal the effort put in.

The best way to avoid this disappointment is to take a little time at the outset to think about and plan your approach.  Even a rough plan that simply outlines your social media goals, who you are trying to reach, a brainstorm of content ideas, and how often you will post and to what channels is a great start.  A social media marketing plan for your small business, even if basic, means you have taken the time to consider the who, what, why, when and how that will assist you to make best use of your resources for the greatest outcome.

So once your plan is mapped out, it’s time to implement.  The single biggest consideration when it comes to implementation is consistency. Turn up and turn up often. Genuinely connect and respond to people.  Be there even if that means checking in a couple of times a day.  Consistency is a critical success factor so it is worth considering how many social media channels your small business can effectively be on.  If you are time-poor or unsure then stick to one or two channels, especially in the beginning.  I’ll talk in more detail about what channels are best for your small business shortly.

The next and third most important factor is measuring and analysing success.  You should expect a return on your investment of time and money so be clear about what you want to achieve from the outset and then measure, measure, measure.  Adjust and tweak as you go to ensure you are making the most of your analysis because minor changes can equal big differences in how your audience responds eg. the difference between a click through to your website or not.

Now to the important question of what social media channels your small business should use for marketing?

Choosing the right Social Media Marketing Platforms?

Facebook is the most popular of all social media platforms, followed by YouTube (video sharing) and WordPress (free blogging site). The following statistics provide a snapshot into social media usage in Australia, listing the top 20 sites based on users. However statistics alone are not the basis for making a decision on what platforms to use as each site is unique, especially in relation to the audiences it attracts and the content that can be shared.

Social Media Statistics Australia – as at March 2014
1. Facebook – 13.2 million users (according to Ad tool up 200,000)
2. YouTube – 12,600,000 UAVs
3. WordPress.com – 6,300,000
4. Tumblr – 4,700,000
5. LinkedIn – 3,650,000
6. Blogspot – 2,900,000
7. Twitter – 2,500,000 Active Australian Users (see calculation)
8. Instagram – 1,600,000 Active Australian Users (see calculation)
9. TripAdvisor – 1,400,000
10. Snapchat – 1,070,000 Active Australian Users (see calculation).
11. Flickr – 790,000
12. Pinterest – 410,000
13. Yelp – 190,000
14. MySpace – 180,000
15. Reddit – 170,000
16. Google Plus – approx 65,000 monthly active Australian users
17. StumbleUpon – 58,000
18. Foursquare – 34,000
19. Digg – 25,000
20. Delicious – 20,000
(All figures represent the number of Unique Australian Visitors [UAVs] to that website over the monthly period unless otherwise stated).
Source: http://www.socialmedianews.com.au/social-media-statistics-australia-march-2014/

Facebook

Facebook is by far the social media leader with the vast majority of all social media users on the site.  25% of Facebook users check their accounts five or more times a day with an average of 8.3 hours per month on the site and I suspect those numbers are increasing.  Facebook is flexible in the type of content that can be published and shared (text, images, videos).

Being the most popular social media channel means there is an expectation that small businesses will be there.  Facebook is at times even used as a search engine and can assist your customers to find you with the location settings.  But being the most popular social media channel means Facebook is BUSY.  Simply getting your Facebook page liked is not enough.  Your posts must also be popular and shared or the Facebook algorithms won’t push them out on people’s feeds – that equates to zero visibility.  Facebook has changed it’s algorithms so that it is increasingly difficult to get your business posts seen organically.  One answer is to consider Facebook advertising (yes, that was their intention all along!) or to invest considerable time and effort into cutting through to your audiences.  By no means impossible but requires a creative and constant approach.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is less a social media platform and more a communication platform for professionals to connect.  The style of content on LinkedIn is primarily professional and more serious in tone, which places it as an ideal platform for connecting with industry leaders.  Personally, I find LinkedIn one of the most effective of social media platforms when it comes to connecting business to business or to professionals, decision makers and influencers.  LinkedIn is also well placed for positioning yourself as the business owner or an industry leader.  The good thing about LinkedIn is that people are hanging out there to do business, learn or connect so funny videos are at a minimum.  Not that there is anything wrong with funny videos but they have their place.  Which reminds me, it is super important to play by the specific and often unspoken rules of each social media platform and LinkedIn is all about professionalism.

Twitter

Twitter is a social networking site, with the unique feature of short messages at a maximum of 140 characters.  Twitter is not a platform on which audiences can make a comment on your space.  Messages can be ‘pushed’ (tweeted) by the author and others have the option to ‘retweet’ or ‘favourite’ those messages should they wish to.  Given Twitter is restricted to very short messages (and now photos + videos) many posts link to sites and blogposts.  One thing that is particularly unique about Twitter is the ability to listen to conversations across our communities that are happening in real time.  The more something is being talked about the more it will trend on Twitter.  I consider Twitter the best social media channel for finding out the latest news and events that matter as a collective because it groups information based on ‘trends’.  Twitter is like having your ear to the ground or listening to the current gossip.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social network that allows users to visually share, and discover new interests by posting (known as ‘pinning’) onto their own boards.  You can have as many boards as you like such as “cake decorating” or “photos of deep sea fishing”.  It really is like a digital pin-board of things that interest and inspire you from across the internet.  You will notice the Pinterest logo all over the web so when you find a photo or infographic that appeals to you, you can simply pin it to one of your boards for your own reference or to share with others.  I find Pinterest particularly useful for finding and sharing infographics but it is very popular with those who create and adore pretty things or who want to share step-by-step instructions.  In fact the applications for this social media channel are only limited by your imagination.  Hmmm… that has just inspired me for another blog about creative ways small businesses can use Pinterest… watch this space.

Instagram

Instagram is a photo sharing social media platform and is largely dependent on using your mobile phone camera.  I have been asked what is the difference between Instagram and Pinterest and the answer is loads.  Instagram is all about sharing and viewing photos whereas Pinterst is about pinning things of interest from the internet.  Instagram can be linked to other platforms and works particularly well when linked to Facebook.  For example, if you own a small business that can photograph your products, locations, clients etc then use your phone to take the happy snap, apply one of the Instagram filters for effect and then post to Instagram.  If your Instagram and Facebook accounts are linked the photo will appear in your Facebook feed as well as your Instagram feed. Win, win to that one.

This is a summary of just some of the most popular social media channels and how they might apply to marketing your small business.  Not forgetting that a little bit of thought and planning at the outset will result in better use of your finite time and resources and ultimately lead to better results.  At the end of the day, social media is simply another tool to improve the bottom line of your business so return on investment is vital and measuring success helps you see the value.