Which social media best suits your business

Which social media best suits your business

Social media provides SMEs with a unique platform from which to engage their target market. But each one demands a different approach and tone, as Business Editor Nicola Smith explains

It’s been 10 years since Facebook launched, and in December 2013 more than one billion people visited the site on a monthly basis, an increase of 49% year-on-year. The platform’s success has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in changing how brands communicate with existing and potential customers, as well as acting as a springboard for the creation and growth of numerous other social media sites.

Today, social media users expect brands to communicate with them via these platforms, and companies that do it well arguably achieve a deeper engagement with their audience than via other channels. The informal nature of the medium – and the fact that it is free to use – means it’s tailor-made for SMEs, but to do it well requires time. Working out which platform best suits your objectives is crucial, and concentrating on one or two sites is better than trying to be everything to everyone, everywhere...

Social media usage

According to insurance company, Hiscox, 19% of small firms use Facebook, 14% are on LinkedIn, 4% use Twitter and 15% rely on other social media such as blogs. Which one offers the best opportunity for you depends on your company, your customer base and your objectives.

For example, Facebook is a good engagement marketing tool, raising your profile among followers in a particular town, county or region and helping to spread word of mouth recommendations. The platform lends itself well to chatty posts – particularly those that pose questions and ask for people to engage in some way – as well as images and videos that your audience will share. Facebook is also an effective means of promoting discount offers or conducting polls.

“Content should be at the heart of any social media strategy. Success on any platform relies on being interesting, informative or entertaining.”

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is ideal for business-to-business firms and consultants that want to connect with businesses and suppliers in the same sector, helping you build a network of contacts and talk to people with shared interests. It is also a useful platform for seeking out new employees or partners to work with, allowing you to search for specific people, job types or companies, as well as joining industry-specific discussion groups.

From Twitter to Tumblr

Twitter, which limits users to 140-character posts, is useful in enabling businesses to give their brands some personality and position themselves as industry experts or influencers by sharing and commenting on content, helping you to differentiate yourself from competitors. You can comment on events that you are attending or engage in public conversations with influencers or peers, replying to others’ tweets or ‘retweeting’ or ‘favouriting’ those that are pertinent.

But while Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter might be the most commonly used social platforms for SMEs, there are numerous other sites that can also work well for your particular business. For example, Tumblr allows users to easily set up a short-form blog within a social networking environment, enabling you to attract followers who might also disseminate your content on other social networking sites. Pinterest is a photo-sharing platform that allows users to pin images to a virtual board. It lends itself well to businesses selling visually appealing products, such as, in the interiors or travel sector (‘places and travel’ were the most popular categories on the site during 2013). Another photo-sharing site, Instagram can also work well for companies with a particularly visual offering, allowing followers to ‘like’ and ‘share’ images at the touch of a button.

Cultural differences

Each different platform has its own culture, and it’s important to observe and understand this. For example, Facebook has a more frivolous tone than LinkedIn.

When people spend time on Facebook they are in a social mindset, looking for fun and interest – something to engage with and share. Conversely, those using LinkedIn are in a professional mindset, perhaps looking for job opportunities or business contacts.

Regardless of the platform, there is also a generally accepted etiquette that says you should treat social media like your local pub. In other words, don’t walk in and start shouting about what you do and what you have to offer. This will turn people off. Instead, spend some time researching Facebook pages, LinkedIn communities and Twitter hashtags for your industry or area of expertise and get involved in conversations. This will help you build up a relevant following and give you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise to the right people, in a way they will respond to.

Content is king

Of course, content should be at the heart of any social media strategy. Success on any platform relies on being interesting, informative or entertaining. This can mean sharing relevant content that is already out there, such as a pertinent Guardian article concerning your industry, or a BBC video exploring an issue related to your business, or even creating a piece of your own. For SMEs with a limited budget, sharing existing content can be effective in garnering a following and communicating your company’s expertise. It is also possible to create good content cheaply, whether it is writing and sharing blog posts or creating short tutorial videos.

Whichever platform, or platforms, you choose to invest time in, ensure that you keep monitoring them both manually and via free monitoring tools, such as Google Alerts or Socialmention.com. Social media is about immediacy and if people ask questions or comment on your brand they expect a prompt response. Answering a tweet three days after it has been posted does not fill followers with confidence or make them feel appreciated. Indeed, a late response – or no response at all – can prove more damaging to your brand than not having a social media presence in the first place.

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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK