The power of social media

In this instalment of Mark Robinson’s advice series supporting the UK’s Small Business Week 2015, the Canon SMB expert looks at five ways SMBs can use social media to drive their business.

Today’s business environment for SMBs is completely different to what it was just a few years ago. A record-breaking 581,173 businesses were registered in the UK last year, of which everyone aspires to be “the next big thing.” And because small businesses are no longer confined to selling in their local area thanks to the internet, the market has never been more competitive. Add the fact that margins are tight and it becomes pretty obvious that, if you don’t move fast enough, your competitor – who could be two doors or two continents away – is going to eat you for lunch.

But the internet can also be a blessing for small businesses. Social media can help them be as agile as possible, improving revenue and productivity year-on-year. However, a report by ICM on behalf Canon has revealed that only a mere 35% of UK SMBs believe they’re making the most of social media and the internet, compared with an average of 47% across Europe. What can SMBs do to embrace the power of social to fuel their marketing capabilities?

1. Speak to your customers on Twitter

One of the best ways to harness an audience on Twitter is to host a Twitter chat with a scheduled hashtag discussion. Like LinkedIn groups, this is a great way to position yourself as a thought leader. Small business owners should also search for other Twitter chats to join, retweeting interesting tweets and providing opinions to attract followers. The more you engage the more followers you will attract, which is useful for lead generation.

2. Check what your competitors are up to

It can be frustrating to see competitors having greater success on social media; however, the good news is that everything they do is transparent. Monitoring their social media channels will allow you to learn about what works and what does not, and where your brand sits in the field.

Twitter lists are a great place to start, as they give you an instant view of what competing brands and companies are tweeting. You can select members as part of a private list, saving you the chore of having to visit each of their pages. Following other brands on Facebook and joining LinkedIn groups made by your competitors are also great ways to gain insight into their communications strategy and will help you understand the tone your audience responds to and what content to avoid.

3. Generate new business leads on LinkedIn

LinkedIn groups are a great way to establish yourself as a thought-leader in your industry and generate new leads. They capture an engaged audience who are specifically looking for information about your industry, therefore any discussions you contribute to will help publicise you and your brand. According to LinkedIn, people who contribute to discussions receive up to four times the average number of profile views – so the more you share, the more you’ll get noticed.

There is however one important rule when it comes to your contributions – they should add value and insight to ensure you build genuine trust from members. It is possible to post promotional content but such posts should be infrequent and secondary to those which engage in a thought-leadership discussion.

4. Adapt your content across different social media platforms

It’s wrong to assume that people spend an equal amount of time on each social platform, so catching them on the ones they do use, and at the right time, is important. This can be done by adapting content – which is useful for small businesses that lack dedicated teams who can customise messaging across different social platforms.

While I don’t recommend duplicating content word for word as each platform has its own editorial style; you can adapt what you post on one platform for another. You should consider how the audience for each platform will read the content to ensure you deliver it in an engaging way. For example, Twitter only allows 140 characters, so posts should be short and snappy, while on LinkedIn you can post entire blogs or paragraphs providing more detail.

5. Use paid advertisements to grow organically

Facebook is a good platform to build brand awareness, so small business owners should consider paid content on Facebook to grow their following, of which there are two options – boosted posts and ad creation. Boosted posts broaden the reach that your post will have, while ad creation is a tool from Facebook which enables you to create an advertisement. Both options will reach a certain amount of people, depending on how much you’re willing to spend, which can start from £1. Budget to spend on advertising for small businesses is often hard to come by so carefully consider before you commit to it, making sure that activity ties in with your overall social media strategy.

There are also a variety of tools useful for social media monitoring which allow you to see the number of social shares on a particular tweet or post. Stories and articles which are shared more often on social media will be ranked higher on Google searches. Knowing this is useful for understanding the kind of content you should be sharing in future through your own social channels.

For more SMB advice, take a look at part one of this series on how SMBs can stop wasting money by running an energy-efficient office, or follow @CanonBusinessUK on Twitter.