I’ll just come out and say it: I like Twitter. I enjoy how it gives me a platform to share the causes I care about while engaging with Dell’s audience of dynamic entrepreneurs. Social media allows me to represent my company and connect with my network, and it provides these opportunities without charging me a dime.

Now, even as an avid tweeter, I’ll concede that social media platforms can be daunting for those who don’t know them well. There are bottomless content feeds, new features launching constantly,  limitless channels and many competing voices, making it feel like the wild west at times. But when used the right way, it’s a powerful tool that savvy small businesses can leverage for connection, communication, and ultimately, business success.

So how can social media help you? I spoke with Alexis Davis, social media consultant and founder of The Content Plug in Austin, Texas, to get the inside scoop on how small businesses can make the most of social.

Davis explains, “Small businesses should pay attention to current events, trends, movies, shows, music and popular lingo to understand what their audience is taking in. While brands want to avoid trying too hard to come off as hip, it is still important to make your followers believe they are engaging with the person behind the keyboard and not necessarily the brand itself. Ensure your tone is entertaining while still informative and educational.”

The Benefits of Social Media for Small Businesses

As a small business owner today, chances are you already have a website. For brands just starting out, social media is the next step in connecting with customers:

  • You can build awareness of your brand by strategically following, liking and commenting on people’s posts.
  • You can respond to customer queries in real time to show that you’re actively listening.
  • You can align your posts to your latest product launches, trending topics or breaking news to drive traffic back to your core business.

Projections show that by 2021, online shopping could reach as much as $4.8 trillion in revenue. It’s no surprise then that social media companies are staying ahead of these trends, turning their platforms into tools that enable business to thrive. For example, Instagram’s recent update allows users to purchase products directly on their platform. Social media offers you a direct line to your customers in a way that few other channels can.

Alexis Davis, social media consultant and founder, The Content Plug

Customers Want Authenticity and Authority

In some ways, small businesses have a big advantage over their larger counterparts in the social media space: in the wake of widespread misinformation and scandals such as Facebook’s ties with Cambridge Analytica, many people have limited their circle of trust on social media to their own communities — friends, family, close acquaintances and organizations that they feel an affinity with.

This is where small businesses have an edge. Concentrate your efforts on insightful content that humanizes your brand and puts it in close proximity to consumers. Participate in relevant conversations, and provide a behind-the-scenes look at what your company is doing and how it’s having a positive impact. Doing so can help you build a more meaningful, personal connection with your followers that secures your spot within their circle of trust.

This strategy not only lets you connect with your customers directly, but their recommendations and shares will carry weight with their friends and relatives. These days, there’s no trust without transparency.

Focus on the Networks That Are Best for Your Brand

The best practice for small businesses looking to boost their visibility is to find the platforms that suit their brand best, and maintain a regular presence on their selected channels. Most businesses should at least consider one or two of the big five: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Research where your target demographic is spending their time online, and join them, making sure to suit your posts to the interests of your customers. Don’t be afraid to choose the channel less taken, either. If your customers are gathering on a smaller platform that is specific to their interests and dovetails with your company’s offerings, that’s an opening for you to engage.

“It is important to know your audience when creating content for the many different social media channels,” advises Davis. “It’s not a great idea to serve the same content to a millennial audience and a baby boomer audience. Dive into the analytics for each platform and learn exactly who you are speaking to and what they enjoy.”

It’s all about taking a tailored approach to your digital marketing strategy — doing a few things really well, rather than many things so-so.

Strategize, Schedule and Decide Who’s Doing What

When selecting the social channels that are going to be best for your small business, you also want to be thinking about your goals. Do you want to educate customers, helping people see why they need your product? Do you want to generate leads, gauging interest and marketing more heavily towards promising prospects? Do you want to build your brand image, voice and personality, so that people develop broadly positive associations with your company and values?

“My top tips for small businesses looking to improve their social media presence would be to plan ahead and remember your goals,” says Davis. “Ensure that every photo, video, gif and caption has a purpose and that the posts ultimately drive business back to your brand.” By knowing what you want, you can better measure the ROI of your social media initiatives.

For truly small teams, social media can be a lot to manage on top of your company’s day-to-day business, so pick a point person on your team who has an interest in being online. The task can also be shared — if that’s the case, make sure that the tone, messaging and content of your posts are consistent by establishing a company style guide. 

“Planning your content and social media posts ahead of time helps businesses avoid the stress that comes with having to create content on a whim,” adds Davis. “Having an idea, copy or even the full draft of what to share for an entire week (or two!) will save businesses so much time when they need to post.”

Decide how much time should be spent monitoring your channels on a daily basis, and consider investing in tools such as Hootsuite, Sked Social, Buffer or BuzzSumo that specialize in helping you automate the planning and posting process on different platforms. As part of her work with The Content Plug, Davis invests time in advising companies on how best to streamline their social media management strategies.

“There are many tools that small businesses can use to assist with planning,” she says. “Every brand should use a content calendar to help plan their posts on each platform and their blog ahead of time. From there, I would invest in Sprout Social to schedule content on all platforms and to take note of analytics. In addition, I would use Planoly to schedule and visually plan Instagram content in order to achieve a unique look and feel.”

As more people turn to social media for personalized engagement and experiences, your small business can stay ahead of the curve, leveraging these sites to build brand affinity in a way that bigger companies are struggling to do.

On the cusp of the next big thing in social media? Get the right tools for the job. Connect with Dell Small Business to learn how we can equip your team with everything they need to succeed online.