We’re all struggling through the “new” normal and figuring out how to keep moving forward – and stay solvent – until the “next” normal takes shape. This is especially true for small businesses.

Out of necessity, and in a great hurry, small businesses either had to go 100% remote, scale back, change their models (witness full-service restaurants going to take out and delivery-only models), or close. This massive change has left many affected owners and employees confused and grasping for net-positive actions they can take in the absence of anything resembling pre-crisis activity. 

That’s the bad news.

The all-things-being-relative good news? Most small businesses can benefit by putting the power of social media to more – and better – use. Smart, strategic social media activity can play an important role in helping small businesses stay afloat and, more importantly, stay in touch with their customer communities from behind a screen. 

While some small businesses have nailed social media, many either have a limited presence or none at all. And, with few exceptions, there is a lot of potential for improvement at little to no financial cost to the business at a time when their customers are spending more time online and on social platforms. 

So, What’s a Small Business to Do? 

As someone who lives and breathes social media for a company that helps brands and creators connect with their customers in meaningful ways, my job is to stay on top of what’s working, what’s not, and what strategies are timely. So, I’ve pulled some of the most helpful insights and strategies from a Small Business Social Media Playbook that my colleagues and I recently published. 

Here are some of the most effective ways small businesses can strengthen their social media presence while their customers are spending more time online and on social platforms. 

1) Identify your ideal social media audience: Before you do anything, answer this question. Who are the people you want seeing and interacting with your social content? The answer can be as broad as a generation (such as  Millennials or Gen Z) or as specific as women between the ages of 21 and 45 living in Southern California who surf.

2) Determine your competitive positioning: Before crystallizing your business’ digital persona, it’s important to understand what your competitors are doing on social. Look specifically at traits such as the platforms they are using, how often they are posting and what kind of messaging they’re using. Once you have a handle on that, you are ready to create unique content that is true and authentic to your business. 

3) Develop your tone: Tonality and messaging relevance are more important than ever as customers seek solutions to the challenges they’re facing. This is where your business’ digital personality comes into play via the written word (your posts and comments on others’ posts) and creativity, including photos, videos and filters. By giving your business a human touch, you will better connect with customers and set your business apart.

4) Establish your platform priorities: The era of businesses needing to be on EVERY platform is over. Instead, being smart about which platforms suit your business’ needs is a better way to go. For most businesses that means focusing on one or two platforms. Also, consider which one(s) you can realistically maintain. 

5) Create content: By focusing on who you’re creating content for and leaning into your customers’ needs, you can more easily identify your business’ competitive positioning, create content that provides value and is meaningful, and connect with customers to reach your business goals. Timely examples could include messaging about new changes to your business, encouraging unity, being empathetic, and being respectful (i.e., knowing when to post and when to stay silent).

6) Build community: Whether it’s your local community or an online social community coming together, building and strengthening connections with others will help all involved to get through this crisis intact. Fostering community through social media is best done creatively, conversationally and tactically. Encouraging user generated content is a great way to start.

7) Assess paid media: Social media usage is booming on a global scale, which is a big reason why paid media should be given a serious look. While there is a cost – which varies widely depending on a number of factors, including the outlet – paid media is a proven method of reaching new customers. Even with a limited budget, you can promote posts or run paid media campaigns on Facebook or Instagram, to use a couple popular examples. Effective use cases include when you have a strong call to action, a timely message such as a “flash sale,” or when your product/service fills a need that other businesses in the community can’t match.

8) Measure results: Once you’ve started posting across social media, it’s important to track how your content is performing in order to optimize content accordingly, understand what your fans connect with, and measure post and/or paid media success. Metrics worth tracking will depend on the platform(s) you’re active on, as well as your social media goals and objectives.

A cost-effective, accessible and timely strategy

Regardless of what industry a small business is part of, social media can drive awareness, generate positive sentiment from customers, and serve as a conversion tool. It takes time if you’re not already an expert and, for best results, requires a strategic, thoughtful approach.  

Right now, customers are faced with numerous changes as they abandon their day-to-day routines and take on a new and unfamiliar lifestyle. Based on the proprietary research we’ve executed, it’s clear that consumers are looking for small businesses to embrace humanity, community and comfort above all else. This new mentality has made social media even more crucial to success. Further, it has transformed the way that customers and businesses connect. 

Social media is the new IRL. So, let’s all adjust the best we can until the “RL” piece of that re-emerges as what it once was.