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Social media has come out of nowhere and taken over the world.  Well, not quite, but it sometimes feels like it.  Facebook with its likes and shares, Twitter with its hashtags and tweets, Pinterest with its pins.  These terms, ideas and actions have become part of daily life for many people, even if they don’t use the sites.  But what about for business owners?  Should you be using social media for business?  Here’s my beginners guide to the what, where and why of social media marketing.

What is Social Media?

Social media has become a major part of the online world in a very short period of time.  Typically we think of sites such as Facebook and Instagram as social media.  Pinterest is often grouped in although this isn’t really accurate (it’s a visual search engine).  But what really is the definition of social media?

Let’s look at the two parts.  There’s ‘social’, which refers to interacting with others through the sharing and receiving of information.  Then there’s the ‘media’ part, which refers to an instrument of communication – back in the day, newspapers and radio were the media but now we have new and interesting examples.

According to Lifewire, the definition of social media therefore becomes:

‘web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by sharing and consuming information’

Added to that are some common features found across many of the sites that lead them to be classed as a social media site:

  • User accounts – you can create an account which you log into but without this, you can’t really share information
  • Profile pages – this is where you share your information and is how you are represented as an individual including your photo, bio, recent posts, recommendations and even a link to your website if you have one
  • Friends, followers etc – there are different ways to do it, but the basic idea is the same: the connections we make. We friend people on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram and so on
  • Personalisation – we can choose who we see, what we see and what we like to make the feed that appears different for every person
  • Notification – the site will tell us about different things including new content from people we like/friend/follow or from businesses we have shown interest in
  • Commenting and liking – the ability to share comments, add your own comments and ‘like’ or acknowledge posts by others

using social media for business - lots of networks to choose from graphic

Why use Social Media?

For personal use, there are loads of reasons to use social media.  Like for me, a lot of my family is in other parts of the UK.  So social media lets me see what they are up to, how the kids are doing and hear the latest news.  It is quicker and easier than ringing someone and lets me check in when it suits me.

But what about from a business viewpoint?  If you are just in start-up mode, everyone will tell you that you need to be on social media.  So what are the benefits?

1.       Brand awareness

For the majority of businesses, you need to make people aware that you exist in order to make sales.  With the growth of social media, this has become both easier to do and more complex.  Easier because there are more options – more complex because you run into algorithms.  But for now, let’s stay positive.  For example:

  • 18-34-year-old adults with online access are 95% more likely to follow a brand on social media
  • 52% of consumer’s online purchases were influenced by Facebook
  • 60% of Instagram users say they find new products on the platform
  • 93% of Pinterest users use the platform to either plan or to make a purchase
  • 25% of all retail website referral traffic comes from Pinterest

2.      Humanise your company

We internet users can be a sceptical lot and we rarely take things at face value.  However, a strong, well-created presence on social media can offer real-world proof to people that your brand is what it says it is.  It is a great way to connect with customers – user-generated content is one idea that comes from this.

3.       Remind people you are there

Hands up if you hate repeated intrusive adverts on TV?  Most of us will probably have our hands raised.  Okay, when I was younger, sometimes the ads were funnier than the TV shows but today they are just plain annoying.  But with social media (and even social media ads) you can remind people you are there in lots of different ways without irritating the hell out of them.

4.      Source of traffic

Now, this is a complex one but let’s just cut to the basics – social media can send traffic to your website that can turn into customers or leads.  It isn’t always straightforward and there’s definitely strategy and trial and error involved.  But it does happen, and some businesses get a huge amount of traffic from Facebook and co.

5.      Work with influencers

This one is down the line for most companies, but it is worth remembering – influencer marketing is a huge thing and a great way to reach a new audience.  And social media has made this possible on a scale that means almost every business can get involved with it.

Difference between personal and professional use

No beginners guide to social media would be complete without some tips on the difference between personal and professional use.  Because if you get it wrong, this can go very badly – there are plenty of examples out there to prove it.

A good way to look at it is this from Heidi Cohen:

  • Person – engage with family and friends around the world and keeps you in contact with people you might have lost touch with
  • Professional – multi-media resume including endorsements that provides a platform to build your business with thought leadership and interaction

Now, this sounds straightforward enough but can get a little more complex when you start reading about bringing lifestyle stuff into what you share.  Take social media images, for example.  You might want to use a semi-professional photo of yourself in your business profiles and share things that are of interest to your audience but without revealing too much of your life.  People don’t always like to include their kids in business shots, for instance.

Making connections can also be considered carefully.  For personal accounts you might reach to someone you know, know through a friend, share an interest with or just think might be interesting.  But on business profiles, consider etiquette of the site.  Take LinkedIn – people don’t just randomly request connections but tend to use connections through others as a lead in or other common ground.

How to choose social media platforms

There’s the temptation when you start with social media to run around like a lunatic, posting, tweeting, pinning and sharing every possible moment on every social media site.  Resist this urge, you will burn out quickly.

There’s two things to think about when considering which social media platforms to choose from.  The first is where is your audience?  If they are on Facebook and Pinterest, don’t start out with Twitter and Google+.  The other is what can you manage?  Social media takes time with everything from creating images and posts, interacting with followers, commenting on other people to build brand awareness and all the rest.  How much time can you dedicate to social media and what’s the best use of that time?  There are schedulers to help with this (more on those a bit further down) but each platform still requires time.

Sound advice is to pick one or two platforms, really get the hang of them and build an audience there.  Don’t be tempted to add more until you really have a good handle on these and are seeing substantial returns on whatever aims you set.

Personality of the platforms

In a way, each of the major platforms has its own ‘personality’ and this influences the type of content that you publish on it.  Here’s a few examples.

  • Facebook

Casual, friendly, Facebook is pretty much compulsory because everyone is on there.  Facebook Pages are a good place to start and you may want a Group at a later date.  It is fairly light-hearted and friendly, although you still want to keep your brand voice in mind.  Organic reach can be hard work.

  • Pinterest

Pinterest is my favourite, hands down.  Pinterest isn’t actually a social media site although it does have some social features.  It is a visual search engine and that means the image is front and centre of everything.  Keywords are much like with search engines so there’s some research there.  The potential for traffic can be massive.

  • Instagram

Instagram is a cross between Pinterest and Facebook (who own it) – the visuals are key, and it is pretty friendly and casual.  Hashtags are key here with as many as 30 per post being used.  It is one of the fastest growing social media networks and there’s something for most niches.

  • Twitter

Twitter is short, sharp and constantly moving – some say the lifespan of a tweet is 7 minutes.  If you share lots of news, topical content and can afford to post a lot of times a day, then this can be the place for you.  Hashtags were born here but don’t go mad with them, 2-3 will do the job.

  • LinkedIn

The professional social media site, LinkedIn is about business and is much more serious and professional than the others.  It is a good place to network and is ideal for B2B businesses but there’s no cute cat videos or shots from your latest holiday on there.

  • YouTube

YouTube is where you share that video content you create for your business as that’s what the site is about.  It is the go-to place for many people to research, learn how to do something and also for a laugh (the best place to go for cat videos, for example).  You can build followers called subscribers who sign up for your channel and you can make money just from YouTube success alone.

  • Google+

Google+ was Google’s attempt to take on Facebook.  It didn’t work.  But there are still die-hard fans out there.  The platform also has added benefits for SEO for your organic reach for your posts.  Try to create a community here of people that are interested in what you are talking about.


How to do social media marketing

Once you know which one or two platforms you are going to target, you are really getting into social media marketing.  Every social media 101 guide will tell you a different way to do this and to be honest, they change all the time.  Just look at Pinterest – there’s been some big changes there in the last few months that have killed off a lot of the ‘how to’ stuff written prior to that.

As with your business, you need to start with a plan.  Look at the aims for your social media efforts and think about what you want to achieve and also what you can achieve.  Look at that target audience that is on the platform and think about how you are going to reach them.  Then start creating some goals to aim for in your efforts.  Good examples of social media marketing goals include:

  • Increasing traffic to your website
  • Building conversions
  • Get visitors to spend more time on your website (return visitors)
  • Raising awareness of your brand
  • Creating a brand identity online
  • Communicating with key audiences

Tools to help

You might look at all of this and think there’s a lot of work to do – and there is.  But there are also tools to help you.  There are plenty of them out there and they call themselves lots of things, but social media schedulers is a good common tool.  The idea is simple – you use them to drip out your content to your social media profiles rather than needing to do it all manually.  Some are generalists that you can use for most of the big networks while others are specialists and only handle certain networks.



  • Tailwind (Pinterest and Instagram)
  • Planoly (primarily Instagram)
  • Later (primarily Instagram)

Some tools have free plans that allow you to schedule around 30 posts at a time to feed out to your profiles.  Others are quite cost effective with a price of around £10 a month.  Others are more expensive and include features such as evergreen content where your content can be reshared on your profiles again under set rules.  There’s no right or wrong tool to use, just make sure anything you use is approved for the social media site you will use it on (just Google BoardBooster for Pinterest to find out the problem with non-approved schedulers).

What to post on social media

There are hundreds of posts out there to tell you what to post on social media.  The truth of it is that no-one knows what you should post, only what has worked for them.  It’s very much trial and error (or lack of success!) in seeing what works for your business and your audience.

There are some tips to help with what to post though.  For starters, don’t make it about you and your products or services but make it about your audience.  Think about what they might want to hear from you – curated content is one idea here where you share other people’s content.  Yes, they might be competitors but if they write a good post or publish an interesting article that your audience might want to read, supply them with it.  It’s about them, remember.

Get some personality into it as well.  Don’t be a faceless company just pushing out information on the latest products or services.  Even the biggest companies out there make sure there is some personality in their social media and those that don’t, fail.  As a small business, you are your business so don’t be afraid to show that.

Lastly, look at all types of content to share.  There’s the standard post, with images, links and even GIFs.  Curated content from other people.  Video content that you produce and upload.  Live content such as Facebook Live and Instagram Stories.  Offer as much variety as you can because you will keep your audience interested with it.  And don’t forget to repurpose your content where possible – make that video into a blog post or vice versa.  Change the size of the graphics and send it to other sites.  Make quote graphics from snippets of the blog post.  Get more from your efforts by repurposing where you can.

Using social media for business

Nearly every modern business will have some kind of online presence and that means trying their hand at social media.  Yes, it can be frustrating when the algorithm changes and suddenly what was working doesn’t.  But there are potentially big gains from using the right sites well.  And that means it is definitely worth using social media for business, regardless of what your business does.

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