Social Media 101: 10 Tips for Small Businesses Just Getting Started

Whether you’re an early-stage startup or a small- to medium-sized business that’s new to the social media game, there’s one thing you should know: It’s okay to start small. (Though with some smart tricks you can hack your growth.)

There are a lot of social networks out there, but you don’t have to be on all of them. In fact, it would be better if you were not. Unclear as to how Instagram would help your brand? Avoid it for now. Not ready to tackle Twitter just yet? Skip it. No time to blog? Don’t worry about it.

Social media is a time-consuming but important reality for any new venture. It will help increase your Google search rankings, give your brand a human voice, and allow your customers to start a conversation with ease. Now you just have to get started.

Where do I begin? Which networks should I be on? What do I share? How many times should I post? Is this worth my time? Read on, social media noob, and I will answer all of your concerns. (Lesson one: “Noob” is social slang for “newbie.”)

1. Decide which audience you need to target.

Let’s talk strategy. You have limited time, maybe limited content, and there is a very specific audience you want to reach. Here’s a quick, non-scientific breakdown of who uses which network:

— Teenagers gravitate towards Vine, Snapchat, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram.

— Soon-to-be-wives and soon-to-be-moms are all about Pinterest.

— Young parents and grandparents alike can be found on Facebook.

— Business types and leaders rule LinkedIn.

— Influencers and bloggers love Twitter and Tumblr.

2. Choose your presences wisely.

Now that you’ve learned which networks are best for your audience, let’s cross-check it with which network is best for your business. The goal here is to commit to only one or two networks.

— Instagram and Pinterest are great for highly visual companies that have access to lots of beautiful branded photography or products.

— Facebook and Twitter are great for businesses that generate a lot of unique editorial content that can be shared via a link.

— Vine, Snapchat, and YouTube are great for brands with access to professional-level production equipment and a sense of humor.

3. Choose a consistent handle.

Every social network requires a “handle” or name. Make yours consistent, and make sure it’s available to claim on all networks. Whatever you pick for Facebook should be used on Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest and any other network you sign up for. In theory, fans will start tagging you on Instagram and tweeting to you on Twitter. They can’t do that if your name is confusing. For Facebook, you’ll have to claim your “vanity URL,” too—it’s much easier and prettier to share than an extra-long link with lots of numbers at the end. Claim your vanity URL at

4. Create a strategy and a pipeline of content.

You probably have more to share than you think. Think about the ways you can repurpose the content you already have and the steps you can take to create new content. Can you reuse any press coverage you’ve received and share it on Twitter? Can your photographer take new lifestyle shots and share the images on Instagram? Can a graphic designer create branded graphics for Facebook? Can you think outside the box and create posts that address problems, concerns, or interests your customers have that are relevant to your business? If you have a low budget and no branded content to share, consider starting a blog. Share peeks behind the scenes, ways your product or business is helpful in the real world, and showcase client stories, and how you helped them succeed.

5. Share the correct mix of content.

On every social network, you need a solid mix of self-promotion, testimonials, and randomness as well as original content that’s of pure value to your readers. Self-promotion includes direct links to your website, peeks behind the scenes, and news about your company. Testimonials can be pulled from a Yelp page, an email, or a blog or article endorsing your product. Randomness can include funny photos, holiday wishes, quotes, and shared content from other resources that is interesting and relevant. It’s time to get creative, people. This is when a freelance writer can come in handy.

7. Start networking.

You have to become a consumer of social media to win at social media. The good news is that in social media land, it’s OK to steal—it’s called sharing, and you should do it often. Scratch someone else’s back in hopes they scratch yours. Set aside at least ten minutes each day to read your feeds. No matter what network you use, you better be actively following influencers, experts, marketers, brands, companies, and publications in your industry. Retweet their articles, like their posts, share their updates, comment on their blogs, or link to their content. Social media dashboards like Hootsuite allow you to create themed feeds from your Twitter Lists or hashtags. Set up an RSS reader like Feedly if that’s easier for you.

8. Share the links to your social presences repeatedly.

If you build it, they will not come. Slap those clickable social icons, vanity URLs, or usernames on your home page, business cards, email signatures, marketing materials, and everywhere else you are found. There are no excuses for this. I’ve worked with so many companies who couldn’t even gather the resources to add a Facebook icon to their homepage months after they had signed up for Facebook. That’s absolutely unacceptable. Don’t even bother setting up a social network if you’re not going to let people know how to find you. Do a Google search for free social network icons, buy a fancier package of icons, or download official brand assets directly from Facebook and Twitter.

9. Drink the Kool-Aid.

Every industry has a unique presence online. There will be hashtags. There may be tweet-ups. There could even be a meme. It’s your job to research this kind of thing so you can become a part of your community. They will welcome you with open arms when you play the game and look at social media as a two-way conversation. You’ll get more followers and make important connections in the process. In the travel industry, bloggers, and influencers participate in Traveler’s Night In, a tweet-up held every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET using the hashtag #TNI. The fashion industry has their own tweet-up called #StyleChat every Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. Constantly study any analytics the social networks provide you with to better understand your audience and your community, and to make sure what you’re doing is working.

10. Keep at it.

I promise that you can make an impact and grow your social following in as little as one hour per week. Facebook’s scheduling feature lets you queue up posts up to six months in advance. Social media dashboards let you queue up content. In theory, you could get months of content ready in one sitting. Here’s a quick guide to the bare minimum you should be posting for each network:

— Blogging once per week

— Posting on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Vine three times per week

— Tweeting ten times per week

— Pinning 20 times per week

Abandoned presences are worse than no presence at all. When you enter the social media space, you’re building a relationship with your audience, potential customers, and brand enthusiasts. Don’t let them down.

Image by fongfong

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