When it comes to marketing your small business, few other channels are more effective — in terms of time and money — than social media. But surprisingly, only 32 percent of small businesses say they invest seriously in a social media marketing strategy.

A social media marketing strategy encompasses the use of online channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to reach your target audience on both broad, and individual, levels. Properly using social media for your small business can help build an online presence through the creation and promotion of multiple forms of content. This content can take the shape of blog posts, videos, pictures, and updates that small businesses can then share with their audiences — and that will ideally be “liked” and “shared” further by their extended networks.

A Facebook page or Twitter account on their own aren’t enough to promote your small business, though. For that, you need to develop an in-depth social-media marketing strategy. The good news is there are plenty of tools and best practices for helping you do this. And if you haven’t established a strategy for your small business, it’s never too late to start.

Here’s how to leverage social media for small business to reach your audience, build your brand, and win over new customers.

1. Assess your marketing mix

Social media is one of many marketing channels available to small businesses, along with avenues like radio, TV, and print advertising. But more and more people are spending huge chunks of time on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, making them an ideal place to connect with both new and established customers.

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Another benefit of using social media for small business in the marketing mix is that it allows you to access “in-market” segments — meaning you’re able to target specific niche audiences pertaining to a specific product or service.

How it blends in with other marketing channels will depend on your business, products or services, and target demographic, but one thing that’s important to remember is that social should complement and integrate with other channels you’re already using effectively, rather than being used solely as a replacement. So, look at what marketing channels are working well for your small business today, and begin thinking about areas where social media can augment those efforts or fill in the gaps.

2. Define your target audience

The key to crafting the right content and messaging for small-business social-media marketing is knowing who you’re marketing to. You want to start defining your target audience by traits like age, gender, geography, profession, and income. More than likely, you’ll have at least two or three key target personas. If you own an art supplies store, for example, you’ll potentially be targeting young artists, middle-aged art professors, and upper-income art hobbyists. Each persona will have their own “hot button” issues or topics relating to your business that you’ll want to address with your social-media marketing strategy. Make sure that you understand your customer’s problems, and how you’re actively able to resolve those problems through your product or service.

Drawing up audience profiles. Credit: SocialMediaExaminer.com

3. Choose the Right Platform

After you’ve defined your target audience and personas, you’ll want to select which social-media platforms to focus your small-business social-media marketing on. You’ll want to base your decision on both your audience, as well as the specific industry you’re in. Facebook and Pinterest, for instance, are much better channels for reaching Baby Boomers than Instagram or Snapchat, which are more popular among Millennials.

Credit: SproutSocial.com

Certain industries also lend themselves to specific platforms. If your business is focused on visual products like fashion or clothing, Instagram might be the best channel to concentrate on. A plumbing business, however, may want to gravitate towards channels with “how-to” content like Pinterest or YouTube. Brawny Paper Towels, for instance, heavily markets on social media but rarely ever posts on Instagram because it’s not a platform that lends itself to Brawny products.

4. Start Developing Content

Once you’ve narrowed down your audience and the best social media platforms to reach them, you’re ready to begin developing content to share and promote. Here are some of of the major forms of content to consider, and develop, for you social-media marketing strategy:

  • Blog posts. Research shows that companies with a blog generate an average of 67 percent more leads than those that don’t. Blog posts aren’t a “hard sell,” but rather an opportunity to showcase expertise and thought leadership within your field. By providing useful information to your audience, you can build a community by engaging with readers in the comments, along with those that engage with posts as you share them across platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Videos. As one of the fastest-growing forms of digital content, video can get your brand messaging across in a concise and entertaining way. Successful businesses that use video content use a combination of short product videos, how-tos, leadership profiles, and webinars. Best of all, platforms like YouTube and Vimeo allow you to embed videos on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and even your blog.
  • Imagery. With the rise of Instagram, there’s a higher premium put on high-quality photo and image content. If you own a restaurant, for instance, it may be worth investing in high-quality photography equipment to showcase high-definition images of your best dishes on Instagram. Tools like Shutterstock Editor can be used to optimize image content to be that much more engaging on all social media platforms, Instagram included.
  • Live streaming. Technologies like Periscope and Facebook Live now enable businesses to create content and engage with customers in real time, on the fly. You can livestream your company’s presence at a charity event, for example, so people can have access to interesting happenings within their community, and know that you’re active in supporting your local community.

No matter what form of content you chose to develop, it should be related to both your business and the problems that your product or service solves. Provide your audience with advice and tips that people can use to improve their lives, and that showcase your expertise to build credibility.

Investing in good camera equipment and a good photo editing program may help drive clicks — and sales. Credit: NextRestaurants.com

5. Develop Key Performance Indicators

Measuring the success of your small business’ social media activity is a critical factor in ongoing engagement and success. If you don’t know what is and isn’t working, there’s no way to move forward with a solid social media marketing strategy. Here are three key areas to look at when formulating your key performance indicators (KPIs):

  1. Engagement. Measures in this area include things like clicks, likes, profile views, comments, shares, mentions, and follows. Basically, this is all about studying how many people are engaging with your content, and how they engage with it.
  2. Reach. These KPIs indicate how widely your content is being viewed. For instance Typical reach KPIs are followers, impressions, and traffic data. One important thing about reach is that it takes into consideration people who may have seen your content but not directly engaged with it, like when you see in your Facebook feed that a friend has liked a certain page or piece of content that you aren’t necessarily following.
  3. Leads. You’ll want to measure how many new sales leads that your content generates that could potentially lead to additional sales. Remember, social media marketing is all about pulling in potential customers. You’re not necessarily trying to talk to everybody, especially those who aren’t likely to be interested in what you’re selling.
  4. Sales. At the end of the day, you want to track new sales and customers, and how those numbers correlate with engagement and reach. You’ll then be able to fine tune your approach, do more of what’s working, and less of what isn’t.

Getting your small business social media marketing strategy ramped up doesn’t have to be a lengthy chore. In fact, it can be quite fun. Whether your aim is to increase brand recognition, grow revenue, or build loyalty, it’s important that your social KPIs strongly align with your overall business objectives. By focusing on understanding your audience, developing the right content for the proper channels, and measuring success, you’ll be able to leverage social media to gain a competitive marketing advantage.

Top Image by GaudiLab