Social media marketing has long functioned as one of the most critical communication tools for small businesses and a cost-effective marketing channel for businesses of any size. But with a shift to digital that might be permanent, and Australia’s economic recovery still on the horizon, small business owners in particular will need to capitalise on social media’s potential to be their own automated marketing, creative and sales departments.
Most business owners already know it’s not as simple as opening a Facebook page or starting a TikTok account. To explore how small businesses can put social media to work, three successful business owners shared their lessons in a virtual masterclass From Concept to Content, that was part of Idea Exchange 2020 (full episode here):
- Jules Lund, founder of TRIBE, an app that connects businesses with micro-influencers
- Melissa Westcott, Facebook community trainer and owner of several small businesses, whose “very big feet” inspired her to start Big On Shoes
- Brooke Vulinovich, Instagram specialist, social media coach, and small business owner
Their personal – and sometimes hilarious – stories came with practical, replicable, and highly specific advice for turning social content into followers and followers into paying customers. Though all three provided unique tips, there were a few major takeaways that overlapped each presentation.
Social media’s ongoing evolution makes beginners out of everyone
Jules, Melissa, and Brooke all recounted hearing fears about knowing how to use social media – whether their own fears or those of other business owners.
“It's one of those disciplines where you can't help but feel clueless and intimidated, like everyone is way ahead of you,” explained Jules. “And you sometimes feel like it evolves way too fast.”
But this rapid evolution is exactly why newcomers to social media marketing shouldn’t feel overwhelmed. After all, huge corporations are racing just as hard to keep up with all the changes. “Something that can hold you back is thinking everyone is way ahead of you,” said Brooke. Like her fellow presenters, Brooke had no formal training when she started marketing her businesses on social media, and initially assumed she was “late to the party.”
Jules likened learning social media to training for his television hosting job, saying that the preparation process is a little like fitness. Part of that process demands comfort with being uncomfortable and the acceptance that you’ll always have more to learn and practice. “I created an influencer marketplace that now has 90,000 influencers,” said Jules. “It started with one really lousy influencer, which was me. You just have to start somewhere.”
COVID-19 has made the basics more important than ever, and tech can help
Melissa touched on social media as a vital channel for helping customers interact with you despite external chaos – like, say, during natural disasters or public health crises.
She pointed out specific platform features that can help besieged business owners keep customers informed. The tech options that might originally feel intimidating or hard to learn can turn out to be your biggest support when the chips are down. They include:
- unified inbox, a “game-changer” for Melissa’s business and a central location for all comments and direct messages across Facebook and Instagram
- automatic replies, which help corral messages and queries during busy moments
- proactive updates, “back to basics” actions like updating business hours or putting frequently asked questions front-and-centre onto social media accounts, which can pre-empt customer queries and prevent disgruntlement or confusion.
Know your customers and how to reach them
With too many examples and tips to share in a single article, each speaker covered some aspect of understanding your audience and knowing which product features will help you reach them. Jules explained that this usually starts with looking at your database and who is already engaging with you. After figuring out who to target, businesses need to understand how to reach them and what content they want. Brooke stressed the importance of prioritising this target audience and crafting content specifically for them.
“Your content always needs to be either entertaining, inspiring or educational. So before you hit that post button, I want you to ask if it’s going to do that for your ideal client.”
Melissa outlined how Facebook Live changed her business and the different features available, adding that the best examples of live content and 24-hour stories tend to come from outside your industry. “Follow different people and look for inspiration in different places.” Brooke also provided advice for reaching different customers based on your business type. She separated Instagram activity between “product-based businesses” and “service-based businesses” and explained how the former could turn their Instagram posts into shoppable feeds.
“For service-based businesses or creatives, think about what you can teach people online. And don't be scared to give away your best information – otherwise, how else are you going to show them that you know what you're talking about?”
Social media isn’t just for connecting with customers
While urgent business needs drive most social media marketing, all three presenters stressed another important way to use social media – connecting with other business owners.
“I didn't really have anyone in my direct circle that I could talk to about how hard it was as a small business owner closing retail stores, trying to keep people employed,” said Melissa. She urged other owners to seek out online communities for support, naming groups like Boost with Facebook and Business Chicks.
Brooke agreed and described the experience of a small business owner as “lonely” at times, but is living proof that networking with peers can deliver both social support and business support – her social media workshops originated from networking sessions where she discovered others were struggling with digital channels. “I thought here's a really good opportunity to meet some people. If I can just teach these people social media, they'll be my friend!”.
All three presentations offered tangible steps for success, concrete examples and breakdowns of different features on different platforms.
Check out the full masterclass and Q&A session with attendees.
- Social media marketing can transform customers into your own hybrid marketing, sales, and creative department.
- Social media’s fast rate of change can feel intimidating, but it also means that everyone is a “beginner.”
- Intimately get to know your audience, along with the features that will help you reach them, and streamline activity during busy times.
- Being a small business owner is sometimes challenging, so don’t forget that social media can help you connect with others in the same boat.