One of the more common questions small business owners ask about social media is how to present themselves to their communities at large. This leads to a whole array of questions:
- Should a Twitter handle be a person’s name or the name of the company?
- Should a Facebook page be represented by a logo or the proprietor’s photo?
- How do you build followers?
- What kind of messages should you post?
To a large extent, there aren’t hard and fast rules about how to establish your presence online. However, there are recommended best practices and recent studies that provide insight on how consumers view and promote businesses and brands using social media. And it all starts with presenting the human side of your business to your audience.
Whether you’re just getting started or consider yourself a social media pioneer, following are five recommendations for most effectively using social media to drive business.
1. Create a genuine online identity. Just as each business will have its own messages specific to its audiences, its identity will also be unique in reflecting the personality and culture of the business.
In social media forums, it’s recommended to use the business name as opposed to your own so you’re more easily found. For example, If your name is Joe Smith and you own a pizza shop called Joe’s Pizza, use @JoesPizza, instead of @JoeSmith, to make it easy for people to find you.
2. Be authentic. Post messages that reflect how you think and speak as well as how your customers think. Avoid formal messages as well as an overload of straight up marketing promotions. Engage customers via questions and surveys as well as responding to their posts to further the online conversation.
3. Be relevant. Make sure the messages reflect your business and your customers’ interests and needs. While you will want to occasionally post personal updates to demonstrate the human behind the screen, avoid over-sharing about your personal life.
4. Resist “free” advertising. While many social media platforms are free, resist the urge to post a stream of promotional information. To effectively build a community of relevant followers, you’ll want to balance your messages between their interests, what your business is up to, and what’s going on in the larger context of the industry. For example, on Twitter, a recommended ratio of messages is roughly 3/1/3. This means that for every seven messages, three should reflect the interests of your customers, one should be about your business, and three should reflect what’s going on in your particular industry.
5. Humanize the experience. Consumers today don’t want to read automated messages. According to studies conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey and Constant Contact, it has become increasingly clear that using social media to simply broadcast content and talking at consumers is not effective. Consumers want more than just good content, they also want it to be interactive and reflect the fact that they are being heard and acknowledged by the real people behind the brands.
While consumers turn to social media to interact with brands and receive special promotions, remember that they are more likely to read posts than they are to interact with them. Give them a reason to interact by asking a question. Don’t be afraid to engage; another finding of the Constant Contact/Chadwick Martin Bailey studies was that 60 percent of brand followers are more likely to recommend a brand to a friend after following it on Twitter and 50 percent of brand followers are more likely to buy from a brand after following it on Twitter. Use that to your advantage and you’ll find your followers and fans grow over time.