Business Basics: How small businesses can get the most from social media

22 December 2016

So far in this interview series, we’ve spoken to Emma Jones from Enterprise Nation about scaling up a business in times of change, and HR specialist Jan Sargent, who was kind enough to share a few pointers on best HR practice in the workplace.

How Small Businesses Can Get the Most from Social Media

Small businesses Social Media tips


In today’s edition of Business Basics, we’ve recruited the help of social media expert, Alex McCann, who will be sharing a few tips on how small businesses can get the most from social media. Alex is a prolific social media speaker and trainer with over 17 years’ experience. He runs the social media training and management consultancy Altrincham HQ, which advises companies of all shapes and sizes – from FTSE 250 firms to SMEs – on their social media use. Alex’s consultancy also recently won ‘Best Social Media Company’ at the 2016 Talk of Manchester Awards.

Read the full interview with Alex below to discover his best tips for social media success.

For a business just starting out with social, how important is it to have objectives? What steps can small businesses take to plan out their activity, and what are the key considerations here?

Social media objectives are actually critical to the success of a campaign. If you don’t have anything written down on what you want to achieve with social media, then you’ll find it very difficult to measure whether what you’re doing is effective or not.

Often the main objective for businesses and social media is sales – but sales on social media take planning, time and patience if you’re going down the organic route.

Whether you’re a small or large business, it’s essential to look at getting the basics right. Consider:

- Which platforms are your customers using?

- How many times a day are you going to post?

- How many engagements do you expect to receive?
- How many new followers do you want to gain each month?
- How many clicks through to the website should you aim for?
- What is the ROI of social media for your business – time vs money?

By setting out objectives and goals this way, you can effectively measure performance each month.

Are some channels more important than others, and how does this vary by sector and business type?

For ourselves and our clients, Twitter has always been the biggie. I think mainly because it crosses the divide between B2B and B2C.

Every business is different and the answer to which social media channels you should be using must be dictated by where your customers’ eyes are. There used to be the idea that there is the ‘big three’ – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – but it could be argued that it’s now the ‘big five’ with Instagram and Snapchat.

But businesses don’t need to be on every single social media channel. When we work with businesses, we’ll usually recommend the two most relevant and begin building those first. Once the company has mastered them and begins to generate business on these platforms, they can then look at introducing more as is appropriate.

There’s no point in getting carried away at the start on every channel, and then leaving half of them dormant due to lack of time.

business social media tips

So, you’ve set up accounts and know what you want to achieve. What’s the best way to then go about building a following, and how can a business identify where their audience are on social media?

Whatever you want out of social media, it’s essential that you take an active role in it. If you want to build your followers, go out and follow your target market. If you want engagement from your target market, go out and engage with them.

Engagement is so important on social media. Most businesses just take a ‘broadcast’ approach on social, where they treat it as simply another delivery method for traditional marketing. Social media necessitates two-way communication. And of course – content, content, content – if you produce great content that inspires and affects people, they’ll follow you and share what you’re producing.

There’s a temptation to simply share product information, but businesses using social to its fullest go further than that. What kinds of things should small businesses be posting?

There are so many different things that small businesses can be posting. At the beginning, why not try to ‘hero’ your staff and your customers? People are your USP and that’s what makes small businesses different from large faceless organisations, and highlighting them can prove incredibly effective.

I’ve won business from posting selfies; people know what I look like and that’s an immediate relationship-builder.

Also, try and think of social media from an audience’s perspective; think about what your super-fans would want to hear about from your business. They know about the product or service, so what extra can you give them? What insider info, tips, and advice could you share?

Essentially, you want to make your fans feel like the most loved people in the world. That way, they’ll act as your advocates.


Should businesses be creating their own original content? Is having a blog on your website necessary for social media marketing?

The ideal content mix would comprise equal parts original, curated and user-generated content. The three different content types all have their benefits and enable you to show a breadth of knowledge around your offering.

I used to be a journalist, so ideas tend to come quite easily to me – I have a rule that I must produce at least one piece of new original content every single day. That can be a quote, an image or a blog post. Usually, the quotes alone can inspire a whole series of content – you can get a lot of mileage from a single content idea by giving it multiple different executions.

Blogging is one of the pillars of success for my social media business and I would advise that if you can host a blog on your website, you should do it – regardless of your business type. It goes back to what I said before about adding value for your existing and potential customers: if you have expertise and knowledge that’s valuable to other people, then share it!

Blogging has taken us from working in a small town of 40,000 people to working all over the UK and even internationally with clients. And blogs I wrote four or five years ago still continue to generate leads for us.

What are the most common mistakes that businesses make on social media, and what best practices can they follow to avoid them?

Common mistakes on social media is a whole interview in itself. I’ve written numerous blogs in the past on the mistakes that businesses make on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and that series continues to expand.

The most common mistakes often have something to do with the following factors:

Patience – businesses expect results straight away and when they don’t get them immediately they stop posting.

Engagement – businesses don’t engage enough on social media. It’s not just a broadcast platform; for our consultancy, around 65-70% of tweets are engagements with people.

Not giving – There’s a saying that “givers gain”. Businesses don’t refer work or recommend others on a regular enough basis to help others. If you don’t help others, then why should they help you?

Not dominating – You can’t dominate your niche without doing more than the competition does. Whatever they are doing on social, you need to do it better. Be fast and agile. Deliver value. Give more of it.

small business social media tips

Doing social well obviously requires a significant time – and even financial – investment. How are small businesses able to justify this cost internally and gain buy-in?

While it’s true that it takes time to do it well, good social media almost always translates into positive sales results. All around us, you can see examples of companies leveraging social media to seriously grow their businesses; decision-makers simply can’t ignore the fact that social media works as a marketing tool.

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The key is to go ‘all in’ on social media or not at all. It won’t work if you invest 30 minutes a week to it. You need to invest a minimum of 4 hours a week to see a tangible return (and more if you’re producing original blog content).

Do you have an audit of the traditional marketing that you’re doing right now? Why not track the ROI of traditional marketing and the channels which don’t perform, then shift some of that spend over to social media and invest in that?

Social media is not a case of needing more money – it’s a case of shifting budgets appropriately and allocating enough time to do it right.

How can companies monitor their success on social media? What tools are available for measuring return on investment (ROI)?

Everything you do on social media is measurable. Out of the box, you have a number of tools you can use to measure levels of engagement and the amount of traffic you’re getting from social over time – think Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Instagram Analytics and the almighty Google Analytics.

And of course, try to gather qualitative data by going back to basics: ask customers how they heard about you when they enquire or you make a sale.

The latter is one of the biggest mistakes that small businesses make: not asking their customer how they heard about them. Most customers won’t volunteer this information unless you ask, which means that social media’s impact often ends up being undervalued.

What developments in social media for marketing are currently in the pipeline for the next year or so? Is there anything small businesses should be aware of, or that they can directly benefit from?

Everything on social media is becoming more visual-led. Our brains are hardwired to process images much faster than text alone, so communicating visually just makes sense for the fast-paced world of social. You only have to look at the rise of Instagram and Snapchat over the past 12-24 months to see that’s the way things are going.

Businesses should be looking to invest in visual content that they can use as part of their social strategy – whether this means original photography and design, branded ‘cards’, or even video. Facebook Live is also being given a big push in 2017 and I think we will begin to see more small businesses livestreaming video.

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