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Choosing the Right Social Media Platform for Your Small Business

An increasing number of small businesses today are incorporating the use of social media platforms into their marketing strategies. For small businesses looking to get started with social media it can be intimidating selecting which platform to use, learning how to use it to gain the most exposure and sales-conversion potential, and the ongoing process of maintaining your brand and business identity.

Two factors, or challenges, that face any organization attempting to properly utilize social media are consistency and ongoing maintenance. What this essentially means is you will need to allocate time towards regularly curating, sharing, and creating high-value content to engage with your social network. For organizations that have dedicated social media staff, this is less of an issue; however, for many small businesses this will be a shared or added responsibility to existing workloads.

Consider Your Intended Outcome

The first steps when planning an overall strategy, is to consider what the main business goal would be. Is the goal to drive direct sales in to your physical store? Is the goal lead generation or brand awareness? Is the aspiration to drive website traffic or search engine optimization (SEO)?

Your requirements and needs will vary depending on your business, but it is important to be clear about your intent, or primary objective, as it will help guide you in selecting the most beneficial social media platforms to utilize, and in what capacity.

Know Your Audience

Besides understanding your goals for social media you need to identify your target audience and demographic. Are your audience business professionals, young adults, children, or seniors? This is one of the most important elements to clearly identify for your business since this will help you determine which social media platform to utilize. For instance if your target market were a business professional then LinkedIn would be the ideal platform. Or if your target audience is a design professional then perhaps Pinterest and Instagram are better platforms to make use of. Figure out your specific target audience and market.

Ultimately, the true ‘value’ of social media marketing is its ability to directly engage with specific demographics. So don’t waste your time by using the wrong platform. Research and find out what platforms your target audience favors, then adapt and implement those as your primary modes of social media engagement.

Content Is King

After you have classified your business, pinpointed your goals and determined your target audience the next step is evaluating your content. Remember that using social media is an ongoing process that requires regular content to be published. This can either be curated and culled from third party sources like blogs, or can be original content that you create yourself.

A combination of quality curated content as well as original material is typically recommended as the best way to get the most out of a social media strategy. In order to appeal with your audience, it’s important to not only show them that you’re engaged with the same things they are (by sharing, re-tweeting, or re-blogging), but that you also happen to be a thought leader or expert in a certain field. This can be achieved by sharing relevant original content.

The most successful companies set schedules to routinely publish content that is relevant and of high value to their audience.

Analysis and Metrics

While it can be easy to be drawn into a numbers game with social media, it’s important to understand the value of social media for your business rather than just keeping track of how many fans or followers you have.

Incorporating frequent analysis and keeping in mind your intended outcomes can help to keep you and your social media strategy on track. For instance if your intended outcome is to increase leads you’ll need to actively monitor and measure how many leads are coming from what social media channels.

Understanding what your audience is responding to can also be a good way to measure how you’re tracking. Regularly looking at what your most popular posts have been can help you to continually tweak your strategy and continue to deliver relevant content that your audience is interested in. For channels that don’t have their own insights there are several options, both free and subscription based, that you can use to monitor this.

Through regular analysis you may also find that some platforms are working better than others, this can assist with refining your strategy overtime.

So Which Platform Is The Right One?

Like with so many things in business, the answer is “it depends”. As outlined above, with the plethora of social media platforms on offer, your primary concern as a business owner are the tangible benefits to your business, as well as where your audience resides online.

For a quick rundown or cheat sheet into the major platforms available today, consider the following:

LinkedIn – A professional network that is most valuable as a tool of B2B engagement.
Twitter – Allows for informal broadcasts and direct, almost-real time engagement with an audience.
Facebook – A dizzying population of users that can be segmented according to precise niche demographics, as well as directly targeted using Facebook’s own paid-advertising service.
YouTube – The most popular video broadcasting networking right now. Allows products or original content to be presented and, in the appropriate context, can also be monetized as an additional revenue stream.
Google+ – Google’s answer to Facebook. Growing in popularity, and is an emerging factor in Search Engine Optimization.
Pinterest – Allows users to share or ‘pin’ images or video into curated collections. Known for having a significant female user base.
Instagram – A mobile based platform for sharing photos and videos. Typically a younger demographic and very popular among more visual based industries eg. design, fashion, travel.
Just remember that when you are starting out, it’s important to appreciate the amount of time it can take to build a significant social media identity and audience. Don’t expect to achieve this on day one. Identify the most relevant platforms, evaluate the time you spend maintaining them, then adapt and refine your social strategy accordingly. The ability to continually engage with your audience is far more important than being on every platform available.

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