Social media network
Social media is the most cost-effective way to market your business. — Getty Images/metamorworks

After setting up a website, the next step for a small business to create an effective online presence is to set up at least one social media channel (ideally two or more), as well as Google and Bing business pages. Optimizing your presence in these two areas is an easy and cost-effective way to show up in search results and engage with your ideal customers.

Social Media

Why is social media important?

  • It builds community. Having a social media presence will allow you to build brand awareness, engage with your customers, and attract new ones. You can create a community and speak to your potential customers on a personal level, showing your customers different sides of your business and getting the word out about special events and upcoming promotions.
  • It helps you show up online (though somewhat indirectly). Although Google does not directly use major social media networks like Facebook and Google to rank pages, creating a place where your content can be linked and shared can indirectly boost your search engine rankings. In addition, social media channels inherently act as search engines — Facebook alone has over 2 billion active users looking to connect with relevant people and brands. Having a presence there is essential to showing up where your ideal customers are searching for you.
  • It provides less expensive and more targeted advertising. On a platform like Facebook, you can utilize your current customer knowledge — age, profession, gender, interests and purchase behaviors, and target customers similar to them. It takes very little implementation time, and you can promote a post for as low as $20.

Which social media platforms should I choose?

This is a personal decision and depends on your social media skills, your industry and your target audience. Starting with one to two platforms is recommended. Below are five social media channels and with the ideal targeting and industries for each channel.

  • Facebook: Although recent updates and studies have created some cause for concern among businesses, including a declining usage among millennials, as well as an update that favors social content vs. branded content, having a Facebook business page continues to be an important aspect of a small business’s online presence. Facebook still has over 2 billion monthly active users, and over 1 billion daily active users. Even if you choose not to create a robust strategy for the platform, you should still consider setting up a business page and using it for its advertising capabilities as well as a place to distribute content.
  • Twitter: Twitter has 335 million monthly active users and is a great way for businesses to connect with potential customers through relevant hashtags. There are many great reasons to use Twitter, including the fact that 93% of people who follow a small business on Twitter plan to purchase something from that small business, according to a recent report by Twitter and Research Now. However, you need resources to establish your brand tone, follow and contribute to conversations and respond to customers.
  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn now has over 500 million monthly active users and is a great space for B2B companies, consulting businesses (finance, marketing, law, tax, etc.), or any business that targets consumers based on job titles.
  • Instagram: Instagram has 500 million users and 59% of those users check it every day. Similar to Twitter, you can build conversations around and attract potential customers through relevant hashtags. It is widely believed that Instagram is in its heyday, with an inherent coolness and ability to reach audiences like most other platforms cannot. Because it is a photo and video sharing app, your business needs to already have or be able to create beautiful images or interesting videos to share.
  • Pinterest: With its significant reach among women, Pinterest is ideal for female-focused brands: Some 45% of online women are Pinterest users, according to Pew Research. If your business is related to healthy living, design, art, fashion or includes any product that can be put in a beautiful picture, then Pinterest may be a great platform for your business.
  • Snapchat: Snapchat may be the place to be if your business is targeting Gen Z, with 60% of users under the age of 24. Before you venture into Snapchat, make sure you have a strong strategy in place. You’ll need to post daily, create unique video content, partner with relevant influencers, and feature user-generated content.

How do I set up social media profiles for my business?

Here, Facebook is used as the main example and the basic principles can be applied to others.

If you don’t presently have a Facebook page, go to facebook.com/business and click 'Create a Page' in the top right-hand corner. You’ll be prompted to select from two business categories: Business or Brand; or Community or Public Future. Select the one for which you are creating the Facebook Page:

Next, name your business page and select the category. Start typing in the category box to get a drop-down menu.

Continue to enter your address (you can choose to hide the physical location from the public), and select 'Continue.'

The next step is to add pictures for your profile image and cover photo. Your visual impression on Facebook and other social media platforms is critical and should be aligned with your brand. Consider hiring a professional photographer to take pictures of your team, workspace and products (if relevant) if you haven’t already.

What and how often should I post on social media?

Try to post at least three times per week. Focus on the following types of content:

  • Education: Offer tips, tricks, webinars, e-books, articles and blog posts (without selling!). Don’t worry that you are giving away “free advice.” This is the point of entry for quality content. No one will want to follow you if you don’t have something of value to give.
  • Connection building: Post about day-to-day happenings at your business, events or special occasions. Or, make it inspirational and show how your followers' lives would change if they did business with you or followed your advice — such as inspirational quotes, thoughts and beautiful images of your product or service. Make your audience feel like a part of your business.
  • Contests: Do a challenge (e.g. a yoga studio could do a 10-day headstand challenge with a different way to reach the goal every day). Get creative! Think about your business model and what your customers could do for a period of time to make a positive impact on their lives, then help them do it with a challenge. You can also post quizzes, trivia, questions and thought starters to engage with your audience.
  • Behind the scenes: This type of content isn't used often, but is generally widely enjoyed. For example, a local craft brewery once did a #failurefriday post to show their followers something technical that didn’t go as planned in the brewing process. Without needing to overshare, you can still let your customers know that mistakes happen! It can deepen your connection and help them see that there are real people behind your brand.

Online profiles - Google and Bing business pages

Why are Google and Bing business pages important?

Claiming and optimizing your Google and Bing pages are some of the easiest, cost-effective (both are free) and impactful marketing tactics for your business. Optimizing these pages will help your business show up in Google, Bing Maps and Search, and ultimately can help grow your business.

Google My Business Listing:

Bing Places Listing:

In addition, you can place ads in Google My Business to promote your business for as little as $75 per month.

There are a number of listings and directories you can claim and optimize, but Google holds 74.54% market share among search engines and 90% on mobile. You can set up both Google My Business (GMB), and Bing Places for Business, since both are free and the processes are similar.

The first step is to create a GMB page or access one that already exists. If your business has been around for a while, Google may have already created one for you, so check first. To create a new GMB page, go to google.com/business and click 'Start Now' at the top right corner of the page. You will need to go through a verification process in which Google sends a postcard to your address to make sure you are indeed in the location you say you are. For those of you that work out of your home and don’t wish to list your address, you can still claim your GMB page by checking the “I deliver goods and services to my customers at their location” option.

The next step is to fill the page with as many details as possible. The more content you have, and the more reviews you receive, the more likely you will show up in search results.

Here are the content sections to fill:

Info: This is a great place to add details about what you do. Be as elaborate and detailed as possible, including a list of your services, a good business description, and any relevant tags.

Photos: Upload as many photos of your business as possible. If you have video, this is a great place to add that as well.

Reviews: Ask your favorite customers for reviews. The more reviews you receive, the more likely you are to show up in the top three positions, and the more likely people will be compelled to do business with you.

[See also: Social Media Marketing Guide.]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019