Posted in Business basics | by: Margot Leong

Back to Small Business School: How to Get Started with Social Media Marketing

In the spirit of back-to-school season, we’re rolling out a series of tactical lessons to give your small business a seasonal refresh. Grab your seats, crack open your notebooks, and learn how to create new business opportunities through the world of social media marketing.

When people talk about social media, they often think a few rainbowed cat memes is all it takes to reach Internet glory. But social media marketing goes much deeper than dress colors, Doge, or any other online phenomenon. Nowadays, your customers aren’t just participating in social media, they’re also making decisions based on it. Adding a smart social strategy to your marketing mix will let your company’s personality radiate, while bringing you closer to the incredible people you serve day in and out. As a result, more people will find out what makes your company special, and over time, they’ll develop a stronger connection to your brand.

So where do you begin? Here are six ways to get started with social media marketing without wasting loads of time (or money):

1) Establish your company’s voice

First, consider how you want your brand to come across. Are you funny, motivational, knowledgeable, or some combination thereof? One of the most important aspects of establishing your voice on social is to make sure your customers feel like they’re talking with a real human being, and not some bot. Airbnb achieves that conversational voice on Twitter by asking the community fun questions, telling stories about people’s travel journeys, and treating their fans like close friends.

Likeable Media’s Dave Kerpen sums up the concept of “social media voice” pretty well:

“At a cocktail party, you wouldn’t walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m Dave. My stuff is 20 percent off.’ What you do is ask questions, tell stories, listen, and relate to people.”

At Gusto (formerly ZenPayroll), we think of social as a key part of our arsenal in creating a “living brand;” one that is authentic, extremely responsive, and ultimately, committed to a true purpose. Take some time to think about your brand’s personality — what do they believe in? How do they act at parties? How do they respond to feedback (both positive and negative)? Establishing guidelines for your voice around these values will help guide how you respond and interact with customers on social media.

2) Go where your customers are

Think about the kind of business you have. If your company offers an extremely visual service or product (think flower shop, bakery, etc.), Instagram and Pinterest are musts.

It's Monday… Paint the town orange! ? ?: @leahreenagoren

A photo posted by BloomThat (@bloomthat) on

If your company is geared to the professional market, LinkedIn is essential. Consumer-facing businesses should also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to invest some time into thoroughly filling out your profiles on each platform. For Instagram and Facebook, it’s important for local businesses to include their addresses so customers can find you and check in. All of these channels are unique in their own ways, and you’ll likely reach a different audience on each. Unsure whether a particular platform is right for you? Dip your toes in and start experimenting!

3) Build relationships by going beyond your company

It’s easy to get in the habit of only posting about your company or product — but too much self-promotion can get old fast (time to scroll back to our lovely Dave Kerpen quote). Good social is about creating experiences that make people feel good. You can break out of the company-centric mindset by talking about topics that are related to your industry, sharing content from influencers, and tagging relevant accounts when you post. Discover new content by setting up a feedly that pulls in different articles from a variety of sources, and on Twitter, search for hashtags related to your industry. According to Shai Coggins, one way to swirl in more curation into your content strategy is through the 555+ approach. For every five pieces of original content shared, share five pieces from others, and then post five responses to people in your community. You can also use twubs to find and participate in tweet chats — it’s a great way to connect with other entrepreneurs and share tips and tricks.

4) Create diverse content

Always ask yourself: if you were a customer, what would you want to see? Think of social media publishing like magazine publishing. You wouldn’t want to read a magazine with ads on every page; variety is the spice of social media life. Play around with different types of content on different platforms: photo galleries and GIFs on Twitter, quotes and infographics on Pinterest, and videos and fill-in-the-blanks on Instagram. Keep your audience engaged by continuing to talk about the themes that resonate with your brand, but in an inventive way that piques their interest. Plated does a great job with varying their content by posting a blend of blog posts, recipe highlights, and short video explainers showing how to make new dishes. Their diversity of content is not only refreshing, it provides users with something useful — and drool-worthy — whenever they pop by their page.

5) Time to get visual

Visuals breathe life into your social media content. In fact, image-heavy content garners 94% more views than content without any graphics. But even if you’re not a designer, you can still churn out slick graphics for your channels. Hubspot offers free templates for creating graphics right in PowerPoint, and Canva is extremely useful for whipping up visuals customized for each social channel. Spruce is great for finding photos licensed for reuse that you can add text overlays to, and Giphy is a lively way to splice animated GIFs into your posts. (Psst…we use most of these services here at Gusto!)

6) Develop a crisis strategy

When customers are unhappy, social media is usually the first place they go. There may also be situations when a post is taken the wrong way or accidentally published. All of these situations are possible, so make sure you already have a strategy in place before things go haywire. Develop an action plan that includes general guidelines about your company tone, links to the most common support articles, and sample responses to help your team put together a cogent statement when time is of the essence. (This is where establishing your company’s voice and personality ahead of time really comes in handy!)

The Red Cross is a perfect example of how to correctly deal with a social media crisis. After someone accidentally started tweeting on the Red Cross’s corporate account thinking it was their personal account, their social media manager’s reaction was glorious:

The Red Cross was honest, acknowledged the error, and used humor to show that sometimes these things happen to the best of us.

By adding these tips to your tool belt, you’ll be ready to design a social media plan that fits the specific needs of your company. It may seem like a maze at first, but the more you experiment, the more comfortable you’ll get, and the more your personality will come through. And when you reach that level of authenticity, your customers will feel like talking to you on social media is just as satisfying as talking to a good friend.

If you have any social media-related questions, feel free to talk to us (@GustoHQ!) and we’ll be happy to share our two cents. Now, go forth, and be social!