If you’re a small business trying to use social media to promote your business, it can seem daunting. There are so many things to consider.

Before the era of social networks, the most social activity we got was maybe the mall on Sundays, lunch break, and happy hour. Today, we’re connected 24/7 (depending on your coffee intake) to a humming and constant buzz of social activity.

How do you break through the noise? It’s generally assumed that the only way to get your products and services noticed is to post about it a lot. And talk about it. And link to it. Bring it up in conversation. Then remind people about it.

Actually, that’s wrong. We all know that person, and he or she is not very fun to talk to.

Social First, Media Second

Social networks are primarily a place for people to hang out and have fun, share news, ideas, and connect with the brands they care about.

Therefore, it’s important that your activity respects the reason why people are on that particular network. For example, with Facebook, some of the best things a small business can share is educational material, motivating quotes, and personal moments from the day to day of running your business.

Because it’s social first, then it’s media. People, relationships, friendship and trust are the cornerstone of good marketing and good business. So darn it, we actually got to care about people. ;)

Let’s dig into 10 tips to help you use social media to grow  your community.

1. Focus on the social network your customers are on.

Social media and networking are obviously a huge part of today’s culture. There are hundreds of social media networks out there, and each one does things a little differently.

When it comes to sharing your message, selecting a social network isn’t random. You have to pick the one used by your fans. And unless you know otherwise, opt for the most popular networks with millions of followers.

For example, Facebook can have up to 20,000 active members in any given second. Sproutsocial has more Facebook stats if you’re interested.

It is become increasingly frequent to to find smaller networks built around niche interests, like your business. But, for the most part, the top 7 social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Instagram can have the greatest benefits for your business.

2. Pick ONE Social Media Network.

Another general assumption is that you have to be everywhere, on every network, checking in all the time.

Some people can do that. Not everyone. In fact, most small businesses trying to use social media on their own are good at one network, maybe two. After that, it gets significantly harder to respond, engage and keep cultivating a meaningful community around their brand.

So don’t let your business fall into the trap of thinking that the more networks you’re on, the better your social media marketing will be.

Pick one social media network to work with and perfect it.

This is especially important for small start up businesses. This is how you will build up a community.

It is not about the quantity, it is about the quality.

3. Know the ONE network you pick really well.

Just like you may have friends who have distinctly different personalities, social media networks have their own unique characteristics.

To market properly on social media networks you need to learn their ins and outs.

Take the time Google best practices, and dos and don’ts for using your network. Always be learning.

Not all networks focus on the same kind of media. Discover what type of content suits your primary network best – visual or written?

For example, Pinterest and Instagram are all about imagery. Linkedin loves great educational and informational content – it’s a business/professional oriented network. As a video giant, YouTube thrives on short movies, interviews, personal moments. Apart from a unique focus on communities and groups, Google+ has value in helping boost your SEO through keywords and relevant links.

To get the most out of your social media marketing, you need to have an solid understanding of your network and how to interact with it, just like you would a friend.

Don't Sell Them, Help Them

4. Get to know your fans and customers.

As important as it is to know your network, it is equally important to know your fans and customers.

There are a couple of reasons why. The better idea you have about the people you want to resonate with, and the kinds of people looking for your services, the better you will be able to communicate with them. It will be easier to run marketing campaigns.

If you’re selling dishwashers to millenials, Star Wars references to robots in your kitchen won’t go over their heads. It might not mean the same thing to their parents.

So take a little time to investigate. Check out some profiles to see what pages they follow? Who are the influential people they cheer? Are they old or are they young? Are they mostly men or women?

Create character sketches of your top 2-3 ideal common customers: every piece of content you create, create for them. No matter how well you know your network, if your content isn’t being created for the right people, you won’t get engagement.

And engagement is key.

Here’s a handy, ultimate list of marketing statistics.

5. Don’t sell them, help them.

Remember that guy at the social who won’t shut up about how amazing his service is?

The problem with that kind of megaphone marketing tactic is that the entire focus is on you, the business. And that approach isn’t working any more, especially with later generations.

Don’t force the sale. Focus on explaining the benefits. Find a way to make your customer the hero of their story – once they’re using your services. Share your advice, your experience, industry leader’s experiences, tips and tricks.

Always be empowering those around you.

Sharing information, experience and tips with your fans boosts their a understanding of what you do, and how you can help them.

Help the product sell itself.

6. Get the attention of influential people in your industry.

Interested in killing two birds with one stone? Share the posts and content from influencers’ pages within your industry.

This allows you to share valuable content with your customers without having to craft amazing, time-consuming content every other day.

At the same time, cultivate relationships with influencers who respond to you. Take the opportunity to ask them questions, improve based on their feedback.

Who knows, you may get a shoutout from it, which can boost your reach and engagement. No matter what, always be authentic and honest.

We can all smell B.S. a mile away. Influencers get spammed a lot, so keep it real, friendly, and focused.

Spend Time Finding Great Images

7. Take the time to find great imagery.

Pictures are what catch the eye. There’s a serious reason why Facebook doesn’t want promoted ads crammed with text.

On a social network, your feed is why you’re there. Have you noticed how you pause when a really great image comes up? It’s that extra second of appreciation that makes the difference between a click-through, or a scroll-by.

This goes back to cultivating content for your ideal customer: take time to find the right pictures for the customers you are catering to.

Great images can make or break a post. The time you put into finding them is time well spent. Here are some tips to help you choose great images for your marketing content.

Check out our blog on 6 great sites for finding free stock photos.

8. Talk like real life.

Content is one of the best ways to personalize your business online. And it’s how you communicate – the tone of your content – that makes a social community successful.

Communicating with your customers in a friendly way, as if you are communicating with someone you know, helps with discovering customers interests and fulfilling their needs.

And ideally, they are all people you want to get to know.

Honesty, trust, and reliability are the best ways to sell your service and products and receive positive feedback.

The more real you are in your networking, the greater sense of comfort you can nurture in your fans and customers.

Make Real Life Connections

9. Make real life connections.

Don’t just talk the talk. Walk the walk. Once again we go back to getting to know your customers.

Take the next step and make real life connections with your fan base.

Always respond to everyone. Reply to every message. Be helpful, and as quick as you can to answer their questions.

A note – ignore the trolls. They’re never worth anyone’s time, and arguing with them doesn’t do you any favors. 

Cultivating personal connections is a huge step toward inspiring referrals and growing your business.

Take some of your closest fans out for lunch. Buy them a coffee or a drink.

Always be interacting.

10. Actively work to grow your following.

Use the network to your advantage as much as possible. Do more then just post and share stuff.

Take the time to message people back. Look up and follow influencers and popular folk in your industry. Like things that your fans share with you. Leave review on pages and other businesses.

Grow your networking with other businesses by sharing information, reaching out to share and collaborate on services. Talk to other small businesses in  your industry about finding ways to support each other.

Start a group around a particular, ongoing discussion in  your industry.

The more interactions you have, the more personal your relationships with customers can be.

It helps develop a sense of trust, reliability, and honesty. For more on customer relationship growth, check this article on Forbes about customer relationships on social media.

To sum up

When you ask how to use social media to promote your business, here’s the simple answer: keep it real.

Be authentic, be honest. Don’t treat your fans like numbers to grow, but friends to meet, to get to know and keep connecting with.

When you take the time to get to know them, you’ll learn the best kinds of content that will resonate with them. Pick out great imagery that puts you and your message in the best light, and brightens up your fans’ feed.

Follow and interact with influencers in your industry, supporting them, asking questions, sharing their content. Keep  building real relationships with them, the same way you would in real life at a coffee shop.

Focus on the one network you know best, or learn to use the network where your fans hang out. And in everything, remember its social first, and media second.

So which of these gets you excited? And which one is hardest for you?

Jeremy Minick

Born and raised in the mountains of North Carolina. Spent high school summers running sandwich deliveries through the streets of Asheville, NC. Has a strong interest in helping small businesses do big things. When he’s not designing or marketing websites, you’ll find him spending time with his wife, family and friends.

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