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The real 411 on using social media for small online businesses

If you want to grow your online business and audience, get this complete guide on how to use social media for small businesses and use social media the right way.

If you use the internet, you’re aware of the integrated role social media has assumed online (and in life). It’s not hyperbolic to say social platforms are used all the time, everywhere.

When it comes to your small online business, the intermingling is no different. 

You’ve got a ton of social media choices to make for your business. 

No need to spin your wheels, though -- social media doesn’t have to be confusing.

Today, we’ll outline everything you need to know about using social platforms, including 13 key strategies, so you can streamline your social media efforts and focus on growing your online business without getting lost in the noise.

Ready to dive in? Great.

#1. Find the best social media platform for your online audience

Our first tip today is to identify the best social media platform for your online audience before you commit to any specific channel. 

An effective way to do this is to first understand the difference between each social media platform’s user demographics. 

For instance, in the US, 73% of adults use YouTube

To dive a bit deeper, 85% of YouTube users have at least a college degree, and 84% have an annual salary that’s upwards of $75,000, making its user base the most educated and wealthy in comparison to the other social channels. 

So if your audience fits these demographics, YouTube may be a good option for you. If, on the other hand, your small business offerings are a better fit for another more niche audience -- say, women -- Pinterest is a better choice with its 70% female users. 

The gist here is to match your audience and social media demographics. Sprout Social’s social media demographic research is a good place to start.

Another great way to find the right social platform for your business is to consider the purpose and best use of each platform .

For instance, Facebook is designed for building relationships and best for building brand loyalty. Pinterest, conversely, is primarily for scrapbooking, and the platform is best for lead generation within clothing, art, and food industries. 

Of course, YouTube and Pinterest are hardly the only game in town, and for site traffic, it’s hard to beat Instagram.

#2. Use Instagram to increase site traffic for your small business

We have two tips for using Instagram in your small business for you today. Before we dive in, though, why use Instagram in the first place?

Put simply, because even if you’re not a fan, your customers probably are. Instagram surpassed the 1 billion monthly active users mark last year and claims to be the second most engaged network after Facebook.

Which means -- if your audience is a fit for the platform, of course -- you can leverage its plentiful user base and high level of engagement for your business. 

To get the most out of this platform, you need a strong visual brand that will give your Instagram posts a distinctive look and feel. Because it’s such a visual platform with an ideal character count of only 138-150 characters , visual branding comes in handy here. 

I.e., post images and Instagram stories that consistently have an on-brand style, just like MailChimp does with their branded color scheme and illustrations. 

Our second tip is to use your hashtags wisely. You can use heavily-searched hashtags and lesser-known hashtags that are unique to your brand. 

For instance, if you use a tool like Keyword Tool to search popular hashtags, you’ll find that hashtag “#tbt” shows nearly 10.5 million posts .

Comparatively, a branded hashtag like HubSpot’s “#hubspotacademy” hashtag has been used in 1,445 Instagram posts .

As far as the number of hashtags to use, it’s best to go with nine hashtags for optimal engagement per post.

Think your audience trends more toward Twitter than Instagram? Then I’ve got good news -- and bad news.

#3. Tap into Twitter to drive brand awareness, traffic, and sales

Let’s start with the good news: using Twitter for small business marketing to drive brand awareness, traffic, and sales is definitely doable, and it doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

Now, the bad news: Twitter boasts a whopping 500 million tweets that are sent daily.

This means that you’re going to have to do a lot more than take a smart photo to make a splash and get noticed.

One way to do that is to go beyond simply posting a tweet and use Twitter chats . They’re a great way to immerse yourself in the Twitter community and engage with your audience. 

To host a Twitter chat, assign a date, time, hashtag, and moderator, just like ViralContentBee’s #VCBuzz Twitter chat moderated by Angela Hemans. 

Once your Twitter chat is live, use labels like Q1, Q2, and Q3 to identify questions and A1, A2, and A3 for answers, which the #VCBuzz Twitter chat did. 

The labels allow your participants to follow along with your Twitter chat topics easily. As people answer the questions, they can also reference the assigned hashtags.

If hosting a Twitter chat doesn’t sound appealing to you, simply join relevant Twitter chats and represent your small business as part of the conversation.

The key here is to provide valuable and educational information as you gain exposure and to position yourself as an expert in your field. 

Another tip for you is to use Twitter lists to organize your target conversations. For example, you can create a customer list, influencer list, and a list of people who re-tweet your posts. 

Check out this influencer list for top fashion bloggers. 

Rather than viewing the latest tweets from everyone, by organizing your feed into Twitter lists, you can prioritize smaller streams of tweets to engage in meaningful, productive conversations.

#4. Leverage the power of Facebook for your small business

As the most engaged social platform, using Facebook for your small businesses is a no-brainer.

After all, 30% of global internet users hang out on Facebook more than once a day, which is more than any other social platform.

These days, to get the most mileage out of this heavily-trafficked platform -- and the most traffic and engagement traction to your Facebook page -- try posting video content. 

If you need convincing, you’ll find it in the numbers. Facebook videos receive 135% more organic traffic and engagement than static images.

Wondering what to include in your videos?

Two words: educational content.

By providing your audience with valuable content that helps them solve their problems, you position your brand as an expert in the field. 

Just like SEO company, Ahrefs , who published this video about how to build a Wordpress SEO setup using five best plugins.

When you post your videos, be sure to include text overlays and captioning, because a hefty 85% of Facebook users watch videos on mute. 

Another powerful video posting option is Facebook Live, which drives even more engagement. In fact, videos via Facebook Live produce six times the number of interactions as standard videos.

Plus, even if someone misses your live event, they can still watch your Facebook Live posting and engage with it afterward.

#5. Explore Facebook ads to sell your online course

Another great way to use Facebook is to use Facebook ads to sell your online courses or other digital products. 

As popular as Facebook ads may seem, you’ll still be ahead of the curve if you partake in their ad buys. Out of over 60 million active business pages , only 6 million are active advertisers. 

Although, the ad channel is gaining popularity, so it’s best to tap into your Facebook ad tactics quickly. In fact, Facebook has doubled its ad revenue per user in three years and increased its revenue by 42% year over year. 

When creating your Facebook ads, consider using video ads. 54% of people prefer to see video content from the brands they support. 

Just as they increase engagement in organic posts, they’ll likely do the same as your ad format. 

Another key tactic is to target your ideal market using a “ Lookalike Audience ”, which is a custom audience that you create based on an established source audience, like:

  • People who have registered for your webinar

  • Visitors to your site 

  • Your email subscribers

You simply select your Lookalike audience source by uploading a data file or choosing an audience based on previous actions, which are tracked by installing a bit of code (a.k.a., Facebook pixel) onto your site.

It’s worth mentioning that with any ad campaigns that you run, split-testing is a must. Even if it’s simply swapping out an image, headline, or call-to-action (CTA), you never know which ads will perform the best, so test out as many elements as you can afford.


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#6. Grow your business with YouTube

YouTube is the second most visited site on the planet, which makes it an ideal social media channel for reaching your audience and growing your online business. 

Of course, starting and growing your business on YouTube will take some hustle, because it’s also the second largest search engine . To take advantage of YouTube, you’ll need to be as judicious about your SEO tactics as you would be for Google.

A must-do SEO tactic is keyword search. 

Specifically, optimize your title, description, and tags with matching keyword strings, just like entrepreneur, Mark Lack , does in his title and description.

Another effective YouTube rule is to consistently upload content to your channel, just like successful entrepreneur, Tom Bilyeu , does on his YouTube channel. 

Tom publishes about seven videos per month, which are chock full of educational content.

One more way to optimize YouTube is to create videos that are at least 14 minutes in length. The average video on the first page of YouTube is 14 minutes and 50 seconds .

The reason is each video’s total watch time is a key ranking signal on the platform. So make them long, and make them engaging for every minute of it. Otherwise, all of the optimization in the world won’t get you the kind of traction you want.

#7. Leverage Pinterest for your online business

Touting over 291 million monthly users worldwide, Pinterest is another social media platform that’s growing in popularity and an effective way to grow your online business. 

If you’re looking for strategies for using Pinterest in your digital product business , consider joining Pinterest group boards and investing in promoted pins.

Pinterest group boards allow you to find or build a community around boards with shared interests, growing your following via crowdsourcing. 

Just be sure the group board is a quality board that’s relevant to your business topic.

For instance, if you’re in the fitness industry, you may want to join the Health & Fitness Bloggers group board. 

It’s also worth considering investing in some ads (a.k.a, promoted pins) on Pinterest. 

Why? Pinterest users, more than users on other platforms, are primed and ready to shop. 

In fact, 55% of users log onto the platform to hunt down new products, which makes the social channel four times more effective at generating sales than other digital campaigns.

In other words, if your promoted pins end up in front of the right audience, they’ll likely be in the “consideration” part of your marketing funnel and one step closer to purchasing your digital products. 

A great example is Passion Planner‘s promoted pin featuring their passion planner product. Their Pinterest ad shows up when you type “business journal” into the platform’s search query.

Will a promoted pin guarantee a sale every time? No. 

But because those pins are reaching users much further along in the sales funnel than say, a user who is only marginally aware of being interested in a product, it’ll return rewards with a lot less investment and hustle on your part.

#8. Streamline your business with social media management tools

Finding the best social media management tool for your business is an undertaking in itself, but trying to make waves on social media without one is like trying to sail without a compass.

Sure, if you’re lucky, you’ll make good time and won’t encounter any storms, but more likely than not, you’ll waste a ton of time -- or worse.

How much time? The average projected time spent each day on social media is 153 minutes , which is an alarming 70% increase since 2012.

If you’re marketing your online business using social media, that likely means you spend even more time on the platforms. 

This is why it’s essential -- especially as an entrepreneur with limited time for running your business -- to use social media management tools. They allow you to create, schedule, monitor, and analyze your social posts from one dashboard, simplifying the process altogether.

You can try out Buffer for straightforward social media scheduling. 

Plans start at $15 a month for eight social accounts and 100 scheduled posts and go up to $99 per month for 25 social accounts and 2,000 scheduled posts.

If you’re looking for more bells and whistles, another option is Hootsuite , which lets you schedule, monitor, and analyze your social posts.

Hootsuite plans range from $29 per month for 10 social profiles and unlimited scheduling, to $599 per month for 35 social profiles, unlimited scheduling, and 5-10 users. 

Basically, depending on your business needs, there’s a social media management tool that’s right for you, so if one tool isn’t shaking out, don’t hesitate to look for better options. 

#9. Learn how to use negative comments on social media to your advantage

While it may sound counterintuitive, you can use negative comments on social media to drive sales

If you’re skeptical, here’s the logic: 

Not every review is going to be a 5-star review, and, in fact, negative reviews can actually increase your conversions by an impressive 85% because they add to your credibility.

What’s more, is an overwhelming 95% of people suspect fake reviews on your site if you don’t have any negative reviews. 

In the same way that negative reviews boost your online reputation -- and, ultimately, your sales -- negative comments can also work in your favor. You just need to respond in the right way.

If you receive a negative comment on one of your social posts, respond quickly, and provide honest feedback to your clients and prospective clients openly on the platform. The public discussion gives you the chance to display your customer service quality, so make it excellent.

Take, for instance, this Facebook post by United Airlines , which received negative comments by a disgruntled traveler. 

David, the disappointed customer, posted details about his unsatisfactory flight delay, and United Airlines responded at least twice within the hour. Anyone who catches the conversation can immediately see the airline company’s apology and their reactive customer care.

This gives people an earnest look into how United handles customer service -- something hugely important to your brand. In fact, 88% of social marketers claim customer service on social media is important to brands.

So, it’s worth dedicating some resources toward protecting your online reputation. If you do, you’ll be miles above average. 58% of executives believe online reputation management should be a priority, but only 15% actually address it.

The moral here is to use negative comments on social media to increase your authenticity and show off your customer service level to, ultimately, boost your sales.

(Struggling with customer service? Check out these customer service chat templates for making your DMs a customer-serving powerhouse, or swing by this guide on live chat marketing for more customer-acquisition-oriented pointers.)

#10. Understand organic vs. paid social media marketing

Our next tip is to understand organic vs. paid social media marketing , so you know where to focus your efforts. 

Basically, organic reach is on the decline.

Organic reach for the average Facebook Page dropped from 16% to 6.5% between 2012 and 2014, for instance, and Facebook Pages that earned more than 500,000 likes, organic reach was recorded to be as low as 2%.

Not to mention, in 2018, Facebook bolstered its commitment to friends and family on the platform.

This means: 

  • You need to be strategic with your organic posts

  • You need to carve out some budget for paid posts  

Since Facebook is currently the leading social platform, we’ll use it as an example. 

Organic Facebook posts will reach more people if you achieve these four news feed priorities :

  • Getting your content shared in Facebook Messenger

  • Getting likes and comments on your posts

  • Getting multiple replies on your posts

  • Creating “meaningful interactions” (a.k.a., shares and comments) between users

With paid social media marketing, the glaring trend is you need to “pay to play.” Social media is the most relevant ad channel for half of gen-Zers and 42% of millennials.

In other words, to reach your social media goals -- like boosting your audience reach, brand awareness, engagement, and conversions -- it’s becoming increasingly necessary to invest in paid ads. 

So, while organic should always be a part of your strategy, if you want to put serious fire behind your audience growth, plan to save -- and to spend.

#11. Give away free content to expand your audience

When distributing content on your social platforms, one of the most powerful tactics is giving away free content

Why? People love free stuff. 

So much so that they’re willing to join loyalty programs. A whopping 63% of consumers join a loyalty program because they’ll receive free products.

You can give away free gifts in your ads, like in this promoted pin by theSkimm offering a free daily newsletter.

Or you can gift free content in your organic social posts, like this Facebook video posted by Tony Robbins offering a free webinar. 

Whether you offer free content in your organic or paid posts, be sure to give it away in exchange for your audience’s contact info, like their email, so you can continue to offer them helpful content and nurture a relationship with them.

As you build rapport among your free content recipients, you’ll naturally lead them to your paid offers. 

#12. Learn how the pros use social media to sell digital products

Another social media tip today is to follow in the footsteps of experts and mimic how they use social media to sell digital products

For instance, founder of MeetEdgar, Laura Roeder, is a social media leader worth following. 

One of her practices is posting frequently, which not a lot of businesses do. Only 52% of small businesses post daily on social media. The overwhelming majority of businesses, at 94%, only post monthly.

Laura’s advice is to post as much as 20 times a day. Her reasoning is that people are in and out of social media, and while you’re posting as much as 20 times, people won’t see all 20 posts.

Laura recommends posting 70% content and 30% promotional content. 

In other words, the majority of your posts should offer valuable content that helps solve your audience’s problems, and only 30% should promote or sell your products.

Simple enough to remember, yeah?

#13. Choose the right marketing channels for your online products

Our final recommendation today is to choose the right marketing channels to sell your online products. 

These days, there are so many to choose from, it can be overwhelming deciding which ones to prioritize. 

Plus, if you’re just starting out, you probably don’t want to spread your resources thin across all the channels (a.k.a., an omni-channel approach). So, today, we’ve got three top marketing channels for you to consider. 

The first, of course, is the topic of this post -- social media.

On a global scale, there are 3.48 billion active social media users perusing social platforms, which means 45% of the world’s population is hanging out on social media. 

On top of that, the number of social media users has been on the rise and continues to grow, with 72% of US adults using at least one social media site. 

If that’s not a good indication of which marketing channels to promote your online product, I don’t know what is. Just be sure to use the right social platforms for your business. 

The second marketing channel is email marketing, which is a channel that 81% of small businesses use as their main way to pick up new customers.

Two important tactics to consider when email marketing are:

  • Segmenting your lists into like-groups

  • Personalizing your message to each segmented group 

We also recommend focusing on your search engine optimization (SEO) marketing channel. A couple tips here are:

  • Publish comprehensive, valuable content on your site

  • Focus each piece on a specific set of medium tail keywords, which is about two to three words

Unleash the power of social media to grow your small business

As widespread as social media platforms are, there are specific ways to use them the right way to grow your small online business. 

Let’s summarize:

  • Choose your social platform for your online business wisely, and be sure your audience matches the demographics of your social channels. 

  • For Instagram, post images that have a consistent look and feel with your brand and use hashtags strategically. 

  • On Twitter, engage in meaningful conversations by using Twitter chats and Twitter lists.

  • With Facebook, post videos that provide value to your audience in both organic and paid posts. Target “Lookalike Audiences” when publishing Facebook ads.

  • To use YouTube to grow your business, optimize your videos with keyword research, a consistent publishing calendar, and content that’s over 14 minutes long.

  • Pinterest group board and promoted pins are effective ways to boost your business growth, too.

  • To leverage social platforms, streamline your posts using social media management tools, use negative comments as a way to show off your excellent customer service, and understand the nuances in both organic and paid social media marketing.

  • Other ways to use social channels to grow your small business include giving away free content, posting frequently, and posting content 70% of the time.

  • Finally, use social media as one marketing channel, alongside SEO and email marketing, for the best results.

If you want to streamline your website management, too, while you’re tackling and taming the world of social media, don’t miss out on this 14-day free trial for Podia. Good luck, and remember, you got this!

About the author

Cyn Meyer was a content writer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. Cyn also enjoys playing music, helping retirees live active, healthy, engaged lifestyles, and hopping into the ocean.