Following on from our earlier blog on the benefits of blogging for small businesses, we’re now going to be looking at the benefits of social media. Social media is a way for people to create and share content that interests them and to network with a variety of different people.

As a small business, social media is particularly beneficial to get your name out into the world. As a free avenue, it is absolutely worth trying as a vehicle for your business to develop.

Social media has benefitted many businesses and people in many different ways since it was first developed. As the technologies and ideas progress so do the opportunities to market yourself or your business. For a small business, social media is something to invest a bit of time and effort in to reap the benefits of networking, advertising and creating a connection with your customers.

What do we mean by “social media”?

You may already be familiar with social media but if not then here are the basics.

Social media channels are networks of members or subscribers who share information, posts and blogs with one another. They come in lots of shapes and sizes, all a little bit unique and appealing to many different audiences. It may be an idea you want to share, a special offer, a link to an article, a photo or video – anything which might engage somebody and make them want to listen. Even better, make them want to respond and engage in a conversation or start a discussion within the network or community.

You’ll have heard of many of the channels – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to name a few. Then there is the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat where you can share photos. To join you’ll need to subscribe, but there is no cost (unless you choose to upgrade to a premium or professional package).

Free advertising

Social media pages are free advertising for yourself. Whether you are wanting to advertise your website, your blog, your products, services or your latest offer, you can do it all through social media.

The most important thing you can do before setting up your social media profiles is decide which sites will be the correct ones for you. If you are looking to connect with other professional businesses, you may want to try LinkedIn. If you are a women’s fashion retailer for those in their late teens to early twenties, you may want to set up a Twitter account and a Pinterest profile.

Each social media platform has its own audience, professional or not. It also has its own niche way of reaching people through text (long and short form), hashtags, images, videos etc. So you want to make sure you make the correct decision of where to make your presence known online.

Once you have done this, your social media posts should hit the correct audience easily as they will already be there for you to reach out to. Growing your name amongst the people that need to know about it, and those that you may not have been targeting in the first place, quickly and easily.

Communicate with and get to know your customers and clients

As a business it can be difficult to communicate with customers on a regular basis or at all. Previously, the only time you’d physically speak to them is to sort out problems and issues they have had with your service or products. This kind of communication is not positive for the business or the customers.

By joining social media, you can talk to all of your customers and clients whenever you want. Through every update you post, you are speaking to them about what’s new for your business. You can hear any questions, queries and thoughts from your audience instantly and you can respond to individuals quickly. This provides an opportunity to offer great customer service as well. You’ll be building great relationships and brand loyalty, something which is hard to come by these days.

By communicating with your customers and clients online, you can gain information on their thoughts and interests. Whether it is explicitly asking for thoughts and opinions or looking into the analytics of what customers engage with. This information can feed into your product development and marketing strategies creating something your customers really want.

Having conversations with your audience gives you the opportunity to show a more human side to your business. As a local business, having a chat with a customer online, whether business related or not, can improve people’s feelings towards your company. As people see this, they are more likely to find out more about you, see what you offer and maybe come and see you in store or visit your website.

The power and reach of the internet has helped many businesses go from small start up’s to household names or big corporations in a short amount of time. A short amount of time by previous standards at least. Opening the communication channels and listening to your audience is the key to success for many and it could be just what your business needs too.

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Connect with other businesses

Social media helps you find people you would more than likely never stumble across without it. By doing a few simple searches on social media sites or search engines, you can find businesses like yours to connect with.

For example, if you are a bike shop in Manchester, by searching for ‘bike shops’, ‘Manchester stores’ or ‘local businesses Manchester’, you can find businesses in your sector and area to connect with.

These connections could help you find custom in the future, makes networking easy and sees you becoming part of a conversation surrounding the future of your sector.

A lot of small, local businesses connect with other small, local businesses on social media to create a support network. This support network opens up opportunities, exclusive collaborations/events and gives you a community, however far apart your businesses are.

Another good way to create a network is to join an existing one. On sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, there are groups for different areas such as writing, music, film, finance etc. By joining these groups, you can become part of specific conversations surrounding these areas.

This allows you to connect with similar businesses and maybe even interested future customers in a simple and interesting way. Beware not to use groups to send out marketing material, many of these groups look badly on that and you could be removed from the group chat.

A lot of business people will agree that networking is important and this is a way to do it wherever and whenever. For small businesses, this is very beneficial to create the network of contacts you need to know and may need to make use of.

Gives you the competitive advantage

It doesn’t matter what size your business is, if you harness the influence of social media you can become a well-known name in your field. Many big businesses don’t use social media or don’t use it very well because they still don’t see the benefits of it for their profit margins. This gives your business the opportunity to steal the competitive advantage in your sector.

You can advertise, communicate and grow on social media without having to compete for space with the big names. Having that advantage over a similar business can give you the opportunity to obtain more customers and profit.

Target your advertising through social media

Some social media sites offer advertising which although being a paid for service, has many advantages over traditional forms of advertising. Advertising on social media is usually cheaper in terms of upfront cost than traditional advertising methods. You also don’t waste as much money because you can target your audience, usually creating a higher return for your investment.

This is because you can target your advert to only show on certain people’s timelines. For example, your company’s Facebook page can create an advert shown only to men in their thirties or targeting men and women in their 50’s from Newcastle. Simply add your relevant advert text and images and then set your preferred audience. The criteria available includes gender, age range, geographical area, language, interests and which devices to show up on. It’s this level of detail that allows you to be very specific with your advertising campaigns, targeting only the people your business needs to.

In addition, you can target your advertising, along with your status updates, to specific times of day. Using data found on Google Analytics and the social media sites themselves, you can see what times of day are most popular with your audience visiting your site. Using this information, you can then plan your updates and advertisements to go live then.

This kind of advertising is becoming more popular due to its audience targeting and value for money.

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Increase your search engine ranking and website traffic

Your social media profiles give you another opportunity to shout about your business and what you do. This extra talk about your business leaves a trail online that Google and other search engines can pick up on. Encouraging your audience to share your content and communicate with you helps search engines find your business pushing you up the rankings.

The more people interacting with you on social media, the higher the chance people will be clicking onto your website. The bigger the engagement from your audience, the more likely search engines will pick up on your presence. Again, this will push you up the rankings placing you higher on the pages of Google, Bing and more.

However, beware of relying too much on social media to increase your search engine ranking. Social media sites are not valued as highly by search engines so though they can help, don’t expect miracles. In the long run it is better to increase your search engine ranking through Search Engine Optimised (SEO) content and an easy to navigate website.

There are so many benefits to having social media profiles for your business, especially if you are a small business. Investing time and effort into these sites can give you a great pay off. In the form of acquiring business, making connections and getting to know your customers.

We hope this article provides the information to give you the push to get started in the social media world. Figure out which sites are the right ones for you, set up your profile and get posting!

We previously wrote about the benefits of blogging for small businesses and keep checking back for our PPC and SEO for small business blogs soon!