I distinctly recall the first time I became aware that social media was taking over our lives. I was eating Doritos and, happening to look down, noticed the distinctive Facebook logo printed on the back of the bag.  Looking more closely, I saw that Doritos was looking for Facebook friends. Which seemed deeply weird to me. How many people could possibly want to befriend a corn chip?

The answer, as of August 29, 2023: 59 million. That’s slightly greater than the population of Italy.

So yes, for good or ill, social media has become an integral part of modern life. According to a survey by Hootsuite, 4.33 billion people worldwide are engaging with social media, and that number is only expected to grow. If you’re a small business owner, you have to take this very seriously.  The sheer number of potential customers you can interact with is pretty staggering, and few marketing strategies can be as cost-effective.  And by “cost-effective,” I mean “pretty much free.”

But a lot of businesses are still confused about how to use social media, which is wildly different from more traditional means of advertising. Some marketing agencies offer packages wherein they take over your social media fees for you, but I question whether those arrangements are good for small businesses.  In fact, if you own a small, customer-facing business like a restaurant, I would you must administer your own accounts. In most cases, the owner is the business, as far as customers are concerned. When they post on your business’s Facebook page, they’re attempting to engage with the faces they know, not a marketing agency account rep. So today, we’ll look at ways small business owners can use social media themselves to market their work and reach new customers.

  1. Choose the Right Platforms

The first step in trying social media marketing is deciding on the right platforms. There are plenty of options available: Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s important to choose the platforms that are most relevant to your business and your target audience. For example, if you’re targeting a younger audience, you may want to focus on platforms like Instagram and TikTok, but if you’re targeting professionals, you may want to focus on LinkedIn. If your business lends itself to great long-form video content, YouTube might be a good choice for you.

It’s safe to say nearly any business should set up a Facebook account because it has the biggest reach of any social media platform (even if young people don’t think it’s the coolest). But it’s also wise to choose one or perhaps two other platforms, both to reach a wider audience and to have access to more tools to do so.

  1. Create a Social Media Strategy

Once you’ve chosen the right platforms, it’s important to create a social media strategy. This doesn’t have to be intimidating. Ask yourself your goals for social media, your target audience, the types of content you’ll post, and your posting schedule. Your strategy should also include guidelines for responding to comments and messages, and how you’ll measure the success of your social media efforts.

Different platforms bring with them different expectations, but it’s safe to say you should be posting something on Facebook daily, maybe multiple times per day on Instagram. On video-oriented platforms like YouTube or TikTok, you might be okay posting new content only once or twice a week. But remember that thriving on social media isn’t about just posting your content…

  1. Engage with Your Audience

Social media is a two-way conversation, so it’s important to engage with your audience to build relationships and loyalty. On the most basic level, this means responding to comments and messages. You can also use your social media to ask for feedback, or to share user-generated content. Many platforms allow you to create polls or fun quizzes. People want to be seen and heard, and your social media feed can be a place where you do just that for your customers and potential customers.

By engaging with those folks, you’ll build trust and goodwill and hopefully create a community around your brand. Some experts suggest as much as 80-85% of your social media interactions should be engagement-oriented, rather than mere advertising.

  1. Post High-Quality Content

Posting high-quality content is essential for standing out on social media. Let’s be honest, there’s plenty of nonsense already available there. Separate yourself with stuff people want to see. “Quality content” can include photos, videos, infographics, and blog posts that people find useful, entertaining, or inspiring. Make sure your content is visually appealing, informative, and relevant to your audience. This is one area where it might make sense to outsource some work; the time required to create this content might be better spend on other aspects of your business.  For that, March17 Design offers help with content creation of all kinds.

  1. Use Hashtags

Hashtags are a whole topic unto themselves, but rest assured they’re vital for increasing the visibility of your social media posts and reaching new audiences. Use relevant hashtags that are specific to your industry and target audience. There are multiple free hashtag generators you can find online, if you want to choose the ones that are most likely to get you seen.

One important key is to create your own branded hashtag. Your customers can use this to post about your business, which leads viewers back to you. And when your customers are doing the marketing for you, that’s a big win.

  1. Run Contests and Promotions

Contests and promotions are a great way to increase engagement and incentivize your audience to take action. This can include giveaways, discounts, and referral programs. Imagine, for example, running a contest on Instagram where you ask followers to post a photo of their favorite dish from your restaurant. Offer a free entrée to the winner. You get lots of fans posting great pictures of your food, and coming back again and again to see others’ photos. How many more people might walk into your restaurant that week because some of those images make them hungry? Make sure to follow the rules and guidelines for each social media platform when running contests and promotions.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool for small business owners who want to market their businesses and reach new customers. By choosing the right platforms, creating a social media strategy, engaging with your audience, posting high-quality content, using hashtags, and running contests and promotions, you can increase revenues and grow your small business. It’s also pretty much free.  Best of all, it can be a really fun way to engage with the public.