Social media is here to stay. The number of global users on established platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are increasing year on year and new networks seem to pop up daily. For businesses, the expansive and diverse social media landscape can be both exciting and daunting. With so much choice, how can you make sure that you are harnessing the potential of social media? First and foremost, you need to understand what is out there and how it aligns with your aims. This overview of the social media landscape and its potential for business will help you to minimise error and maximise the success of your social media strategy.

 

What is social media?

 

Let’s begin with a simple question: what is social media? The term social media encompasses all online platforms that allow individuals, companies and organisations to share content and ideas within virtual communities and networks. There are various types of social media platform that offer different possibilities. Twitter, for example, lets you post short punchy updates, while Facebook gives greater scope for describing developments in depth. When it comes to choosing social media platforms for business, there is no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

 

How is social media relevant to businesses?

 

What all platforms have in common is that they facilitate communication. This makes it extremely useful for businesses. Social media it is your chance to communicate with a waiting audience. Who your audience is, or who you want them to be, will depend on your business and will influence your choice of platform.

 

Engaging with this audience can mean several things: creating or sharing content, actively asking for feedback or engaging them in competitions or incentive schemes, for example. Social media allows for a “humanisation” of businesses, which allows brand recognition and loyalty to grow in a more organic way than has been possible before. In the best-case scenario, communication with your social media audience can lead to them naturally becoming brand advocates: sharing or liking content from your page as well as recording their own positive experiences.

 

Listening is also important. You can use social media to understand your target audience better: their interests, lifestyles and social media tendencies. This will help you to choose the correct social media platforms for your business and to tailor the content that you share and create. The power of social media has also transfigured customer service; you can’t hide from a complaint on social media! To protect brand image complaints and queries must be dealt with swiftly and effectively to show you are listening to your customers.

 

These communication opportunities can certainly convert into tangible results: accordingly to the Social Media Examiner, in 2015 90% of businesses saw increased exposure from social media and more than half also reported improved sales. The potential for ROI is beyond doubt, but implementing the right strategy is crucial for it to become a reality.

 

How to choose a platform suitable to your business

 

Choosing suitable social media platforms will depend on the size, operations and aims of a business. For example, the social media aims and opportunities of an independent bar will differ greatly from those of a multinational beverage coperation. The bar will be aiming to increase footfall in the café. It will therefore want to use social media to communicate with potential customers within a certain geographical location, perhaps of a certain age range and with a certain lifestyle. The multinational beverage cooperation, on the other hand, will be using social media as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy, using it to cultivate brand recognition and loyalty and get an edge on their competitors.

 

Despite their differences, the strategies of both the bar and the multinational rely on the same thing: knowing your audience. Only by knowing whom you are trying to reach will you be able to determine which social media platforms are best suited to your business.

 

Once you know the audience you are targeting you need to know where they are active. Active means more than simply having an account. Many users may hold accounts on platforms but will not necessarily be active users, and are therefore of no interest to businesses looking to market on social media platforms. You need to know which social media platforms your audience are actively using to socialise and to search for information.

 

Figuring out the kind of content suitable for your audience will also assist your choice of platform. For example, a design company can better represent itself and will probably generate more leads from primarily sharing images rather than text, therefore will be better suited to a media sharing platform. In contrast, a business in the technology sector might want to concentrate on sharing and creating articles relevant to their field and will therefore prefer platforms that allow them to do so.

 

So bear in mind these three things when selecting a platform: who are your audience, where are they active, and what kind of content will engage them?

 

What do different platforms offer?

 

Let’s take a look at the social media landscape in closer detail:

 

Facebook

With so many active users, Facebook is an invaluable resource to many B2C businesses aiming to reach their audience. Individual users and businesses can interact through the “Pages” function. Business pages feature information, personalised posts and reviews from customers. Creating a page is free, yet without paying for targeted ads it can be difficult to gain a foothold. Facebook’s wealth of data about their users is no secret and their targeted advertising platform allows a business to tap into this resource. Ads (used to generate likes and click-throughs) may be targeted at specific geographic areas, ages, education levels, as well as types of devices used for browsing. Depending on aims this can get quite expensive. Often simply creating a page can yield results if it is curated and cultivated properly. Visit this blog for specific tips on how to do this.

 

Twitter

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows users to share media and segments of texts not exceeding 140 characters. How to use twitter effectively for business is a little less obvious than on other platforms, yet it certainly has the potential to increase brand loyalty: Twitter reports that 85% of Twitter users feel more connected to a small or medium-sized businesses once they follow them. Like Facebook, you can pay Twitter to promote your content, which helps you cut through the noise and present your content to tailored audiences. Twitter is also a great way to listen to conversations relevant to your business. Many people use twitter to ask for information and recommendations, but also to complain about any bad interactions with a company. Tapping into and becoming part of these conversations can help build as well as protect your brand.

 

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a hugely popular platform that allows professionals to network online. It stands out as a success for B2B marketing, proving the most effective at generating leads out of the other main platforms considered here. In fact, according to the Kissmetrics blog, it is responsible for over 80% of a B2B business’s social media leads. Clearly, if you have a B2B business LinkedIn has the potential to work for you. For specific tips on how to convert presence into results, check out this blog.

 

Google+

Similarly to Facebook, Google+’s businesses pages display information and curated or shared posts, as well as customer reviews. The platform may not have reached the heights of Facebook as many prophesised, yet its should not be underestimated: it has a still has a significant audience and the power of the world’s most dominant search engine behind it.

 

Other options

The above four have the largest amount of active users, yet it’s a good idea to cast a wide net when conducting your research to get a comprehensive idea of what is out there. There a some smaller, yet incredibly popular, social media platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit, that are worth considering. Depending on your business a presence here could be crucial. There is also a plethora of niche social media platforms that are certainly not suited to all businesses, but could be bursting with potential if your business and the interests of those using that platform overlap.

 

 

How to fulfil the potential of your social media presence

 

Simply having a presence will not drive results. While the right choice of platform is crucial, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Let’s consider some of the most important things to bear in mind when developing a strategy.

 

Firstly, content is key. Results will only be generated if you are active, engaged and committed to putting out regular and high-quality content. The specifics of what this content is will depend on your business as well as the audience you are trying to reach.

 

No matter the specifics, the content that you present to your audience should aim to inform and/or entertain and be relevant to your business. It should also feel natural within the platform that it is presented. If you do your research correctly when selecting your chosen platforms, it should be clear to you which content is suitable for which platform. If you choose multiple platforms it’s worth thinking about how these different channels can compliment each other as opposed to simply posting the same content across all of them.

 

Secondly, you must remember that your social media presence is an extension and not the basis of your online presence. Consider how your presence on social media can drive users towards your website, but also be conscious of integrating your social media into your website, for example through the use of sharing buttons. While a post on social media may direct one of your followers to a blog entry on your website, buttons at the end of your web page will encourage the user to like or share the entry, further spreading the word across social media and hopefully directing more traffic back to your page. Successful integration is key to keeping this cycle going.

 

Finally, it is crucial to measure and analyse your social media performance. There are a number of ways to do this depending on what your aims are. There is plenty of tangible data to be collected, such as the so-called “vanity metrics”, i.e. counting the number of likes, followers or re-tweets gained within a certain time frame. Most social media sites provide this information for you, for example Facebook allows you to easily monitor changes through their “Facebook Insights” platform.

 

In addition to this you can use tools such as “Google Analytics” to compare this data with insights about those who click through to your website. Keeping track of these kinds of metrics is important, yet they don’t necessarily show you whether this is converting into concrete results. In order to gain a clearer picture of social media success this blog suggests an alternative set of metrics that you should be tracking.

 

What to track and how to do so will depend on the individual aims and strategy of a business, yet any business that wants to use social media successfully should spend time understanding the impact of their social media presence and adjust their approach accordingly.