While social media first started as a way to connect with close friends and family, it has since evolved into a way to communicate publicly with everyone from your next door neighbor, to high-profile celebrities, to multinational corporations. They’re all just a few clicks away.
For business owners, that means the ability to reach the 3.81 billion people who regularly use social media is at their fingertips. Still, many business owners would rather stay logged off than deal with the vulnerabilities that come with building a social presence.
However, no business comes without risks, and with social media, the benefits far outweigh the potential drawbacks. According to the Global Web Index, over half of social browsers use social media to research products, and 37% of respondents reported visiting a store’s social page in just the last month.
That’s why small businesses must include social media in their communication strategy to stay competitive, grow their brand awareness, generate loyalty, and even improve rankings on SERPs.
Social Media Risks vs. Rewards
For some business owners, social media raises understandable concerns. No one wants to be embarrassed on the internet, especially with a “share” button just inches away.
At your storefront, or on your website, you have complete control over your messaging. However, on social media, there is an element of unpredictability. By maintaining a social presence, you risk giving a voice to dissatisfied customers. Some business owners even go viral for all the wrong reasons.
However, even without an official social presence, those same risks still exist. Anyone can go online to complain about your business to their friends or followers, and by opting out of social media, you give up your ability to respond and take control of the narrative.
That’s why the risks of social media will never outweigh the benefits. Additionally, social media offers unique opportunities to bring more customers to your door.
- Guide the conversation. A well-known fact in public relations is that if you’re not telling your story, someone else will. Social media allows you to guide the discussion related to your business or be an active participant.
- Resolve complaints and increase retention. Social media allows companies to interact, converse, and build trust with clients and potential customers. Research shows that people spend 20-40% more on companies that engage and respond to customers over social media.
- Connect personally with customers. Giving your brand a life of its own via social media will enable customers to connect with the people behind the business. This builds trust and will go a long way in encouraging clients to select your business over competitors with whom they don’t have any connection.
- Become a resource. Social media can allow you to establish expertise in your industry and position yourself as a key resource. When you join conversations and share knowledge, you build trust and become associated with the services you provide.
- Reach new audiences. As you produce valuable social content, you’ll begin to gain a following. With every “follow,” “like,” and “share,” your business’s exposure expands, and you’ll reach even more potential customers inside of your followers’ inner circle.
- Build loyalty. Approximately 57% of consumers will follow a brand to learn about new products or services, and 47% will follow to stay up to date on company news. Updating your followers on new and upcoming events, products, or services is a great way to make them feel like an insider and build brand loyalty.
- Stay relevant. Being “in the conversation” in real-time allows you to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in your industry. You’ll be able to quickly see what competitors are doing on social media and how customers are reacting.
Social Media’s Affect on Search Results
When business owners opt out of social media, they often fail to realize that they’re also opting out of an important SEO tool. Your social presence can affect where you rank in relevant search engine results due to the standards that Google uses to rank content.
Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness
E-A-T, as it’s known in Google-ology, is an essential factor in search result rankings. Live “Search Quality Raters” evaluate websites to determine the content’s quality. Part of what they use to make this determination is E-A-T and the website’s reputation.
According to Google’s evaluation guidelines, “a website’s reputation is based on the experience of real users,” further indicating that the rater must look beyond the website itself. Raters are encouraged to look for reviews, references, recommendations, and other content related to the business and its online presence.
That’s where your social media account comes in. It provides an avenue for real people to leave feedback that can be referenced by Google’s Search Quality Raters, in addition to being visible to other potential customers.
While that increased online visibility may seem like a risk (after all, anyone can leave a review), Google provides guidelines to help its Search Quality Raters interpret reviews and evaluate the overall picture.
Bottom line: If your brand can establish a loyal following of clients or customers, use your social media platform to position yourself as an expert in your industry and maintain a good reputation on various platforms, it demonstrates to Google that your content is worth ranking higher on SERPs.
Not to mention, your social media profiles themselves can rank prominently on SERPs if your brand develops a strong following and maintains regular activity on your platforms.
Social Platforms to Consider for Your Small Business
The number of social media platforms available has skyrocketed over the last several years, with the average user having at least eight social media accounts. With so many options out there, it can be challenging to know which ones are right for your business.
Contrary to popular belief, businesses do not need to maintain a social presence on every available platform. In fact, trying to do too much can leave you without the focus needed to succeed on even one platform.
That’s why you will want to carefully consider your target audience and your industry niche when deciding which social platforms to use. To get started, let’s take a quick look at the most important social media platforms for businesses and how to choose the right channels for your social strategy.
Facebook is still the #1 social network, with an average of 2.7 billion monthly active users. Compared to other social media powerhouses like Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, Facebook’s core demographic tends to skew toward older generations.
Facebook is a highly versatile platform for businesses. You can create your own business page to provide information, post updates, and interact with customers. You can also run ads to gather leads, drive sales, and boost website traffic.
Consider making your brand an educational resource by creating a private Facebook group where users can interact with you and with one another. This is a very easy way to personalize your brand while establishing your expertise and providing value to potential customers.
However, there are some disadvantages to Facebook. If you want some of their premier ad space for targeted advertising, it’s going to cost you. You will also need to invest some time into maintaining and updating your page. A Facebook page with little to no activity can turn off potential customers.
Millennials aged 25-34 are Twitter’s core demographic, with this age group making up about 28.9% of Twitter’s total user count. People aged between 35-49 are a close second, making up 28.2%.
Twitter is great for “short and sweet” communication with your audience. Keep your finger on the pulse of your industry by researching relevant hashtags, and get recognized for providing timely insights on current events.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of influencers on platforms like Twitter. Tweets can be shared widely and even go viral if you can formulate the right message.
One disadvantage of Twitter, however, is that it requires a significant time investment. If you’re going to try to connect on Twitter, you’ll need to plan for multiple Tweets per day, including time for research, strategy, and regular interaction with other users.
The visual layout of Instagram is perfect for businesses that benefit from visually showcasing their products and services. However, with over 1 billion monthly users, Instagram has become much more than just a “photo-sharing app.”
Beyond simply sharing photos, Instagram has created a mobile shopping experience that allows users to get inspired, discover products, and make a purchase without leaving the app.
Instagram’s mobile-first approach means that it’s especially popular among younger generations. Of the platforms on this list, Instagram has the youngest user demographics, with the largest user base being 25-34 year olds and the second largest being 18-24 year olds.
Images take center stage on Instagram, so if you plan to use it for your business, make sure to prioritize creating visually-arresting imagery. You should also create a style guide for colors, logos, typography, and content type so that all of your images are instantly recognizable as part of your brand.
With Instagram, like Twitter, you’ll need to invest time in regularly adding content and managing your profile.
Pinterest can be another hidden gem for your business, and it seems to be on the rise. Now with over 459 million monthly active users, Pinterest gained more than 100 million of its users in 2020, according to the company’s Q4 earnings report.
Most of those users are millennials (the biggest consumer group), and over half are women. However, the number of men using Pinterest is continuing to grow, making this platform even more valuable to a wider audience.
According to Pinterest, ad spending on the platform earns twice the return compared to other social media. Their ads are 2.3 times more efficient in terms of cost per conversion than other social media.
Because Pinterest allows users to save content for later, images that are designed to be referenced over and over again tend to perform well. This includes how-to guides, infographics, and inspirational content.
Pinterest users also browse the platform to discover new products, especially in the fashion, health and beauty, food, and DIY niches.
LinkedIn is the platform for professionals. Compared to the rest of the platforms on this list, LinkedIn has a small number of users. However, depending on your industry, you may be able to reach more of your target audience through LinkedIn rather than other traditional social media platforms.
LinkedIn is especially suited for hiring, business development, and networking. Developing an employer brand through your company’s LinkedIn page is especially important if you want to attract top talent. Prospective candidates will look to LinkedIn to get a feel for your company’s culture and reputation in your industry.
Primarily designed to help professionals connect to others in their industry, LinkedIn isn’t built for ecommerce. If you sell goods and services, you probably won’t find many customers on LinkedIn, but you could make some business contacts
Social Media and Reputation Management: The Bottom Line
Although many business owners have uncertainties about getting active on social media, the benefits far outweigh the risks. In today’s digital age, a social media presence is a necessary part of doing business, and the brands that forfeit the opportunities on social media are being left behind.
However, the most important thing to remember is that a profile does not equal a presence on social media. Just like your website and your Google My Business profile, your social media account needs to be managed and maintained.
Social media may seem daunting at first (especially from a reputation management perspective), but these platforms are actually powerful tools for creating a positive public image. Every time you use social media to show off your expertise, form relationships, and build loyalty with your customers, you are taking control of your business’s online reputation.