The golden rules of social media for business

Small Business Guides

7 min read

Social media helps you reach new and different audiences. It lets you talk directly to your customers. And you can use it to build a reputation as an authority in your field. Here's how to make it work for you.

Why the fuss about social media?

There are still a lot of businesses without a social media presence. Some have made a conscious decision to steer clear of it. Others might not understand the benefits of using it. And many businesses avoid using it for negative rather than positive reasons. Some businesses:

  • are overwhelmed by the options and don’t know how to start
  • don’t understand the difference between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest
  • are worried by scare stories they’ve read in the press
  • think it will be expensive or time consuming.

The reality is that social networks can bring a whole new dimension to your business. In this guide we'll highlight the benefits – and explain how to make social media work for you.

10 ways your business benefits from using social media

Used effectively, social media can provide benefits to your business that you just can’t get any other way. Using social media means you can:

  1. Differentiate your brand
    How does one small business stand out from all the others? Use social networks to emphasize the areas you specialize in. Explain what makes you different from the rest.
  2. Build your reputation
    Show your knowledge by posting regularly on relevant topics. Prove your efficiency by responding to client queries quickly. Happy customers are more willing to give referrals. And well-handled enquiries can generate new clients for your business.
  3. Create trust with customers and prospects
    Be transparent and open on your social channels. Customers need to trust you before they're ready to buy. Social networks can help you build a relationship with them.
  4. Compete with larger companies
    Your business might be small and you may lack the advertising budget of larger businesses. But social media can be a great leveller. It allows you to compete on equal footing with much larger companies. You can even use it to make a virtue of your size. Emphasize your focused, agile, responsive approach to doing business.
  5. Attract new people to your website
    Your website is probably your key marketing tool. It will contain information about your full range of services. Use social networks to draw people there – and increase your sales.
  6. Keep informed about trends and news
    By following other organizations in your area of business, you can keep up to date with trends, news and key information.
  7. Have your ear to the ground 
    Two-way platforms like Twitter and Facebook let you interact directly with customers and prospects. Use these platforms to understand the services they need, and to research new ideas.
  8. Increase customer engagement
    Ask your customers for suggestions and improvements. Ask them what they like and dislike. They will be happy to tell you.
  9. Manage your reputation
    Social media allows you to respond to comments or complaints swiftly. When you demonstrate a high level of customer service, it has a powerful effect on your reputation.
  10. Market on a low-cost budget
    You can market your products or service directly to customers without a huge budget. But be aware that you will need to spend time doing this – so make sure you have the resources available.

So what social media networks are out there?

Before you open a business account on a social network, learn more about each one:

  • Read about FacebookLinkedInTwitterGoogle+ and Instagram.
  • Survey your clients to find out what networks they use.
  • Learn about social media etiquette and circulate this information to your team.

Etiquette is particularly important. Social media gives you the opportunity to reply or deal with a situation instantly. But your first response may not always be the most appropriate, so think before you act. In some situations, silence can be the most effective response.

Take a strategic approach to choose the right channels

Some companies dive in without thinking about their strategy. They open lots of accounts without doing enough background work. This approach won’t give you the best results.

Instead, put in some groundwork before opening new accounts. And make sure you evaluate your plans as time goes on. Successful businesses will:

  • Understand the different types of social accounts
    And run them in appropriate ways. For example, what works on Facebook might not be right for LinkedIn. Each network has different users and different rules for success. You need a different strategy for each network. And to think about the types of people that use each network. For example, there’s a perception that the majority of Facebook and Instagram users are female. Some research has shown there’s a certain age bracket of users for Twitter. Check to make sure that the demographics using these channels align with your strategy.
  • Evaluate your social presence at regular intervals
    Remember, not all benefits are measurable. You can count things like Facebook likes, Twitter followers and interactions that generate new business. But not all referrals will be clear. For example, you can’t quantify goodwill. And you probably won't record every request for advice that starts, “I read your tweet and thought you could help me.”
  • Be happy to take advice
    If your Facebook or Twitter account isn’t building followers or conversation in the numbers you’d hoped for, ask yourself why not. Perhaps you were too ambitious. Perhaps your approach isn't quite right. Consider paying for expert help to find out where you're going wrong – and how to put it right.
Ask your customers for suggestions and improvements. Ask them what they like and dislike. They will be happy to tell you.

Manage the workload

Running social media accounts takes time. Only open new accounts if they can be handled as part of everyday business. Don’t overstretch yourself, because a neglected account will make your business look badly organized.

It can be tempting to choose Twitter as your social channel because you may think it requires less work than Facebook or Google+. But that's not true. Tweets are limited to 140 characters long. But a Twitter account, just like other social accounts, needs daily nurturing and careful handling.

Communicate real and authentic messages

Remember to keep your content varied – and human. You need to be original and say something interesting. You might:

  • point to a news story about your business
  • mention a new service you're introducing
  • inform your followers about special offers
  • link to information that's relevant and useful to your customers.

A business account shouldn't be used for personal or trivial content. At all times you should be thinking, “How can I give my customers information that they will value?”. Social media usage is not about constant offers and special deals. It’s about interacting with customers on their level, communicating relevant updates and sharing your expertise.

How to get your social media links out there

Make sure any social media accounts you run are integrated into all your business communications. That means you should:

  • add them to business cards
  • put live links on all email signatures
  • include them on headed notepaper, compliment slips, invoices and any other stationery
  • feature them on your website as live links
  • consider including real-time feeds on your website too
  • mention them in client meetings
  • link across accounts so that anybody finding you through one account will learn about the others.

12 social media etiquette rules

Whatever social networks you are active on, there are important rules to follow. You only need to break a rule once for your reputation to suffer.

People can be ruthless in sharing what angers or upsets them. They will tell friends about poor quality service or factual errors. The following business rules will help you keep on the right track with your social content and avoid upsetting your customers.

Do:

  1. Post regularly.
  2. Be varied in the content you’re posting.
  3. Respond to individuals quickly.
  4. Keep it positive and upbeat.
  5. Monitor. Use software tools to check sharing, liking and favouriting. Find out what types of posts people like and dislike – and alter your posting accordingly.
  6. Check everything before you hit the 'send' button. Check spelling, grammar, facts, links and tone.
  7. Show respect. Some people will have opinions that vary from yours. If you're correcting factual inaccuracies, do it politely and link to the source.

Don't:

  1. Be rude. For example, a reply to a customer in all caps is SHOUTING. The customer is always right – even when they might appear to be wrong.
  2. Just promote yourself. People won’t keep coming back if all you do is tell them how great you are.
  3. Criticize the competition. A good company doesn’t need to trash others.
  4. Be negative. Sometimes other social feeds will be wrong. Don’t be tempted to try to turn their negative into your positive.
  5. Give all your staff social logins and expect them to keep things going. Social media is best managed in the hands of a few. Pick people who are trained and can manage all your social interactions.

Never forget why you are using social media

You can break the reason down into a number of goals. But in the end you are using social networks to grow your business by sharing information. Sharing is the key to getting a bigger audience to notice you – without having to pay for it!

Effective social media isn't about sending out a constant stream of offers and special deals. It's all about interacting with your clients on their level and communicating to them in a useful, valued way. Social networks are a way to share relevant updates and expertise.

Think carefully about your brand, the service you provide and the way you interact with your clients. Your social media presence should be an extension of that. With a little practice, it will become an integral part of your business – and you'll wonder how you managed without it.