Social media is mainstream. Your customers are using it and your competitors are using it. The question is: Are you?

As a business owner, you may need little convincing that social media marketing is something that you need to do. In 2010 it might have been a completely different matter. You may have needed persuading back them as some people were still writing social media off as a fad.

Today, however, there is no battle between social media and mainstream marketing. Social media IS the mainstream. Facebook has over a billion users. Twitter has over 600 million accounts, and people spend more time on social networks than they do on email.

Despite this, there are still many business owners who still don’t know which social media platform is the right one for their business or how best to use it.

This article will give you a brief overview of each of the most popular social media platforms and we will also share some of our valuable tips showing you how to make it more effective for you and your company.

Blogs

Blogs are among the most important sources of ‘rich’ content. They are the real fuel for your social media engine.

They are the oldest form of social media and give the average web user the ability to publish long-form content quickly and easily.

Instead of static websites, blogs are interactive in nature, allowing visitors to leave a comment on individual articles or blog posts. Many newspaper websites and even online magazines now operate like blogs as readers have the ability to interact and post comments and views and articles.

Blogs began as online diaries, giving people the ability to share their thoughts and ideas online. However, in time, blogs grew in popularity to become a common and powerful tool used by businesses. In fact, many company websites are built on blogging platforms to allow website owners to easily upload content.

Today, blogs can support many different business strategies, attracting employees and helping out customer service. Some companies have hundreds of blogs segmented into regions, product lines and customer demographics.

One important aspect to remember about blogging is that it can be a powerful source of search engine traffic. Some companies make the mistake of having a blog separate from their website. That doesn’t make sense and is bad for business. Don’t let anybody talk you into a separate blog. It is better to have a blog integrated into your website and drive people to directly to your site. After all, that is where business gets done.

Podcasting

Podcasting is a bit like audio blogging and is another potential source of rich content.

Although it has been around for quite a long time, the platform has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance because of the growing use of mobile devices. It has become very easy to carry these “radio programs” anywhere you go and listen to them while multi-tasking, driving or working out.

While the popularity of podcasting has created the a whole new generation of radio “celebrities”, a lot of businesses have lagged behind in adopting this platform as part of their social media marketing strategy.

One of the reasons is because starting and maintaining a podcast is the most technically complicated channel and also requires a modest investment in audio technology as well as some practice.

Don’t let that put you off using it for your business. Because of the slow adoption by many companies, look at podcasting carefully as a potential niche point of differentiation for your business and over time you will have a targeted core audience of dedicated and loyal fans for your brand.

Twitter

Twitter might not need much of an introduction because it is now used by everybody from marketers and celebrities to teens and members of the media thanks to its ‘in the moment’ and public nature.

Unless you choose to keep your messages private, everything your post on Twitter is available for the world to see. In today’s social media-driven world, breaking news often comes in the form of a Tweet.

Twitter has also become the de facto ‘second screen’ for commentary while viewing television and has attracted a lot of attention for the advertising ‘ripple’ it is causing with its new relationship with TV.

This platform has many advantages for businesses. It’s probably the fastest way to grow a targeted audience and Twitter has also introduced a variety of advertising platforms. Most brands are now utilising Twitter as an extension of their customer service department. This makes sense as research has shown that people who follow your brand on Twitter tend to be very loyal.

There are probably as many ways to use Twitter as there are business strategies. However, the most powerful advantage is networking. The open and public nature of Twitter allows you to develop relationships with new customers, potential employees and business partners in your region and beyond. If your business can benefit from live networking events, it can benefit from Twitter.

A good tip is to explore the advanced search function on Twitter. Many business owners and marketers believe that this is one of the most powerful sources for marketing research and insight ever created. And best of all, it is free. You can even save your Twitter searches to monitor discussions about brands, watch competitors, and discover new customer wants and needs.

Perhaps the biggest downside to Twitter for many small companies is that it is difficult to understand, which inhibits adoption.

It can be like entering a new world with a different language and a new set of customs but with patience and consistency, you will soon get in the swing of things.

Facebook

What began as a network for college students has transformed into the biggest social network and the largest website in the world today. For many people, Facebook is now part of their lifestyle. It is global, addictive, useful and it is the largest media entity in history. You can’t ignore it because that is where your customers are.

Facebook is unsurpassed in its ability to connect businesses with its customers in a rapid and human way. It is an ideal platform to spread the word quickly, monitor reactions, and collect data.

By setting up a Facebook Fan Page for business, you open up a myriad of marketing opportunities. What’s more, Facebook’s domination extends onto Smartphones as well as desktops, with an ever-increasing focus on mobile users and location based marketing that businesses just can’t afford to ignore.

In addition, Facebook has been evolving and improving its analytics capabilities and ad reporting systems. Since becoming a public company it has been focussing on new revenue streams and advertising platforms, particularly on mobile.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is considered the social network for professionals. LinkedIn showcases your business experience and connects you with contacts from your email address book and places you’ve worked.

LinkedIn profiles are much like an online resume, detailing your education, skills, experience and recommendations from your colleagues and friends. It also gives you the opportunity to link to presentations, blog posts and your portfolio. Among the major social platforms, it is unsurpassed as a place for sales leads and connections, particularly if you are in B2B.

There are over 2 million LinkedIn Groups devoted to every professional vocation, company and cause imaginable. Some of them are noisy and spammy, but the majority of them are populated with caring professionals who devote a lot of time helping people in their groups.

Despite the fact that LinkedIn has continually innovated and is a multimedia powerhouse of a platform, the truth is, it is normally a little boring there. There isn’t much socialisation going on.

A top tip for better engagement on LinkedIn is this: If you are ever stuck for an idea for your content plan, go to your favourite LinkedIn Group for your industry. Each group has a place where members can post questions and ideas relevant to the topic of the group. Find an interesting question and write a blog post as an answer. Then go back to the group and post a link to your post as an answer to the question, in an authentically helpful way.

This simple exercise helps you to accomplish three important objectives at the same time. First, it provides you with a meaningful source of content for your blog. Second, it provides a kind and helpful service to the person who asked the question. You will certainly be on their radar screen from now on, as well as from others in the group who also read your reply. And third, by answering the question with a link, you are driving highly relevant eyeballs to your website. This system is efficient and really works.

Pinterest

If you are in a business related to fashion, style, food, travel, interior design or crafts, Pinterest is a must for your business. The addictive site can be described as scrapbooks of ideas, dreams, inspirations and aspirational purchases.

The users base is more than 70 per cent women and it is now one of the top five social media platforms in terms of active users. Pinterest is practically made for business. Where ‘selling’ is discouraged on other sites, Pinterest fans actively look for images of favourite products, with the price tag included, and many of these users are ready to buy. In fact ‘pins’ with price tags usually attract 36 per cent more likes than those that don’t. The average Pinterest user spends 1 hour and 17 minutes in the website per visit.

Here is the most important thing to know about Pinterest. It drives more web traffic and actual purchases than any other platform, including Facebook. The Social Habit Report from Edison Research showed that Pinterest users not only click on photos to find the original source, they also go to company sites after leaving Pinterest, inspired by the photos they have seen there.

If you want people to start pinning from your website (which is an incredibly efficient way of spreading the word about your business) then you have to make your website and blog very visual. Spend some time on Pinterest getting to know the style, subject and compositions of the photos your potential customers are pinning.

Google+

At a basic level Google+, (sometimes written Google plus) is an attempt by Google to reinvent the social media network on mobile devices and on the web. But Google+ is also Google’s attempt at being Facebook. Launched in 2011, it has now over 300 million active users. It is an impressive number but is still around a quarter of Facebook users.

Google believes Google+ is a “social layer” on top of your normal browsing, rather than a standalone single website. Google+ is based completely around the concept of sharing, not just links and photos, but also to get interesting information sent to you. Google wants to keep it nicely curated in one place.

Google+ is continually changing. By merging Maps and Local Business Pages, it is making all business directories redundant.

Google+ operates like Twitter in that it’s not merely enough to add someone as a friend. They must also add you to get notified about your content. Unless they’ve got a good reason, they are unlikely to add a brand as a friend.

However, they may add your business as something else. Google+ makes you put people into categories, known as circles, which you can create to suit your purposes – whether that’s family, friends, work colleagues or something else.

To make an impression, post frequently and keep your profile up to date. Remember, posts on Google+ don’t have to be long. By default, only the first few lines of a long post are shown, so either keep them short or link out to other sites or blogs.

Choose carefully how you can share with which of your circles, and encourage people to comment or +1 your posts, which helps in search results.

Another way it is good for local business is the fact that positive reviews may get you into the local results carousel on the main Google search page.

To drive most traffic to your page, visit your profile and set a custom URL in the links box. Use this URL in emails and marketing, including Google Adwords campaigns. You can also add a custom Google+ badge to your website.

Make sure your Google+ page has a link to your website. Google will provide a code snippet to add to your homepage that helps it keep track of traffic and advertising, and which improves your pages SEO.

Finally, use your brand to comment on other people’s posts and honestly review other local businesses to help further bump up traffic to your brands page.

YouTube

Just a few years ago, the most popular videos on YouTube were homemade productions of piano playing cats and brides falling into swimming pools. Those days are over.

Today, YouTube is mainstream entertainment, viewed by commuters on trains and at home on big TV screens. We are living in a video crazy world and experts predict that the percentage of video-related content we will consume in the next few years will double.

Because of its popularity and predictions such as the one we just mentioned, major brands are capitalising by creating increasingly epic mini-movies exclusively for their dedicated YouTube channels. The bar for quality is constantly going up.

In addition to feeding the publics nearly insatiable hunger for video content, companies also realise that YouTube is owned by Google and is the second largest search engine in the world. Billions of videos are watched on YouTube every day.

As a small business, it may seem daunting trying to enter this crowded world of Hollywood-quality videos but there is still room for small businesses in this space. Remember that search results are typically local so even start-ups have a chance to compete for attention by providing useful, informative and entertaining videos.

The most effective way to successfully compete and get a huge, loyal following is to concentrate on creating practical, informative and engaging videos for topics within your field or niche. While every business dreams of creating the perfect “viral” video, the fact is that it is extremely difficult to predict what is going to go viral.

However, many businesses are ruling the airwaves (and search results) with very simple videos to help customers solve their problems and answer their questions.

Slideshare

Slideshare is not normally considered a “major” social media platform, but we have included it in this overview because as you consider adding more content and information online this is an excellent place to start.

The idea is very simple: Slideshare allows users to upload and share slideshow presentations on any topic, but it is particularly powerful for marketing your business knowledge and expertise.

It has often been called the Sleeping Giant of the social media world as, despite its massive user base, it doesn’t receive the same amount of attention as the other big social networks. However, with the right approach, it can be a brilliant tool in your social media arsenal. Slideshare accepts videos and various types of documents, but it is the PowerPoint slideshows that tend to perform best and attract the most views.

To get the most from Slideshare use it in conjunction with your other social media platforms. For example you could show your Twitter feed on your Slideshare profile to gain Twitter followers from your shares. It is easy to d as Slideshare allows you to insert your Twitter feed on to your profile page. The benefit is that it gives your profile viewers a quick and easy way to get taste of what you and your business is all about, and a link to click-through to Twitter and get in touch.

Another cool Twitter-related feature is this: when someone tweets one of your Slideshare presentations, they will automatically be prompted to follow you on Twitter. Slideshare has reported that this feature has helped some users to considerably boost their Twitter following. If you do this too, who knows where that could lead for your business. The possibilities are huge.

Instagram

Instagram, the fun and quirky image app for iPhone and Android devices has taken the world by storm. Millions upon millions of people use it as a way to transform everyday photos with filters and frames, into memory-laden content, which can be shared with the world on an online gallery.

It is a superb social media tool for businesses to engage with their customers, build relationships, and increase sales. You can use Instagram to promote your new products, services and offers through images and a tempting description. Virtually every major brand now has an Instagram account.

Be creative by featuring customers using your products. There is no better promotion for your business to brand new customers than to show photos of existing customers enjoying what you offer, so take advantage of this idea when using Instagram.

You can take snaps from inside your store, restaurant or business. You can also use images submitted to you by happy existing customers. For example, pen manufacture Sharpie, regularly features sketches drawn by its customers via Instagram.

Show behind the scenes of your business. To increase intimacy with your brand and make customers feel special, use Instagram to snap photos of behind-the-scenes goings-on at your company.

It is easy to kick-start your follower base on Instagram. Simply announce your Instagram presence on other social media, including Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr. In Instagram’s “Sharing Settings”, enter your social media usernames and passwords for the various accounts on offer, to make sure that your Instagram photos are seen by your various followers on each site when you publish them.

The importance of photo-oriented content is being driven by a couple of market factors. First, the use of mobile smart devices has brought the barriers to creating and sharing photographic content down to zero. It is fun. It is fast and it is easy.

Second, in our information-dense world, we may only have time to consume images rather than read huge articles. It is very easy for people to fill a few seconds of spare time thumbing through Instagram photos.

Finally, you can do it at work. Many companies may block access to Facebook or Twitter on company computers, but people can easily sneak some time with a site like Instagram on their smartphone. The Social Habit research showed that 85% of the people who use Instagram do it at work, easily the most work-friendly social media site around.

If you are a ‘visual’ brand, the emerging popularity of photo sites can be a goldmine of opportunity.

Now that you have an overview of the various social media platforms what would you like to do now?

As we said at the outset, as a business owner you already know how important social media is for your business. However a lot of business owners we speak to are too busy running their businesses and simply don’t have the time it takes to even plan a social media campaign never mind run a social media account. Even if you do run a moderately successful social media site you might want to take it to another level.

No matter what your situation is, we can help you to give your social media marketing a kick-start and show you what huge profits and brand awareness awaits you and your business as a result of a success social media marketing campaign.

Contact us today to see how we can help your business.

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