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By: Delayne Weston

Are you curious about using social media to grow your business? According to sproutsocial, a social media software business, people are "57% more likely to buy from a brand they follow" on social media. But where do you start and what do you need to know? Keep reading to find out.

Why should you have a social media presence?

  1. Advertising in small towns with print and news media costs money. Plus, word of mouth takes time.
  2. You want customers that are engaged and interested in the work you do.
  3. Social media promotes brand awareness.
  4. People buy experiences just as much as products. Give your social media that personal touch that shows what those in your community will experience when entering your business.
  5. You can connect with your community through campaigns and answering questions or concerns that people have about your business.
  6. You can connect to other businesses in your community. You can cross-promote (like us? Try them!) or even collaborate on joint events or promotions (Shop there, get 10% off here) to attract customers you would not otherwise reach. Events in the community, like a fair, can be a great networking opportunity. Posting about the event will let customers know you will be there or are a sponsor. Plus, as a small business, if you see a larger organization post an event, you can respond you'll be attending. This way when people see this large event broadcasted, you have more of an opportunity to be noticed.

What do you need to know before you start?

  1. Set clear goals and objectives, so you can accomplish what you want without posting information blindly. Goals can be set with your company's vision statement in mind. Do you want to increase your visibility, sales or leads? Google Analytics and Hootsuite can help you measure your progress on social media. Also, keep track of follows, likes and impressions because they show if your social media presence is growing.
  2. Use a website like KnowEm to reserve your company's name on all platforms and make sure it isn't already taken. Although you may not be using that platform now, you may in the future. When choosing a name, you can use a word to emphasize your company's name, like a location or an experience. Try not to use numbers or underscores. You can read more about a Twitter and social media handle from sproutsocial.
  3. Be selective at first and choose one platform to focus your efforts on. Once you have the hang of it, start expanding your social media presence.
  4. Who's your target audience? Different audiences use different platforms, although most use Facebook. If you are targeting women, you should use Pinterest. Millennials are using Snapchat and YouTube. College students use Twitter more than other age groups. You can use SurveyMonkey to create a survey to know what your customers use.
  5. Make a calendar, so you consistently post. Timing matters, so check time zones that your followers are in. Times like lunch, 11am-1pm, and 7-9pm are said to be the best times to post. Also, post your most important content on weekdays; however, you still need a variety in your times and days, so you reach different audiences.
  6. Build a credible reputation. This means you should create posts that represent you and your business.
  7. This can seem overwhelming, but you can give the task to a social media savvy employee or down the line you can build a team to focus on social media. That said, you don't want to allow too many people to use the company's social media because that is when accidents, like forgetting to switch from the company account to a personal account, happen.

Here are a few dos and don'ts.

  1. When people comment or ask questions, your company needs to respond. Hootsuite has the ability to look up keywords, like your business's name or location, so you can respond to posts if you weren't tagged.
  2. Cross-promote your social media platforms. For example, if you just created an Instagram account, you can reference it on Twitter and Facebook.
  3. Post relatable content that interests social media users.
  4. Post original and mixed content, like retweeting others and adding links to sites and articles.
  5. Be visual with photos and videos because they're extremely important and attention is short. Photos with words are also an option.
  6. Think creatively about what you post. Consider saying "thank you" to your customers. Add memes, facts, graphics and support other businesses or community events. Start a conversation; for instance, instead of saying "Someone bought coffee at my shop today," say "What is your favorite type of coffee?"
  7. Network and build relationships. Customers like personal messages or useful tips on how to use your products correctly.
  8. Follow industry leaders on Facebook or Twitter. These distant competitors show what those in your field share on social media.
  9. Pin a post at the top of your page. Pinning an important event or new promotion helps people find it fast. You can also make these posts your cover photo.
  10. Check your company's reputation. While you are searching, you can look up your town's name, stores and popular locations to follow those in your community.

A few other suggestions.

  1. Reference your social media platforms on your company website.
  2. Have a company logo. There are free tools to create a company logo if you don't have one that works for your social media.
  3. Different social media platforms are used for different purposes. For instance, Facebook is used to build relationships and reviews are viewed through platforms like Yelp.
  4. You don't want to over post. With some fluctuation, you can post on a Blog once a week, post on Instagram and Facebook 3 times a week and Tweet a few times a day.
  5. What would people type into Google? These keywords are important if you post an article, for instance, to lead readers to your website and ultimately your business.

Twitter Tips:

  1. Twitter is the place where you definitely need to answer people's questions and concerns because it is the easiest channel for them to voice their concerns.
  2. You should follow people back on Twitter, but don't follow those that don't tweet. Focus on following businesses in your community and those that are leaders in your field.
  3. Make sure your photo doesn't get cropped in Twitter's profile dimensions. Also, don't use a personal profile picture. Instead usea company logo for the picture.
  4. Have a website link in your bio and tell people what you do, how you help your community and definitely show your personality.
  5. More than 5 tweets a day is acceptable, but retweeting is also important. According to Forbes, you should have 1 original post for every 4 pieces you share.
  6. Hashtags create content, emojis show emotion and facts and statistics mix up your feed.
  7. If a post includes a picture, people are more likely to click the link.
  8. Connect your Twitter posts to your blog with links.
  9. Increasing engagement is what Twitter is there for. If your business can be funny, do it. Wendy's is a good example of a business that uses humor as a strategy.
  10. Review and renew conversational topics. If it is important or a certain time of the year, you can create themed campaigns.

Instagram Instructions:

  1. Post high quality photos.
  2. Have a cohesive Instagram feed. Too many colors don't create an aesthetic.
  3. If you need to post more than one photo, you can create a slideshow from time to time.
  4. Use videos or photos with words and pictures from different angles in your Instagram feed. Don't just post you or your product repetitively.
  5. Get permission before you post a photo you didn't take. Make sure to tag the photographer to give them credit.
  6. Use Instagram's effects or similar tools to enhance and change your pictures.
  7. Not all of your photos have to be a square on Instagram. You can change the setting and have a wider view.
  8. Have a public profile and use hashtags to draw people to your post and page. Use 3-4 relatable hashtags in your post. If you need to use more, you can make your first comment on the post the continuation of relatable hashtags.
  9. Instagram stories are becoming more popular and some businesses use them to show a promotion their company is having for the day.
  10. If you have an Instagram business profile, you can use Instagram's insights to schedule posts, but you can't use an outside app to schedule posts for you.
  11. Don't follow people and then unfollow them in a few days.

Facebook Framework:

  1. Adding links, news sites and blogs to your posts adds credibility. People look for credibility in the businesses they follow on Facebook.
  2. Try to always add an image to Facebook because people pay more attention to posts with images. Also, keep a post under 100 words, so it is easily absorbed.
  3. Make your posts and your cover photo engaging.
  4. Use live videos. They are extremely engaging and get more reach than other posts do.
  5. The "About" section can give people basic information about your business. You can also have achievements on there.
  6. Facebook has the option to have a "Call To Action" button. Usually you can use these to say "book," "buy" or "vote."
  7. On your Facebook's business page, use the target tool to determine the audience that is viewing your content.
  8. Have people "check in" on Facebook. Then their friends know they visited your page. You could even provide a small incentive for people that check in.
  9. Don't post only about your business, argue with negative reviews or specify clients you are looking for because it alienates others.

Success stories of small businesses on social media

Jarling's Custard Cup is a good example of how to use multiple platforms.
Ice Cream Shop: In Champaign, IL, Jarling's Custard Cup opened in 1983 and has been a popular local business ever since. The social media reflects the company's young and family-friendly vibe. Jarlings posts about the events it participates in on Facebook. The custard shop also posts seasonally for updated content. On Instagram, the company posts high-quality photos with a fun family theme and shows what custard can bring to your life. Even on Twitter they tweet about #SmallBusinessSaturday and events going on in the community. Posting about the community is a strength for Jarlings because it shows a more diverse page when scrolling through.

Facebook's featured businesses:
Orthodontic Office
: Booth Orthodontics' social media team engages with patients on Facebook. The cover photo is a video of the office and what they're about. There are a variety of posts about giveaways, patients and events they participate in within the community, such as "Trunk or Treat." Dr. Booth, like many in his field, has a "Call to Action" button that says "Call now" for a patient to book an appointment.

Bakery: Fleckenstein's Bakery is in Mokena, IL and creates cakes, cookies and pastries. On Facebook, they post seasonal looking treats and events. They also keep up with their reviews and respond to their customers.

Sports Store: Kiddles Sports has been in Lake Forest, IL since 1968. Kiddles does best when posting on Facebook and Instagram. They post about their services, memes and events.

Instagram's spotlight businesses:

Salon: Style and Grace is a salon and spa in Champaign, IL. The salon posts a plethora of pictures and videos of their services. The salon's page is aesthetically pleasing with the expansion of photos in a wider view. This makes the page look unique on Instagram. Also, the salon uses hashtags in the first comment of their photos.

Barbershop: The Belmont Barbershop's Instagram is fun and shows customers, barbers and the atmosphere of the shop.

Flower Shop: Flowers for Dreams is a flower shop that uses Instagram to show its arrangements and community support.

Dog Grooming Shop: Shampooches Dog Grooming is located in Alton, IL. On its Insta feed, there are posts about the pups they spiffed up.

Twitter's up-to-date Illinois businesses:
Animal Daycare: Beach For Dogs has four locations in Lombard, Naperville, Lemont and Burr Ridge, IL. It is a boarding, grooming, day care and training building for dogs. The daycare's Twitter tweets about their dogs and thanks customers. It retweets facts and about alternative practices to care for pets. Their page includes a description of services and a link to the website.

Law Firm: Vrdolyak Law Group legally represents and consults those with cases of injuries and wrongful deaths. This Chicago law firm's Twitter feed has ideas on cases, stories and benefits of using them as your law firm.