The popularity of social media networks has been a game-changer for marketers and business owners, as it presents multiple opportunities for promotion. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to develop a strategy and navigate the waters of Facebook, Twitter and the like.
But for business owners who are developing a brand, the importance of building a social media following should not be overlooked. One study from the University of Texas at Arlington found that having content and reviews on social media had more of a positive effect on firm equity value than traditional SEO metrics, like keyword ranking and traffic. (It’s pretty heavy reading, and the research is based on large businesses, but you can see the full study here.)
If you’re thinking about selling your business or are building a money-making website, here’s the busy person’s guide to gaining a social media following:
Choose a Network of Focus
While you should have presence on a number of social outlets, there will naturally be a couple that are more relevant to your target demographic than others. For instance, if you’re a B2B company, LinkedIn is likely to be more worthy of your time and effort than Instagram or Snapchat.
If you’re not sure which network will be most valuable to you, it’s a good idea to check your Google Analytics data to see where your social traffic is coming from. Just go to Acquisitions, then click on Channels, then Social to see which networks show up:
You’ll want to consider the volume of visitors coming to your site from social networks, in addition to the following metrics to ensure the traffic you’re getting is quality:
- Make sure you have goals set up in Google Analytics so you can easily see how your social traffic is converting. This will vary from business to business, but goals can include anything from a certain time spent on page to a purchase.
- Bounce rate and session duration. If you’re getting a large amount of traffic from a network but the majority of it spends 5 seconds on your site then bounces, how valuable is that traffic source? Not very. The problem might be with your content and not the source, but it’s worth considering all angles or considering a different way to engage with them
- New users. Especially important if you want to increase brand awareness, you’ll want to look at how many new visitors you’re getting from social.
After analyzing the available data, you should have a good idea of which networks are already popular among your audience.
Another way to gauge this is by looking at where your content is being shared, which is useful if you don’t yet have social media accounts or you’re still in the early stages of building your profiles. You can do this using tools like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs, both of which can also tell you your competitors’ most popular content and social networks – valuable insights if you’re just starting out.
The most direct way to find out which network is most popular with your audience is by surveying them. You can send a survey via email (such as SurveyMonkey or Customer Thermometer) or, if you have the time, call your list. This method can require a bit of extra effort compared to the others, but you may find that your users appreciate the human touch. Plus, if your business is very new and you don’t have much data, this could be your most effective way to gauge which networks are most popular among your audience.
Create Profiles for All Networks
Identifying your most effective networks is important, but don’t overlook any of the major platforms. Why? Simply put, being on social makes you more visible, regardless of your following.
First, having a social presence improves your ranking in search results. Social media and SEO are interconnected, and your profiles may often be the first links listed in a search engine results page (SERP). In addition to having social profiles, you’ll also want to make sure you’re registered in Google My Business so that people can easily find your contact information.
Additionally, research from HubSpot indicates that consumers expect businesses to be on an average of 3.4 social media platforms, so it’s likely people will be searching for you on these networks. It probably comes as no surprise that Facebook is the most popular, with 84 percent of respondents saying they expect businesses to be on the network, followed by Twitter and YouTube.
When creating your profiles, be mindful of your own branding guidelines as well as each network’s native use, as you’ll want to stay true to both. Always use your company’s signature colors, fonts, logos, and tone of voice, but don’t necessarily post the same content to each network. Look at how people are naturally using each network and aim to mimic native use with your content. For instance, you’ll notice that people tend to share timely news on Twitter, where feeds are updated at a rapid pace, while Facebook tends to feature evergreen content tailored toward specific interests.
Don’t Overlook Paid
Creating a profile and waiting for your customers to start following you isn’t going to be enough. Even if you did gain a large number of followers, the organic reach on most social networks is very limited. This means that even once you gain a following, your posts are only getting in front of 2 to 3 percent (if you’re lucky) of your followers on Facebook and Twitter. (Organic reach varies by network, but you can find more info here.) You might even see better conversion rates:
Paid advertising strategies – available on most social networks – can complement your organic efforts by increasing reach. You can also reach new, targeted audiences via paid ads. All social media ad platforms let you target by demographics and device, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of targeting capabilities by social network:
- Facebook: Email lists, lookalike audiences, interests, behaviors, custom audiences, retargeting
- Twitter: Followers, behaviors, custom audiences, interests, search terms, retargeting
- LinkedIn: Industry, company size, job title, skills, member groups, school, area of study, degrees
- YouTube: Interests, retargeting, topics, search terms
- Pinterest: Search terms
By using these targeting capabilities, you can not only reach a more qualified audience, you can determine your best audience in a very specific way. Most ad APIs come equipped with analytics to let you see which of your ads are performing best, so you can easily see the audiences and ad creatives that are most effective at bringing in traffic that converts. These can be valuable learnings for not just your paid and social strategy, but your branding as a whole.
Optimize Your Site
Once you have your pages set up, you’ll want to ensure that your content is optimized to encourage social sharing. The main focus of your content strategy should be creating posts, videos and graphics that are naturally interesting to your readership. In essence, that means thinking about what’s useful to your audience – beyond your offerings. The general rule of thumb is that your content should be at least 80 percent informative or entertaining and, at most, 20 percent promotional.
Here are some tips on creating content that’s optimized for social media:
- Enable or add social share buttons on your blog. You can do this using a WordPress plugin, such as Shareaholic.
- Don’t skimp on your visuals. There are a lot of distractions on people’s news feeds, so you’ll want to stand out with photos, graphics or videos that stand out – in a good way.
- Find your optimal posting frequency and timing. This might require some trial and error, but once you find your sweet spot, post consistently.
- Write intriguing headlines and meta descriptions. You have but a small window to capture viewers’ attention on social media. Use it wisely.
- Get meta. If you want to attract an audience on Twitter, cite popular users within your post. Want a bigger following on Facebook? Find a popular group that’s relevant to your industry, and use it to find credible experts and post your content.
Unfortunately, this is not an if-you-build-it-they-will-come situation. If you want people to follow and interact with your brand, you need to give them a reason to do so. Moreover, you’ll want to regularly monitor the comments on your profile and posts, deleting the spam and responding to your customers. Reply to your customers whether they’re praising you or being critical, as both positive and negative comments are valuable feedback. Plus, great customer service – say, a personalized response and offer to rectify the situation – can easily turn an unhappy customer into a loyal follower.
In addition to posting regularly and monitoring your accounts, you should aim to start conversation among your followers. This can be as easy as asking a question to provoke thought and comments, or as involved as creating a contest where people receive products or discounts in exchange for their ideas or information.
Following and interacting with other companies can help you gain followers, if you choose wisely. Look for businesses that offer products or services that are complementary to your own. For instance, if you’re selling tech accessories, it might benefit you be part of the conversation surrounding Apple or Android. However, inserting yourself into your competitors’ conversations may backfire or start a social media war, so avoid it unless you’re prepared for the fallout.
Hire it Out
If you don’t have the time to maintain your social media accounts, you’re like most business owners. Luckily, as with many business operations today, it’s easy – and sometimes more effective – to outsource the work to an agency or freelancer. Here are some of the perks and drawbacks of both options:
- Access to a whole staff of experts and proprietary tools
- Processes are often efficient, and hands-off for the business owner
- Can leverage data and learnings from other clients
- Can end up locked into a contract for 6+ months
- Practices may not align with your business’ vision
- Usually more expensive than hiring an independent contractor
- Select from a wide range of expertise levels depending on your needs
- Cost can be low
- Usually flexible; can be use on an as-needed basis
- Can be difficult to find someone reliable
- Requires some trial and error to find a good fit
- Proprietary information may be at risk, even with a non-disclosure agreement
Working with third parties is always tricky, so you may want to solicit recommendations from your personal and professional network to find a reliable contractor who can deliver what you need.
There’s a lot that goes into business valuation, and your social media following is just one of them. To make the most of your time, decide which efforts are most worth it in terms of helping you reach your goals. If you’re not a social media enthusiast, delegate the task to someone who will have the time and expertise to develop an effective, sustainable strategy.