It's now standard practice for businesses and brands of all sizes to have a social media presence – but one of the ongoing stumbling blocks is how to manage various social channels successfully.

Having to create and manage meaningful content for distribution via specific social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can seem daunting. But being aware of few key principles will help you stay on top of your management.

An introduction to social media for small businesses - Small Business Victoria Workshops

An introduction to social media for small business

Tim Gentle, Small Business Victoria Workshop Leader

[Visual: Tim Gentle sitting at table]

G'day. It's Tim Gentle here, and we're talking social media. Now when I think of social media, I think of it like the heartbeat of the internet. That's where you participate and how you are perceived in social media.

So what are the benefits? Well one that I really like is that you get to people at the early stages of the buying cycle. To break that right down, it's like when you're sitting on the couch and you're thinking about going on holiday. You're browsing on your iPad, and slowly but surely little social gems come into your feed. It's a bit like when dad brought home that Qantas jet, you know, now I'm flying Qantas. So social media isn't all about the now, it's about the early seed.

Now also it can help you with your search engine rankings. How you are perceived, and how you participate in social media, is part of the algorithm that Google use to rank websites. So on occasions you need to get involved in social media just so you get good rankings.

Now it can help increase conversion rates on your shopping cart. If you use social videos to, you know, show how to use the product, or maybe reviews about you as a company. These are all things that people look for and it's called social proof.

Now when we participate in social media, we wear five hats. Let's walk through those.

The first hat is marketing. That's all about your brand. It's about customer service, about research and about generating leads.

Now another hat we wear is informative. We want to inform people about, say, an event we've got coming up or a product and service we sell.

Now the other hat that we wear is supportive. We want to support people. We want to encourage them. They might be participating in a fundraising event.

We also want to energise people. We want to get people excited, and that's all about social media.

And the final one is to listen. Make sure you listen to what your customers are saying and what your competitors are doing.

Right. I wanted to leave you with some social media tips to make sure that the effort that you put in, you reap the rewards. All right. We'll start from the very top.

I always ask my customers what they want in their social feed, so you need to know what the fish are biting if you want to catch the fish.

Now have top level support. What I mean by that is if you've got a directorship, or if you've got management, they need to support social media, because in social media you have to be able to accept the good, the bad and the ugly. Just like the real world, it's not always going to be positive and you need to have a policy in place if people say something negative about you.

Now always be transparent and be honest. People want to get the human factor when it comes to social media. And don't let perfection get in the way of progress.

So another tip is to be consistent. If you're in a bad mood one day maybe just pull out of social media and attempt it tomorrow. But at the same time, you know, don't be this one day and that another day.

Another thing is website integration. Do you know that you can feed in your Facebook feed or your Twitter feed into your website? That's a fantastic thing. And always measure success. A lot of these social media platforms have insights which tell you what people are looking at, what they are sharing and what they're liking.

Alright, well my name's Tim Gentle and I'm one of the Small Business Victoria workshop leaders that put on an array of workshops for you as a small business to grow. My suggestion, check out some of the knowledge, attend the workshops and grow your business online. I'll catch you soon.

[On screen: Victoria State Government – Authorised by the Victoria Government, Treasury Place, Melbourne. Spoken by Tim Gentle.]

Monitor and listen

Being active on social networks doesn't always mean talking and engaging with others – monitoring the conversation is also important:

  • It helps your business keep an eye out for opportunities to connect with others and offer help or advice when needed.
  • It alerts you to any 'red flags' or emerging issues that might affect your brand, such as a customer criticism or complaint.

Deal with criticism and complaints

Many businesses are hesitant to join social networks because they're concerned someone might say something negative about them.

The truth is, if someone is unhappy with your business, they'll air their grievances on social media whether you're on it or not.

Stay active

If you're active on social networking sites – and you're monitoring the conversation that's going on around your brand, positively or negatively – you'll be in a strong position to do something about it.

Because many business-customer exchanges take place publicly on social networks – and in full view of people who use the site – how you deal with criticism will determine the outcome of the situation.

Tips for managing a negative situation

Below are some tips to help you manage a potentially negative situation better:

  • The purpose of a business being on social media is to engage with the public and encourage comments, rather than close people down.
  • Acknowledge the person's question, concern or criticism and make sure you do this in a timely manner.
  • If you haven't got all the information at hand, tell them that – let the person know you'll look into the matter right away and get back to them as soon as possible.
  • Add to the dialogue – this could be by providing another resource, asking a relevant question or adding thoughts of your own.
  • Always be professional, friendly and understanding without being patronising or critical – put yourself 'in the shoes' of the customer and remember your behaviour is a reflection of your brand.

Good timing and scheduling

Social media marketing takes time and effort if you want to do it properly and with purpose. Being an active member of the online social community requires you:

  • to engage with your audience regularly
  • to listen, monitor, respond
  • to add value

There are a number of ways to streamline your involvement. Free and paid tools such as Salesforce and Hootsuite provide opportunities to publish and schedule your content to various social channels, and to manage conversations that occur around your brand or business online.

Know your keywords and improve search engine optimisation

Google favours content that is high quality and relevant. I's important that you publish content that people are interested in, that they'll link to and share with others via social networks.

When people link and share information, Google takes these back links as a sign that the content has 'authority' and ranks it favourably for the keywords and search strings contained within it.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the keywords and phrases (search strings) you want your business to be known for?
  • What are the questions your customers are Googling?

Start strategically and consistently adding these words and phrases to the content you produce and share, marking it up in your content marketing plan.

Find out more about improving your SEO and keyword research.

Google Garage offers free training to help you make the most of online opportunities including modules to decide what social media platforms are right for your business, set goals, get noticed on social media, measure your success and avoid pitfalls.