Social media has levelled the playing field when it comes to marketing and communication. Your small business can now use social media to tell your story and demonstrate your expertise on a global scale in real time – with very little cost.

Here's how you can use social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to grow your audience and customer base, and build your brand and business in a strategic way.

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.]

Why use social media?

Social media has changed the way we connect, communicate and collaborate with others. As traditional methods of marketing to customers like advertising or direct mail become less effective, businesses are turning to social media to connect in positive ways with consumers and the people who influence them.

The key to social media success is not to get hung up on the tools and technology.

Instead, focus on how you can use them more effectively to:

  • increase visibility for your brand and business
  • build relationships with customers, influencers and other businesses
  • communicate with people in real-time, including answering queries
  • share links to or publish content that demonstrates your expertise and adds value to your customers' lives
  • generate new leads and boost sales.

Understanding social media

Think of social media in 2 parts:

  • social media participation
  • content creation and distribution

Social media participation

Social media participation is where you deliver value to the online community by:

  • sharing other people's content (user-generated content or UGC) on Facebook or LinkedIn, retweeting them if you're on Twitter or regramming on Instagram
  • answering people's questions if you're in a position to help – whether they're directly related to your business or not
  • joining the conversation on a particular topic, such as a group on Twitter talking about an issue in the media, or a LinkedIn Group
  • leaving genuinely interesting and relevant comments on selective blogs you read and podcasts you listen to
  • promoting other people's businesses and causes, for example, your municipal council may be running a street festival that could be good for you to be promote via your networks.

Before jumping into conversations on social networks, sit back and try to learn the nuances and standards of the platform first.

Content creation and distribution

The second part of social media is the creation and distribution of original content. You want your content to inform, empower, educate or entertain, and ultimately attract the right people to your brand.

For this to work, you need to have your audience in mind when you publish and promote content. So, make sure you first understand who you're trying to communicate with and where they hang out online.

Create content with the customer in mind

Your content should be useful, relevant and add value to people's lives.

It could be information that:

  • answers a question
  • satisfies a need they have that's relevant to your business, or
  • provides 'thought leadership' and demonstrates your knowledge and expertise.

For example, an accountancy practice might publish a blog post on its top tips for how to approach end-of-financial-year tax issues.

Once you create your content, publish it to one or more platforms and share the links with your followers on social networks.

Search engines such as Google use social media shares to determine how useful content is to an audience. So, building your presence on social networks can also improve your search ranking.

Digital training from Google

Google Digital Garage has free short courses to help you make the most of online opportunities. There are modules to help you decide which social media platforms are right for your business, set goals, get noticed on social media, measure your success and avoid pitfalls.