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Using social media to market your business can be a relatively easy, effective, and enjoyable option, especially when starting out. However it can also be a huge time-suck that produces few results. Learn all about using social media to market your business in this article.

By Ellie Keft

December 8, 2021

Difference between using social media and social media marketing

What’s the difference between using social media and social media marketing?

Social media is used by individuals to do a bunch of things, some of which include:

  • Staying up to date with news and current events
  • Entertainment and diversion from real life with memes and stories
  • To fill up spare time or avoid boredom
  • To stay in touch with what friends and family are up to
  • To share photos and other types of information to satisfy some creative need, or a need to feel validation that comes with people knowing what you’re up to

Using social media then, doesn’t have any strategic objective behind it—it’s just a tool that enriches an individual’s life.

Social media includes platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, YouTube, Clubhouse, Tiktok, Snapchat and even forums and review sites such as Reddit, TripAdvisor and Quora. A few others that might also fall into the social media category might be the messaging platform Whatsapp, or the blogging platform Medium. There are also a bunch of other smaller platforms, or niche platforms, which are used within certain industries or in certain countries, and there is always new tech coming out that people try for a bit and it either takes off or bombs.

Some of these platforms require people to follow you, to be able to reach them, some have an algorithmic suggesting function that serves users content they think they’ll like, and others still are more like a search engine, where users come across content by searching keywords or questions, hashtags or geolocation tags.

There are a few other platform-specific bits and bobs, but I’m not going to go into all of that a) because I don’t want to and b) because I’m not a social media expert and wouldn’t be the best one for it!

So, this is where we come to social media marketing.

And where this is different to just being a user on these platforms, is in the strategic objectives you have when using it.

Your objectives might be simply to get more followers on your social platforms, but it might be more strategic than that…

You might be have any or all of these objectives:

  • To grow your email list
  • To send traffic to your blog
  • To get people to listen to your podcast
  • To shorten your customer journey
  • To get more bookings or sales
  • To provide better customer experience
  • To build your brand or authority overall
  • To create a safe a nurturing community for your people
  • To network and find potential customers or clients
  • To find like minded peers to collaborate with for marketing and product design
  • To find out more about your audience and your competitors

But basically, the difference between using social media and doing social media marketing is your goals and objectives; what you’d like to achieve whilst on the platform.

Whether that’s an escape from the monotony of life with some hilarious cat vids, or to build a lead acquisition that’s true to your brand and keeps your biz pumping.

Using social media then, doesn’t have any strategic objective behind it—it’s just a tool that enriches an individual’s life.

Organic Vs. Paid social media marketing

Now, social media marketing can be either organic or paid.

Organic

So you can build up an audience through sharing content and connecting with other accounts organically, meaning, without paying to play, without paying to show users your content.

Back in the day, the majority of people who followed your page would see your content, but these days a tiny percentage of them do.

There are a bunch of best-practice organic social things you can do which will help you to reach a portion of your followers, to show up more frequently in suggested feeds or algorithm-based suggestions, or to boost your visibility through hashtags and geo-tags.

These things include using hashtags well, posting at the best times for your audience and embracing video and user-generated content.

But, no matter how diligent you are, there will always be a cap to your organic reach on social media platforms.

Paid

Enterrrrr paid advertising on social media.

Some platforms then allow you to set up paid advertisements to either reach your audience, or branch out and find new people through targeting.

When you’re getting started with paid social media advertising, there are a few thing you’ll need to think about and decide.

Firstly, what’s your budget? How much do you have available to spend on these ads? You can spend from $5 a day to tens of thousands per day, so it’s really down to deciding what you have available, starting small and testing the validity and performance of your ads, and then scaling up your spend over time as you and the algorithm learn how your target audience is likely to interact with your ads.

Secondly, what does success look like for you? What’s the purpose of running these ads, the objective? This is not something you’ll be able to determine right at the beginning, but over time, you’ll start to get an idea of what an acceptable cost per lead is for you. That is, how much you can afford to spend on acquiring a new lead based on how much and how often people are spending with you. And this will help you to understand if your return on investment is worth it, and if your ads are aligned with your objectives.

Thirdly, who is your target audience? You’ll need to know their basic demographics, but also their interests and activities, and maybe details about their salary bracket, their travel behaviour and things like that. So you really do what to spend some time learning about your people.

Fourthly, you need to think about which social media platforms should you run ads on? It’s not just Facebook and Instagram that you can choose from. You can also run ads on Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Tiktok, so there are plenty to choose from! It’s good to test out different platforms when you can, but in the beginning, choose a couple and try them out. And choose them based on your offering, your brand, your audience and the content you like to produce.

For some businesses, sticking with organic social media is all they need—they have a steady stream of organic traffic, they have leads, bookings and sales galore.

But for others, their organic growth is so slow and lacking in valuable conversions that they will add paid ads as a way to amplify their message and content, and accelerate their growth.

Now here’s one more thing to think about before we wrap up.

If you’re in a business where there is a cap on how much you can provide people, for example, you’re a service-based business and you only have so much time, it might seem like paid socials might not be worth it for you.

And they still might not, but consider this, if you have any plans in your business to offer something that can be scaled, like a replicable product you’re selling on an e-commerce store, or an online offering like a course or templates, then paid ads might be a really smart way for you to grow your audience in preparation for that.

Building and nurturing an audience in advance of releasing a scalable offer is just about the most magical thing you can do, and this goes to the heart of content marketing.

If you can spend a couple of years providing valuable content to your audience, nurturing them, creating a community for them, once you have your scalable offer ready, you’ll have a much wider pool of people to offer it to, and will most likely see much more success and accelerated growth.

This article is based on an episode of my podcast, Unearth Your Herd… check it out!

8 Ways Small Businesses Use Social Media

#1—Distributing content and boosting traffic referrals

Number one; small businesses use social media for distributing content and boosting traffic referrals.

So if you’re using social media as a tool within a greater content marketing system, social media platforms become sort of conduit.

And the way this works in practice is to choose one primary content platform, a couple of distribution platforms and then a couple of repurpose platforms. And one or two of those distribution platforms would be a social media platform.

The primary content platform is that one platform where you invest time, resources and energy into creating regular content that is valuable and relevant to your target audience.

So for example, for me, my primary content platform is podcasting, and I distribute that on Instagram and email, and repurpose it to social media resources and website blogs.

Other primary content streams might include blogging, podcasting, or youtubing. Perhaps a regular digest or a wrap-up of the goings-on in your industry, which could take digital form as an e-book, or a schmick email channel, or it could even be offline in the form of a mini magazine or newspaper.

The reason for doing structuring it this way is so that you can get the most mileage possible out of your chunky, longform content, and so that as many people see your content as possible, in different formats.

People like to consume content differently, so it’s good to offer a few different ways for people to access your content.

It’s also really useful to send social followers to your website because it’s good for your SEO. The links themselves aren’t technically part of Google’s ranking algorithm, but the traffic that you send to your website then becomes part of the factors that Google will use to determine whether to rank your page.

In practice, if you have a social following that know, like and trust you, and are clicking through the links you share, and staying on the page for a good amount of time consuming the content, and then perhaps clicking through to other pages on your website, that improves the way Google sees your website.

That is, as relevant and useful.

Now, paid ads are also really useful here too.

There’s a limit to the reach you can achieve organically, so paid advertising can both ensure your current following is seeing what you’re posting, and also attracting new followers.

If they see an ad, resonate with the content, click through and browse the article and your website, that’s both feeding the Google algorithm, it’s also getting you new followers.

And if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to then bring those people into your fold by providing them with content that they love, and eventually getting them onto your email list, where as mentioned last episode, you’ll have much more control over how you reach them and the types of conversations you’re having with them.

#2—Generating leads and customers

The second way that small businesses use social media is for generating leads and customers.

Social media is a really great top of the funnel or ‘TOFU’ activity.

Meaning, it’s a great place to find new people, especially when using paid ads to amplify your message.

Now, there’s a difference between a new follower and a lead.

A follower can be passive, lurking without ever taking action.

Defining a lead comes down to your business offering and structure, but leads are generally categorised as ‘cold’, ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ leads.

A cold lead isn’t really a lead, but it’s someone who has the potential to become a lead, based on their demographics as they relate to your target market.

A warm lead has interacted a little bit, like answered a question sticker on Insta, or perhaps clicked through to your website via Pinterest.

A hot lead has initiated a conversation with you, or responded to one you initiated with them.

But as I say, it’ll depend on your business and how you want to define a lead.

The important thing to remember here is that your social media followers probably fit into the cold leads category, meaning that they’ll need nurturing to move into a warm leads category.

And there are a couple of things that are helpful in transitioning new followers into warm and hot leads, and then eventually into customers:

  1. Sharing valuable content on the social media platform, including posts, stories, videos, online events, and so on
  2. Running paid ads to your existing following to ensure as many people as possible are seeing the content
  3. Setting up systems to move followers onto multiple platforms so that you can communicate with them more often and in different ways, for example via email or perhaps on your YouTube platform
  4. Depending on your industry and service or product, setting up a sales consultation system and process might be the big piece needed to turn hot leads into customers

And the other powerful thing with social media that I mentioned above, is social media ads.

So whether that’s Facebook and Instagram ads, Pinterest ads, LinkedIn Ads, and so on.

These will help you reach new people by entering your ideal demographics, and also by creating custom audiences that are similar to the people you already have in your ecosystem.

Defining a lead comes down to your business offering and structure, but leads are generally categorised as ‘cold’, ‘warm’ and ‘hot’ leads.

#3—Social commerce + E-commerce

The third way that small businesses use social media is by using social commerce and e-commerce.

Social commerce is the functionality to find out about, research and buy products completely from within the social apps or channels, rather than clicking out onto a browser.

It’s super effective for lower ticket products because the barriers to purchase are removed and the purchasing process is slick and clean and painless for the customer.

No slow-loading pages and issues with mobile responsiveness, or strange pop-ups. It’s a seamless, sexy experience, and these days buyers crave that, whether they know it or not.

E-commerce refers to when the purchase takes place off of the app. This is how most purchases are made obviously, and with a great checkout process can be just as effective.

Social commerce is kind of the new, sexy way to do things, and with a generation of kids that live on social media, and live on their phones, it’s probably not something that will go away.

#4—Brand + authority building

The fourth way that small businesses use social media is to build their brand and their authority.

Ok so if you didn’t listen to episode 2 on brand strategy, go back and listen to that one, because in it I talked about the overall concept of brand and branding and brand strategy and all of that.

But your BRAND is the thoughts, feelings and emotions that come up for people when they hear your brand name, your business name.

I like to think of the brand as a big umbrella that encompasses literally eeeverything to do with your business, including everything your employees and business partners do (both on the clock and off).

So on social media, we have a massive opportunity to display your brand, and to solidify your brand messaging and identity.

Not all social media platforms are visual spaces, but most are. So you think of Instagram and Facebook, Pinterest, Tiktok and YouTube—They’re all very visual.

These are the places that branding activities can focus on the visual side of your brand.

They’re also the kinds of platforms where you can humanise the brand through sharing behind-the-scenes content so that people can connect with the human behind the brand… soooooo important.

Other platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn, are more info and text based, so this is where you can showcase your authority a little more. Clubhouse also fits into this category, I’d say. If you don’t know what Clubhouse is, Google that one!

Forum platforms like Reddit and Tripadvisor loosely fit into social media are often about showcasing the human side of your business when it comes to customer service, by answering questions without asking for anything in return.

Now, there are platforms that exist outside of the social media realm which are also great at these things, and some are even better.

For example, building your authority is much more effective in a podcasting medium, or by blogging or guest posting. Guest posting is writing authoritative articles on other people’s websites and blogs, and is a supercharged way to start to build an authoritative personal brand which can feed into your overall business brand.

Ok one more thought to leave you with when it comes to brand building on social media.

You need to think about what platforms or content mediums or media are going to achieve what you’re trying to achieve.

Which platforms are really well aligned to your brand strategy and your messaging, including your brand values, your vision and your mission?

Take Instagram Reels for example.

It’s one of those things that people continue to jump on the bandwagon with, with little to no consideration as to whether it’s achieving what you really want to achieve.

The dancy pointy Insta Reels can be really great (no pun intended) for some accounts, and just make others look silly.

I personally follow a few accounts where the Reels they’ve made have completely tarnished the brand for me. Way too basic and lacking uniqueness and it just turned me off them.

Also not to mention, does anyone actually ever remember the facts held within a Reel? I don’t!

Whereas when I read a blog post or listen to a podcast, I’m much more likely to retain that information, and identify the author or the host as an authority.

But on the other hand, I’ve seen some Reels that have made me think—what a cool chick. I want to be friends with her. Or, that’s an interesting claim, let me research that. And so on.

So it’s really all about what you’re trying to achieve, what’s your objective, and it can’t be transplanted from the experience of other people and other accounts.

And one other thing, don’t confuse ‘Reach’ for success when it comes to building your brand.

Just because some platforms or some styles of content have better reach, that is, more people see them or interact with them, it doesn’t mean you’re building the brand of your dreams.

In fact, sometimes a high reach can literally mean the opposite, when people observe your content in a kind of voyeuristic sense—I certainly watch a lot of Reels that I’m like ‘that person looks so bloody uncomfortable, why am I watching this!’ Yet I will then be recorded as a watch… So just be careful with that!

This article is based on an episode of my podcast, Unearth Your Herd… check it out!

#5—Customer service

The fifth way that small businesses use social media is as a core part of their customer service delivery.

On some social media platforms, the inbox is where many people will go for questions about your offering.

It’s a great tool to make use of because it’s free, and it’s where your customers and potential customers are hanging out online already, so there’s less barrier for them to get the help they need.

It’s also great because you can set up auto responses, either including a heads up for how long it might take to get a response, or even links to FAQs, which is a great way to help people help themselves.

Chatbots are great too, because you can configure an entire conversation with a person, to direct them to the correct answers for their questions.

Another really great feature of social media for customer service is the ability to monitor conversations and sentiments of customers, via comment feeds and posts that are tagged with your brand name or tagline.

So if customers are commenting about a particular feature that’s lacking in one of your products, there are a couple of things you can do.

Firstly, you can comment directly on the conversation, and offer a solution or explanation for the lacking feature.

And secondly, you can bring that insight into your product or service design moving forward, which will remove friction from your customers and make them more likely to stick around, or buy again in the future.

#6—Community building

Number 6, small businesses use social media as a way to build and foster a community.

Some social media platforms are better at this than others, but building a community is an attractive feature to some industries.

Facebook groups is one of the most popular ways to do this, as it allows people to feel like they’re part of the inner fold of your community.

It’s not right for every business or niche though, so it’s worth thinking about what purpose a group would serve.

If you literally just want another way to communicate with your people, then you’re missing the point.

But if you’re there to foster conversation, to deliver workshops and special insider perks, and to build a community of people that can support each other, that’s where you’ll thrive.

Other places where communities can thrive are in forum-like platforms such as Reddit. This is because these forums and subforums can get super niche—like mega niche. So people gather around that community because they’ve found their people.

Businesses don’t facilitate those platforms though, they just contribute.

Whereas in a Facebook group, you create, facilitate and moderate that community—which by the way is a lot of work, so only go down that path if you have the time to do that!

I don’t have any numbers on this, but anecdotally, I think many people are getting pretty sick of Facebook groups, and I’m not convinced that you’re going to get the engagement you might be expecting in a Facebook group.

Personally, I really dislike Facebook and I avoid it like the plague.

But anyway that’s number six!

#7—Networking & collaborations

Moving on to number seven, small businesses use social media for networking and to find business to collaborate with.

A big part of marketing your business is surrounding yourself with a network of both people or businesses that you can serve, and people or businesses that you can collaborate with to serve others.

Social networking is the OG activity on social platforms; it’s why they existed in the first place.

So it makes sense that it’s a great place to meet new people, to connect with like minded groups and societies, and to transition to different conversations with people you know from elsewhere, for example, adding a colleague on Facebook where you can comment on each other’s cats instead of talking about spreadsheets all day.

Widening your network is helpful in so many ways;

  • You learn and grow from people you wouldn’t normally interact with and generate fresh ideas that you wouldn’t normally have considered
  • You raise your authority by association; the people in your network recognise your connection with an authority figure as a marker of your authority
  • You elevate your visibility and stay top of mind for work and engagement opportunities, and you’ll be the one people recommend when someone needs help with your thing, or needs your product or service
  • You’ll boost your self confidence by being surrounded with people who understand where you’re coming from and the struggles you face
  • You might even make real-life friends which will make you a more fulfilled, more emotionally resilient person

Facebook groups, Clubhouse, Instagram, Reddit, Tikok… all the platforms are great for this.

And you can do this under your own brand, via your personal accounts, or if you’re a small business owner or sole trader it’s usually best to do it from your biz account.

Collaborations are another great marketing activity that often kick off from within social media.

They’re great because they allow you to tap into another audience, and if you’re smart about it, the business you collaborate with will have a similar target audience to yours.

Collaborations can be initiated on social media and then executed on the same platform, or perhaps you move onto another platform to continue. Or perhaps you’re collaborating on a product or service.

In any case, social media is a fantastic way to initiate those conversations in a casual, low-commitment way, and is a fantastic way for small businesses to grow their audience and traffic.

#8—Market + competitor research

And the last way that small businesses use social media that I thought of, is for market research and competitor research.

Organic socials give you a nice snapshot of who’s attracted to your business because of who is following you, interacting, commenting, messaging, answering your polls and story questions, and so on.

You can also easily contact them, reply to comments, ask them questions and also check out their profiles.

Paid social media ads are another great way to do market research, because you’re able to split test what target demographics are interacting with your ads and are the most engaged.

For example, you might have one ad set going to a group that lives in Sydney and one to a group that lives in Melbourne, and then you can definitively say that your Melbourne ads performed better, therefore your offering is most suited to that audience demographic. And obviously that was a super broad example but hopeful you get the drift.

Another key way to learn about your audience is via Google Analytics. So you can specifically look at the referral traffic from social media platforms, and you can compare that with the referral traffic from, say, email, or search engines.

That way, you can start to understand not only who they are, where they’re coming from, what devices they’re using, but also how they’re behaving on your website.

And finally, social media is a great place to do some competitor research.

You can find out what customers in your industry are resonating with, how they’re receiving certain types of products or service offerings, or how they’re interacting with different styles of communication or different forms of creative, like video content, for example.

You’ll also be able to keep abreast of trends and relevant topics.

Obviously competitor research isn’t about copying or imitating your competitors because that just makes you look desperate, but it’s staying in tune with what’s going on around you so that you aren’t falling behind, or you aren’t tonedeaf with any of your marketing activities.

Photo credit: Saulo Mohana

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land we predominantly work on, the Ngunnawal people. We recognise that ‘Australia’ was founded on the dispossession of First Nations people, that sovereignty was never ceded, and that this country always was and always will be, their land. Hiatus Studios pays our rent by making monthly donations to Healing Foundation, which supports Stolen Generations survivors, their families and communities.

© Copyright Ellie Keft 2021