As a small business owner, are you still fumbling with social media, trying to figure out how to use it to its fullest potential? You aren't the only one—developing a mastery over social media has flummoxed many a small business owner. In his new book, Social Media Promotion for Small Business and Entrepreneurs, Bobby Owsinski, president and CEO of Bobby Owsinski Media Group, breaks down the components of an effective social media strategy and dispels some particularly stubborn rumors.
Focus On Your Small Business Website First
Look on the Web and you'll see small businesses pouring their hearts and souls into Facebook or YouTube, but with nary a care for their website. "That's a bad mistake," Owsinski says. "I think the very center of your online universe has to be your small business website, only because you have the most control over it."
Websites may seem old school to today's entrepreneurs, but Owsinski says the opposite is true. You have very little command over the look and feel of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. "The only thing that you can really control all the time is your website," Owsinski explains. It's why he strongly believes that small businesses shouldn't neglect their sites. "Cultivate your website as your main focus. Everything should drive towards that."
Rethinking Your Social Media Strategy
Another reason to rethink where social media channels fit into your overall online strategy is the lack of real reach these sites offer. Many platforms limit—either purposely or simply as a function of their design—how effective they actually are in cultivating followers.
"It wasn't that long ago—about 18 months—that Facebook instituted a new policy," Owsinski explains. "It decreased the average reach of posts to somewhere between 12 and 15 percent [of followers]." That means that unless you're willing to pay for better post distribution, only a fraction of your audience actually sees your posts.
Email, another platform that some people assume is past its prime, should also be more widely leveraged. Email campaigns offer small businesses nearly limitless control over the look, feel, content and reach, and they're inherently relevant to recipients.
"People have given you permission to send them something, which means they're looking forward to it," Owsinski says. That isn't always the case on social media, where followers are sometimes passive or only occasionally engaged. By organically compiling an email list where recipients have opted in, small business owners know they have an audience that wants to hear from them—right at their fingertips. "Not only is your reach better, but your engagement is better," Owsinski says.
Content marketing through social media is already popular with the small business community, but Owsinski says many miss the opportunities presented by blogging. Assuming a business creates good, useful content, he says, "one of the things [blogging] does is establish them as an expert."
Content doesn't always need to come from an expert's perspective, though. "It could also be something about a product, new products you've found, new products you're developing. Any of those things might be interesting to your customers," says Owsinski.
Social Media Posting Schedules Matter
Generating new content every day can be difficult because it takes time to think of ideas, write them down, edit, and then post them. With a blog, Owsinski says a weekly or even biweekly basis can still be effective in engaging an audience. He adds, "If you commit to it, you do have to do it at that frequency level forever and ever." Successful blogs pay off handsomely, but Owsinski says dedication is the key. "It's something that shouldn't be taken lightly."
Regardless of where you post—blog, Facebook, Twitter—a sporadic posting schedule will likely hurt your business more than an infrequent one. "Really, you could post once a month and be very effective if everyone who follows your blog knows that it's going to be posted at 2:00 p.m. on the first Tuesday of the month—and that happens without fail," Owsinski explains. He likens it to a TV schedule, where viewers expect their favorite show to be on at the same time on the same night. Uprooting that schedule is almost certain to reduce your audience.
Too Much Social Media?
Not unlike a selfie-obsessed celebrity, businesses sometimes over use social media. It's a relatively inexpensive platform and the barrier to entry is low. Small businesses often try to keep too many channels going in their desire to cast a wide net, ultimately spreading themselves too thin. All they end up with is a plethora of poorly managed and ineffective online feeds.
"I believe you should be on the major platforms," Owsinski says, "those being Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and perhaps one other one, perhaps Instagram. For some businesses it might be Pinterest." These are the sites with the most reach, he explains. For time-strapped small businesses, your efforts are likely to pay the biggest dividends on those channels.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.