If you’re a small-business owner who realises the importance of social media but feels overwhelmed by the information, misinformation, statistics and hype, you’re not alone. Even if you think you have a handle on setting up a social media profile and using it for your business, it pays to review what you think you know, think about how to use social media more effectively and make sure you’re keeping up with changes. 

Here’s the latest on Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media channels and the ways your small business can reap the greatest benefits.

Why Your Small Business Needs Social Media

You’re probably aware that social media is important. But are you aware of just how important it is? Consider these four reasons you cannot ignore social media and why you have to make it a priority now.

Increases Brand Recognition: Small businesses have a challenge when it comes to standing out from the online crowd. Consumers today expect companies, whether they’re large or small, to have an easily recognisable online presence. They expect a company to have the lot—a website, a Facebook page and a Twitter presence. They want to see how you engage your customers. They want to see that your company is more than a facade. They want to know about the people behind the business. Ambassador, a platform for referral marketing, discovered that 71 per cent of consumers who have a positive customer service experience with a brand through social media are likely to recommend the brand to others. Effective use of social media gives small businesses an opportunity to generate prospects and convert them into customers. Social media is the word-of-mouth advertising of the digital age.

Enhances Customer Service: The real beauty of social media for business is the opportunity to fully and instantly engage customers. In increasing numbers, customers head to social media to ask about products or services, ask for help with orders, ask questions about usage and—it will happen—complain about something. Each customer interaction, including how you deal with the complaints, gives small business customer service the chance to shine. Followers learn how your company deals with problems, get a feel for the people behind the brand and see firsthand how your company feels about and treats its customers. Using social media also gives you a platform to let customers know about new products, delays and other relevant issues. An added bonus comes from positive customer posts that rave about your products or services and thank you for solving whatever problem they had. Think of such posts as instant testimonials. Here’s a stat to ponder: 92 percent of U.K. customers report leaving a business and finding another after receiving what they perceive to be poor customer service. Clearly, anything that makes it easier to serve your customer is bound to be good for business.

Lower Advertising Costs Lead to Higher ROI: One thing nearly all small businesses, particularly startups, have in common is a limited advertising budget. How does free advertising sound? That’s what you get through social media channels. You’ll still have to spend on traditional marketing methods at times, but you can post several times a day on Facebook and Twitter absolutely free.

Improves SEO Rankings: Good news! Your social media posts find their way to search engines. One of your posts may very well be a web visitor’s first contact with your company. That’s no small thing.

Now you know why you have to make time to implement social media. Here’s how.

Stay On Top Of Twitter

Twitter is one of the biggies for small businesses. Twitter is the perfect tool for interacting with your audience. With approximately 320 million users, Twitter is an avenue for quickly connecting on a global scale. Easy follower engagement is one of the platform’s strengths: You can use images, videos and polls to encourage communication. Many customers use Twitter as a primary means of communication with a business. To use Twitter effectively, however, means you have to be on top of it at all times. In fact, customers who post on your Twitter account with a problem or question expect an answer within an hour. You read that right—one hour. Twitter, more than any other social media channel, demands constant attention.

Make Facebook Your Priority

Facebook’s 1.8 billion active users make the platform ideal for small businesses and startups who need to put their brand in front of as many eyes as possible. It’s also less labour-intensive—you don’t have to post on Facebook as often as you do on Twitter. You do have to read and respond to posts daily, particularly posts that require a customer service response, but if you post once or twice a week, that’s OK. You can post videos, images, behind-the-scenes photos and links to a variety of resources within Facebook. If you only choose one social media platform, choose Facebook.

Determine Whether Instagram Suits Your Brand

Instagram equals visuals. Owned by Facebook, Instagram is, for all intents and purposes, a strictly mobile social media channel, and posts on the platform are always photos or videos. With more than 600 million users, you can’t overlook Instagram entirely, but you can determine if it’s right for your business before jumping in. If your business has to do with art, travel, fashion or food, then yes, use Instagram. If your business doesn’t have an artistic flavour, Instagram is probably not where you want to spend a lot of time.

Consider Pinterest For Visual Marketing

Pinterest is another visually oriented platform. Users are primarily women, and, again, businesses in the fashion, cooking, DIY projects, food and beauty industries do well on Pinterest. Pinterest is organised in categories, pinboard-style. If your business relies heavily on visual marketing, consider using Pinterest.

Final Tips: No matter which social platforms you use, balance is key. Your posts should not be all about you. Sharing the posts of others, posting reference and how-to information from relevant sources, and communicating with customers is what puts the “social” in social media.