Facebook, Pinterest, pokes, likes, Twitter, pages, retweets, Linkedin, Instagram, hashtags, favourites, Tumblr, pins. If you're not familiar with social media marketing then getting started with it can be bewildering. There's a plethora of conflicting opinions out there about how small companies can make a good go of it, so MT spoke to some experts to give you a flavour of what it takes to be successful.
If you're still one of uninitiated (i.e. living under a rock for the last eight years or so), most social media essentially functions by showing users updates, from friends, famous people they're a fan of, sports teams, the media, brands they like, and so on and so forth. Updates can be text, links, pictures, videos, or a combination.
The most fundamental and basic point is to make those updates engaging, so that people actually take interest in them, rather than seeing them as a naked sales pitch. Get them interested first - then they might decide to buy something from you later.
'Sometimes businesses forget the very first word and what it is, and that's being social,' says Barrie Le Gall, a social media consultant known as FoundUB4. 'So they're using it to air their voice rather than making their audience feel wanted and special - for want of a better phrase.'
What's the point?
Used well, social media can help you reach customers for a much lower budget than traditional marketing avenues. 'What social media has allowed businesses to do is proactively talk to customers without big budgets,' says Charlotte Brooks, head of client services at Born Social.
'One of the advantages small businesses have is, although they might be short on time, they're not going to have huge communities to deal with. For the likes of Coca-Cola it's very difficult to build a genuine relationship, whereas if you're a small person with the same person doing your replies, it's amazing how many relationships you can build.'
'Some people come to social media thinking it's come kind of miracle cure to solve all of my marketing problems,' says Tarryn Blackwood, an account director at We Are Social. 'Loads of businesses dip their toes into social and and get burnt a bit because they haven't seen a lot of value coming back. It's really key for people to have a proper plan and a proper strategy and be really realistic on what they can get out of it.'
Think about what your potential customers will find interesting. If you're a food company it might be that you could share a recipe suggestions, if you sell sports cars then you could share some news you've seen about Formula 1. A good example is Zoopla, which lures in Twitter followers with pretty pictures of houses, competitions and news about the property market.
'You've got to constantly ask yourself, why should anyone care about this?' says Brooks. 'If you're gym and your opening hours are changing, or you've got a new personal trainer joining the team, people want to know that stuff. If your receptionists are changing their t-shirt colour, that's not very interesting. Make sure with everything you're putting out, you're giving a reason for people to follow you.'
Rather than spending time or money creating a load of new content, it's worth seeing if you can repurpose existing marketing output, like email newsetters, blog posts and images. 'For a small business I think it's quite key to be realistic about what you can put in there,' says Blackwood. 'Thinking you can go with Instagram when you're a company with no existing visual content, that's going to be very tricky.'
Don't spread yourself too thin
There's a lot of different social media platform and it can be tempting to rush out there and open an account on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Linkedin, Quora, Tumblr etc. etc. Assuming you won't be dedicating a vast amount of time to social media, it's better to instead focus on a particular platform or maybe two which best suit what you're trying to do. 'It's not about giving a little on a lot of platforms, it's about knowing where that value is going to come from,' says Blackwood.
There was a time when you could use platforms like Facebook for free to easily keep customers updated with your lastest coming and goings, but it's got more difficult in the last few years. Only a few of your fans will see your latest updates in their newsfeeds, so it can be worth investing in boosting your updates and promoting your page to get it seen by a wider audience.
Facebook arguably offers the best value for money in this respect as its targeting options, which allow you to aim your social media updates at certain demographics, are the most developed. 'If you've got a thousand people that like your page, you're only going to be able to reach a small amount of people,' says Le Gall. 'Paying to make sure people do see your posts is exceptionally important.'
That's a very brief overview of how to get started but there's thousands of resources available both online and off which can give a thorough insight into different platforms, long-term social marketing strategies and everything inbetween. Get tweeting...