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How to do social media: A guide for small businesses and entrepreneurs

SkillsCategory
22 min read
Kayla Schilthuis-Ihrig

If you’re wondering how to do social media for your business and think you need a roadmap to navigate the ins and outs of today’s social media landscape, you’re in the right place.

How to do social media: The roadmap

Use this guide to position your venture for success on the social platforms where your customers spend their time. 

Let’s get started.

What’s changed with social media?

The discussion about social media for small businesses used to be simpler. It revolved around a few social networks, which had differences that were easy to parse. Instagram equaled pictures; YouTube equaled videos. “Facebook? It’s the one with opposable thumbs.” 

Social media platforms have climbed out of their primitive goop and evolved from simple organisms to complex forms. And, despite the vast landscape of social media, platforms are evolving to look more and more alike.

Live video? Sure — on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Pinterest and Twitter.

Yet no single map precisely navigates the landscape of more than one platform. It’s worth it to take the time to do it right, though — by being authentic, offering content your audience values, and building relationships with your customers and prospects.

Social media marketing can generate returns like nothing else can.

You won’t go viral with your first post. And you shouldn’t expect to boom on every platform simultaneously. But the payoffs are great for those small business owners who learn how to do social media the right way.

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What’s possible with social media marketing?

Simply put, social media marketing is the process of sharing content (photos, videos and text) on different social media channels, where it’s viewed by the public. It’s an extension of your digital marketing efforts.

At the core of social media for small businesses is the opportunity to connect with new and existing customers and build your sphere of influence through those outlets.

Central to your success with social media marketing is your customers’ and prospects’ ability to find value in what you have to offer.

Mindset: You have to earn people’s attention on social media; no one owes it to you, and they won’t pay attention unless something is in it for them.

By learning how to do social media in a way that provides clear value to your customers and prospects, you can::

  1. Establish expertise. When you share your knowledge freely and display your expertise on social media, you build more than just a following — you create an audience that remembers you as a thought leader in your industry.
  2. Build brand awareness and audience. You already undertake a wide variety of brand awareness tactics routinely. Social media marketing is just the latest evolution of setting up a booth at industry events and sharing your elevator pitch.
  3. Drive funnel and website traffic. Sharing a valuable freebie or new product announcement that interests your target audience can generate clicks to drive traffic to your funnel, selling your products and services.
  4. Be remembered. Attention is a powerful currency, and attention from social media marketing results in you being remembered as the “it” person for what you offer.
  5. See conversions. Ultimately, these activities all lead to the same place: conversions.

While a business’s ultimate goal is sales, social media marketing can also result in other powerful indirect conversions:

  • Referrals. Someone who’s never used your services but remembers you as “the X person” will be quick to recommend you.
  • Industry elevation. Being included in industry publications and round-ups won’t drive sales directly but are a fantastic way to reach an even larger audience.

Exercise: Look for examples of successful social media marketing from brands that you buy from. Can you identify the purpose behind one of their social posts? Start to pull back the curtain on social media marketing.

Bottom line: Always remember why you’re sharing. Learning how to do social media to reap its benefits rests on sharing with a clear purpose in mind.

Using social media marketing as a funnel

Social media marketing unlocks a spectrum of possibilities for your business — both positive and negative. And no, I’m not talking about negative comments.

This is an important realization: You don’t own your social media channels, either the content published there or your followers. Social media accounts live on borrowed land, and you could always lose access to what you’ve built there. Every single business still needs a website.

Always treat social media as a funnel that leads back to your owned content.

Vine disappeared overnight in 2016. Pinterest and LinkedIn accounts get mistakenly suspended. Instagram and Facebook accounts get hacked and held for a hefty ransom. TikTok has been banned altogether by a (potentially growing) list of countries.

Social media marketing is a way to explode your brand awareness, but small businesses should continue the conversation off of the page.

The benefits of social media marketing are exciting, but if you don’t enter the jungle with clear expectations you’ll quickly get discouraged.

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Setting realistic expectations

On any given social network sit countless abandoned profiles from creators who gave up on their social media marketing strategy, leaving their accumulated audience, followers and invested time to collect dust.

The most common mistake? Not accounting for the buy-in period of sweat equity that social media marketing requires. 

As a Pinterest marketer, I’ve seen countless creators loftily declare “flags at half-mast — Pinterest is dead!” They abandon their strategy, making a dire miscalculation: it takes months for Pinterest to even index your pins for search results.

Exercise: Research how long growth takes on the social channels you’re pursuing.

Give your social media strategy time

There’s no hard figure for how long it takes to build an audience on social media, but as a rule of thumb:

Don’t start executing a social media strategy on any platform if you’re not committed to at least a year of work.

Give yourself time to:

  • Learn the ins and outs of making quality content.
  • Nurture a real, genuine relationship with viewers and earn quality followers.
  • Upskill your graphic design, video editing or whatever skills the platform demands.

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Should you spend money on social media marketing?

Part of the allure of social media has long been the price tag: free. Minus your time and the resources used to develop quality content, of course. Those resources are especially hefty, though, to an entrepreneur juggling all their daily responsibilities while exploring how to do social media for the first time.

Small businesses can make three main forms of financial investment in social media marketing:

  • Paid ads
  • Social media management
  • Software

Social media ads

Ads can seem like a social media marketing hack: spend some money and see your reach skyrocket. But they aren’t the solution for every product, service or small business.

“Paid ads aren’t a magic solution where you spend money and immediately get sales,” warns marketer Ravi Davda. “It must be done properly, but it’s a way to be seen and drive traffic rapidly, rather than counting solely on organic methods.”

So, how do you know if you’re ready for social media ads?

Social media ads specialist Joe Brady shared this advice:

“When you have a proven offer with positive reviews, that’s when you’re ready to pursue paid ads. You don’t want to run ads for something that’s not been proven. Otherwise, you won’t know if it’s the ads that are the problem or what you’re selling is not in demand.”

Social media management

You can hire social media managers, sometimes also referred to as ghostwriters or freelance content creators, to create and publish content on your behalf.

You can hire help that’s:

  • Platform-specific, such as a Twitter manager.
  • Content-specific, such as hiring a short-form video content creator.

Note: This is not to be confused with an influencer, who would create content for your account and post it on their own social media profiles.

LinkedIn ghostwriter Renate Linnenkoper shared this insight:

“It’s easy to end up spending hours producing social media content instead of actually having the time to find new clients. Outsourcing your social media content creation is a great way to attract dream clients to your profile through storytelling content without having to rely on paid ads.”

Both of these financial investments save time, but there’s also another option that fits every budget.

Editor’s note: The experts at GoDaddy’s Digital Marketing Services can help you attract and manage your customers with targeted social ad and email campaigns — and measure your success.

Free social media management tools

Behind every social media marketing strategy is a host of systems and tools that save time.

Building a social media presence takes consistency, and that’s best achieved using a content calendar and scheduling tools.

A few popular social media management tools include:

  • Sprout Social for scheduling, analytics, engagement and account management.
  • Free native schedulers within the different social channels.
  • Collaborative software such as Airtable, Notion or Trello to help visualize your social media content calendar and plan out social media campaigns.

Don’t worry about picking specific tools from the get-go; instead, reference this list once you’ve picked which social media channels you’ll focus on.

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Choosing the best social media channels for your business

Despite their overlaps, each social media channel has unique strengths.

An effective social media strategy weighs the strengths of each social network and looks at what type of content thrives there.

Ask yourself these questions as you evaluate the best social media channel(s) for your business:

  • Who is my target customer, and where do they spend their time?
  • Do I prefer to write instead of sharing visuals?
  • What content will I routinely share?

Let’s see which platform is your smartest starting point.

LinkedIn

Post content on LinkedIn providing value and showing that you’re a reliable source of information on your given subject, and the recommendations will start to come in.

Sound too easy?

As personal branding specialist Jessie van Breugel puts it, “Treat LinkedIn as your job for six months and you’ll never be out of work again.” Jessie has used his account to grow his email list and position himself as a go-to source on personal branding.

Important: That translates to building your own personal account, not your company’s LinkedIn page.

LinkedIn roll-call:

  • Content type: Text-based content with optional photos or videos; plus live video.
  • Content style: Can be polished, relating to your small business, or can be personal and casual, relating to your lifestyle.
  • Unique opportunity: Instead of just creating fresh content for yourself every day, you can grow your network by simply engaging with content from others (like this).

Pinterest

Plot twist: Pinterest’s actually not a social network.

Pinterest is a search engine where users look for answers to their queries. When a user enters a term in the search bar, they’re directed to images or videos (called pins) that link back to the websites of bloggers, brands and small businesses.

As a Pinterest specialist, my Pinterest account reaches millions of people per month, which has driven website traffic, brought in new clients, and grown my email list.

The opportunities are enormous, but Pinterest isn’t the ideal platform for every small business owner. Businesses with a lot of quality links on their website (products, blog posts, etc.) are going to see the most success.

Pinterest roll-call:

  • Content type: Visual content, either static or video; plus live video on Pinterest.
  • Content style: Seasonal, informational and lifestyle.
  • Unique opportunity: Longevity. Content on Pinterest lasts for years, not days.

Related: The entrepreneur’s guide to Pinterest marketing

TikTok

TikTok is the adolescent of the social media family, but there’s an audience there for all demographics. In 2021, it became the most visited website in the world, but do you have the type of content to grow your business on TikTok?

In order to answer yes, you must be prepared to produce a lot of content focused on the same topic

SEO specialist Kate Smoothy, who has amassed some 19,000 TikTok followers and uses the platform to grow her email list and client base, shared this advice:

“You don’t have to be focussed on one type of content on TikTok, but you do need to be focused on your niche. I would actually encourage creators to try lots of different types of content to find what their audience likes best! But stay in your lane.

@webhivedigital You can pay a lot of money for SEO tools but you don’t need to. Some of the best SEO tools are free! #seo #searchengineoptimisation #digitalmarketing #marketingtips #seotipsandtricks ♬ original sound - Kate Smoothy | Websites & SEO

TikTok roll-call:

  • Content type: Short-form video, or static content with a video or audio element, accompanied by text; plus live video.
  • Content style: Trending, informational, lifestyle or entertainment.
  • Unique opportunity: Virality and quick growth potential.

Instagram

Open Instagram today and you’ll notice a very different type of content than you used to see pre-2020. Once a social network for hyper-curated photos, Instagram is “no longer just a square photo-sharing app.

Small business owners can now reach new customers and clients through photos (posts), permanent videos (reels), disappearing videos, text or images (stories) and direct messages.

Most platforms have a direct messaging feature, but Instagram is one of the social media platforms where this feature really shines.

Charlotte Brand uses Instagram to find new clients for her content marketing business, and shared this advice for new small businesses joining the platform:

“Instagram is FULL of marketing potential for all types of small businesses, but when it comes to growing your account, you have to focus on the right metrics. Don’t worry about likes and followers too much; instead, focus on building a community and providing valuable content for your audience.”

Charlotte noted that sharing on Instagram stories provides personal, human connection like no other social network. Users watch stories as much or even more than they scroll the home feed, which means that casual and uncurated access to connect with your audience is uncapped.

Instagram roll-call:

  • Content type: Photos, short-form videos and disappearing content; plus live video.
  • Content style: Informative, lifestyle or entertainment.
  • Unique opportunity: Business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing, specifically in stories.

Related: How to sell on Instagram

YouTube

Like Pinterest, YouTube is actually a search engine, and the content you share there has an incredible shelf life: videos sit in search results for years.

Video marketing specialist Doug Dibert, Jr., has been using video marketing since 2005 and says that YouTube’s big opportunity lies in the fact that there’s more demand than supply.

“Imagine you discovered Google My Business before anyone else did. You’re getting all the benefits and your competition is baffled as to why you’re winning,” he says. “That’s what YouTube is right now for businesses.”

Google owns YouTube, which means that videos also get prime placement across Google search results.

The platform also offers a special direct monetization opportunity, where accounts (called channels) that meet certain engagement thresholds are eligible to directly monetize their content.

YouTube roll-call:

  • Content type: Video, traditionally longer-form but also short-form (YouTube Shorts); plus live video.
  • Content style: Informative, lifestyle or entertainment.
  • Unique opportunity: Visibility across both YouTube and Google, and high demand for content.

Related: How to get more customers with YouTube

Facebook

Facebook might be an old social media platform, but it still has an enormous and diverse audience, across all demographics.

Not only does this present small business owners with many potential leads, but users are also actively turning to businesses’ Facebook pages for information like reviews, business hours and direct communication through Facebook messenger.

Arthur Freydin is an entrepreneur with 10 years of Facebook marketing experience and these insights into the power of the platform:

“The platform allows business owners to communicate updates, new products, discounts, opening hours, customer testimonials, and much more on a platform with a very wide audience.”

Business owners can market their business through a Facebook business page or in Facebook groups using their personal account. It also has an incredibly robust ad system.

Facebook roll-call:

  • Content type: Text, images or video; plus live video.
  • Content style: Photos, videos and short-form video content as well as business page features consisting of reviews, business hours and direct messaging.
  • Unique opportunity: The ability to reach your target market through paid ads (called “boosting”).

Related: How to use Facebook Messenger for business

Twitter

Twitter is the fastest-moving social media platform, where a post (called a tweet) has the shortest lifespan when compared to the other platforms we’ve looked at .. a mere 23 minutes.

But a post on Twitter also requires the least amount of work. Currently, a tweet has a limit of 280 characters. That might change, but the concept won’t: tweets aren’t meant to be profound works of art.

The nature of the platform rewards short, spicy and conversation-provoking content, which makes it ideal for the big-picture part of your brand messaging.

Samson and Cecilia Hollmerus, who together run a small business offering travel coaching and community, use Twitter to build brand awareness:

“We use Twitter for our top-of-funnel content, and our aim is to create brand awareness for our travel community and courses.”

Twitter roll-call:

  • Content type: Short-form text, can include images and videos; plus live video.
  • Content style: Short, timely and topical.
  • Unique opportunity: The size of the stage. Tweet about a trending topic using a hashtag and your words can be seen by tens of thousands of viewers, no matter how many followers you have.

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5 steps to start using social media for business

You’ll find no shortage of tips online about how to use social media — a single TikTok video might flash 15 tips in a matter of seconds.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Follow these five basic steps and you’ll be ready to start creating the kind of social media content that converts.

1. Do your homework

The first step in any successful social media marketing strategy is listening.

See what kinds of accounts are popular in your industry and research:

  • Who’s being followed?
  • What topics are popular?
  • What content is resonating?

Listening might sound passive, but small business influencer Ivana Taylor shared this exercise:

“Make a list of frequently asked questions and answer them. Or, share your secrets, shortcuts and hacks that will help your customers or audience get better at what you do.”

Actively engage in the listening process by:

  • Writing down frequently asked questions (FAQ).
  • Saving good posts that you see.
  • Creating an ongoing idea document.

As you listen and gather content ideas, it’s time to define your social media marketing strategy.

2. Define your strategy

Start defining your social media strategy by answering these questions:

  1. Which social media platform will you start with?
  2. How many months will you commit to creating content, regardless of results?
  3. How often will you post?

Bear in mind your target outcomes.

Target outcomes

What is the goal of each social media post? These goals can cover:

  • Sales
  • Education
  • Authenticity
  • Follower growth
  • Lead generation
  • Brand awareness
  • Email list sign-ups
  • Display of expertise
  • Community engagement
  • Data collection

A well-rounded social media strategy would encompass all of these outcomes, even the ones that might seem less valuable, like authenticity.

Branding studio CEO Shana Sanders shared this insight into how authenticity generates more aligned leads:

“Be authentic with your social media marketing. Authenticity helps the audience see themselves being in the environment of working with you.”

Focus on creating content that covers all of these target outcomes in turn. Keep them front of mind as you’re creating social media content.

Add value

Anyone can post on social media, but not everyone turns their social media posts into conversions.

The biggest culprit? Failing to add value. Repurposing other small business marketing content, like sharing a link to a press release, is a losing approach.

Create content that’s:

  • Funny
  • Unique
  • Helpful
  • Engaging
  • Entertaining
  • Inspirational
  • Conversational
  • Thought-provoking
  • Community-oriented

You already have the ideas for your value-driven social media marketing; you just need to identify them.

Business and marketing strategist Annelise Worn shared this advice:

“Ask yourself: ‘what does my ideal client need to know, think and believe about me and my offer in order to say yes?’ Write them all down. Categorize them into three buckets. That’s your content.”

Exercise: Hold a 15-minute brainstorming session where you write down every single answer to this question.

Identify your target market

Before you can create content that speaks to your audience, you have to know who your audience is.

Consider both demographics and psychographics, including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Interests
  • Struggles
  • Education level
  • Income or budget

Getting into the demographic information can start to feel overly technical, but copywriting specialist and professor Jasmin Alić, who’s written for Fortune 500 companies, shares this advice:

“Every time you post on social media as your brand, remember you’re speaking to humans. Not businesses and robots — you’d be surprised how many business owners don’t understand this concept.”

Exercise: Just like an actor breaking the fourth wall, look the camera dead in the eyes and speak directly to the viewer. Use “you,” not “you guys.” Likewise, say “I,” not an anonymous “we.”

When your social media marketing converts and a viewer is ready to become a follower or purchase your products or services, it’ll be the act of a single human. Speak to them.

Related: How to update your business for changing demographics

3. Create shareable content

After you’ve defined your social media marketing goals and understand your audience, you must reach viewers with content that engages them.

Digital marketer Yogesh Kumar simplifies the type of content that gets shared online to just two words: “People share creative and relevant content with their followers.”

Exercise: Think about your own behavior as a social media user. What type of content do you deem share-worthy?

Related: How to create content calendars

4. Engage with your audience

Here’s one of the golden rules of social media marketing:

It’s not about you; it’s about them.

A relationship between two entities cannot be built if one party speaks about themselves into a megaphone. Your followers must be the focus of all of your social media marketing efforts, and engaging with them is an important part of this rule.

  • Ask questions.
  • Answer questions.
  • Respond to every comment.
  • Thank viewers for sharing their thoughts.
  • Engage one-on-one in direct messages (DM) with viewers when appropriate.

Lyssa Jackson, instructor and program manager at LinkedIn, shared this insight:

“Direct messaging is for starting conversations and for building our like, know and trust factor. Even if you don’t make a sale or book a call right away, approaching DMs with a relationship-first mindset will open your network if you’re clear about the problem you solve.”

Exercise: Make time to send followers or peers in your audience thoughtful messages (if it’s appropriate on the platform).

5. Measure success

What does success look like on social media?

Consider these key metrics:

  • Followers and views. These numbers give a sense of reach.
  • Engagement. Are people commenting on your content?
  • Shares. What content is motivating your followers to share it?
  • Clicks. Which posts are driving traffic to your website?
  • Action. Once they’re on your turf, are they converting?

For tangible measurements, look at platform analytics to access data from within each platform.

For intangibles, look at the quality of community you’re building and how qualified your inbound leads are.

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Conclusion and next steps

You’re making a wise investment by learning how to use social media marketing to grow your small business.

Instead of opening a brick-and-mortar establishment and waiting for potential leads to walk in, you’re going out into the world and finding them.

  • Start small.
  • Experiment.
  • Test your content.
  • Try out different platforms.
  • Play with the timing of your posts.
  • Treat every social media post as an opportunity to improve.

Watch your content evolve. You have no idea how your business might evolve with it.

Develop a quality, successful social media marketing strategy that’s an agent of your overall marketing goals, and your business will never be the same.

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