Social media - top five tips

I'm sure all business leaders know that social media is big news these days and it's getting increasingly essential for almost all walks of life. This General election is arguably being fought on social media more than ever before. There is the 'social election' on rise and in an article in the FT this week, Robert Cookson explains how digital advertising has become the mainstay for all parties' campaigns with the Conservatives in particular spending vast sums of money on Facebook targeted ads.

So, what can Cornish small and medium sized businesses learn from this? Here are my top five tips to increase your confidence in using social media, both organic and paid for.

1 What do you mean organic v paid for? What does that even mean?

OK, fair enough, this isn't really a tip because I created the question didn't I? But it's a good place to start if you're going to get serious about making good use of social media.

Organic means people finding you or your content by ordinary searches. This could be a search on a social media platform like Facebook or just on Google; either can take you to content as long as it's public. It's great when this happens but not guaranteed. What is good about all social media content - whether paid for or not - is that if it is managed well you can find out an awful lot about who's clicking on what and when and this is valuable insight for your business.

Paid for is probably more obvious but it's not as insidious as you might think. Unlike ordinary advertising in a newspaper or magazine, bus stop or cinema, social media advertising is very closely targeted. What this means is that the people who see your ad may more than likely already have an interest in the subject which means they are more likely to click and even if they don't they won't be annoyed by the ad. As with organic, you get a huge amount of feedback which is invaluable. Online advertising like this is also very cost-effective as you only pay when someone clicks.

2 But I just hate all that stuff - do I really have to get onto Facebook?

Try not to think of it in the same way as you might view your friend's, son/daughter's personal Facebook accounts. These are used purely for socialising and contain all the nonsense that you probably associate with social media - photos of cats, people posting pictures of their dinner etc etc. Forget all that, social media for business is different and you should approach it just like you would placing an ad in a local paper or doing a direct mail campaign.

You personally don't even have to engage with Facebook, you just have to make a decision that you want your business on there. These tips will help you make a start but calling in professional help is likely to be an even better way to make sure you are getting best value for money.

3 OK so how do I start?

If you are going to do it yourself you do have to begin by creating a Facebook account (by the way I'm just using Facebook as an example, there are hundreds of other options which I'll mention later). This must be in your own name, using your own email address etc to comply with Facebook's spam and privacy regs. But don't worry, your Facebook account can just be used as an administrative function, you don't need to put your photo on or any personal details and you don't even have to have any friends.

Once you have your account, you can set up a Facebook page. Pages are only for businesses, organisations or to represent a personality. The way you use a page is similar to an account but instead of friends you attract page 'likes'. Whenever someone likes your page they begin following all your posts.

Before you start though you must have a clear strategy as to why you want the page, who you expect to attract and what you want them to do once they've found you. It's no good just getting on there and then thinking, huh, what next? Although, if you do, it's no major drama it just means no-one will find you until you actually start doing something!

With a page you get all the insight you can handle and off you go.

4 But what on earth could I post about?

Consider your customers. What are they interested in? Why do they buy your product or use your service? What problem does it solve for them?

Your content must be relevant to them and it needs to add value to your business or product in some way.

There's a lot of talk about content 'curation' these days and this can be a very good way to engage your customers. If most of them are in the motor trade let's say, find content about cars or car components or motoring that interest and engage you and share it, comment on it, relate it back to your product.

5 I really don't have time for this!

I know, I know. And this is my opportunity for a plug.

A certain amount of social media management can absolutely be done by the owner/director of a small business but there comes a point where you have to decide what's best for you to spend your time on. Believe me, once you really get going with this, it sucks you in and you can be on there for hours. If you don't want to be sitting like a saddo in front of your screen at 1am scheduling tweets for the following day, pay someone else to do that for you!

6 (OK I said top 5 but I'm feeling generous) What are all the different sites actually for?

Here goes:

Facebook - social sharing of photos, video, status updates, links, almost anything you can think of.

Twitter - kind of the same but in 140 characters, very good for instant gratification, quick thoughts on current issues.

Instagram - mainly for sharing photos but is also a chat site. Good for companies who have things they can photograph such as events.

Pinterest - an online scrapbook - great for companies with products that can be grouped into attractive collections.

Tumblr - a blogsite that seems to attract a lot of creative types and unusual postings, good for creative companies with something quirky to offer.

Google+ - kind of like a mini website provided by Google, good for sharing content and promoting your business especially if your geographical location is important (organic searches will highlight businesses that have a Google+ page linked to a location).

LinkedIn - great for business networking and a very good showcase for business products, services and training - this post is going straight on there when I finish writing it!

Yes, there's a lot, and these are only the major ones. You do need a good strategy to manage them all effectively.

There's enough information here for you to get started but, if I've bamboozled you, please get in touch and we can discuss a strategy which I can either implement for you or leave with you to give it a go.