Your business knows social media is important, but where do you begin? Digital advertising revenue, driven by networks like Facebook, is expected to increase 18 percent year over year to reach $229 billion this year. Social is where the people are, where they’re consuming media, where they’re interacting with friends and getting recommendations, where they’re looking to discover new brands and products that fit their needs, and so much more. Here’s what you need to know about the social media tools available to your small business.

Where your business spends its time and money can get out of hand without strategy. Here is how to focus your efforts on the right networks, using the right tools, to save your business money and improve return on investment.

Use Built-In Network Applications

Even if your SMB doesn’t have the budget to work with an agency on social media or hire someone full-time in-house to handle it, the good news is that networks are free and most have built-in reporting tools to provide you with insights. Some, social media tools like Facebook, even offer scheduling features.

When it comes to which ones your business should be on, here’s a look at some notable social media to consider:

  • Facebook: The big daddy of social networks, the site has 1.94 billion monthly users, with more than 68 percent of adults using it. Considering its large market share, Facebook should be a high priority media for B2C businesses to have a presence. You can share photos, videos, text updates, slideshows and more, and schedule posts ahead of time within the Facebook app. The site has rich reporting features built into every business page profile, including info on when your users are on the site and how many people interact with each post.
  • Twitter: Twitter has 328 million monthly users, which may seem to pale in comparison to Facebook, but it’s important to realize some of the most important people to your brand are often avid users on the network: journalists, bloggers and influencers. The platform gives brands the capability, unlike Facebook, to directly message any user who follows the brand page. This makes it easier for your brand to build relationships with influential users and get more press. The network also has a free analytics tool that shows top Tweets and followers.
  • Instagram: Powered by Facebook, Instagram is key place for any visually-minded brand to have a presence. With 700 million monthly active users, brands that can shine visually through photos or videos should have an Instagram. An Instagram account is essential to brands in verticals like fashion, hospitality, food and beverage, and art, but any business can use the network to show off company culture or re-share posts from followers to engage with consumers. Instagram business users get a free insights tool that shows follower demographics, follower growth and impressions.
  • Pinterest: Pinterest has 150 million users, and like Instagram, it’s a great way for visual brands to get noticed through “pinning” images on vision board-like displays. The network skews heavily female, with 45 percent of online American women using the network compared with 17 percent of males, so if your brand targets women, you might consider setting up a profile here. Brands with a free business account get free analytics on Pinterest, showing top posts, audience details and stats about your profile.
  • YouTube: Not everyone uses YouTube in a social sense, but with 1.5 billion monthly users, the power of the channel can’t be ignored. If your brand plans to produce videos, YouTube is key, because you also get the added benefit of keyword-optimized videos showing up in Google search results, the network that owns YouTube. You can also interact with user comments, comment on other videos to connect with more users and add other videos to your own page to build up content if you don’t produce your own. You can schedule videos in advance through YouTube, and YouTube’s analytics provide insight into demographics, traffic sources and watch time.

A few other social networks your business might consider include:

  • LinkedIn: A haven for B2B enterprises, LinkedIn is still a good place for B2C brands to have a presence because there are more than 500 million users on the network. You can post business updates, encourage your staff to grow their personal brands by interacting in LinkedIn Groups, and use free LinkedIn analytics to gauge what type of content works best for your business on the network.
  • Google+: Google+ is connected to Gmail account users and claims 375 million users. The benefit of using this social network for posts is that its owned by Google, so optimizing your content with keywords can get your business seen by more Google searchers, too. Its free video “Hangouts” tool allows businesses to host live videos and interact with users.
  • Snapchat: If your B2C targets teenagers and millennials, you should consider Snapchat. More than 60 percent of American smartphone users ages 13 to 34 use the social network, which has 161 million users. Photo and video content does well here, which “self-destructs” from the app after 24 hours, making it a great place to share special offers.

Now that you know a little more about the networks you could be on, here’s how to use these networks to boost revenue.

Get Organized to Align Social with Sales

Top brands save time and money by aligning marketing strategy with sales efforts. It seems like a no-brainer to tap into sales objectives and campaigns to power marketing, yet some brands lack a social strategy and then wonder why they’re not getting results.

A content calendar can help streamline your efforts. Social media tools like Hootsuite, offer free editorial calendar templates. Traditional publishers like magazines are great examples to get inspiration when you’re building your own calendar. Map out your entire business year with your sales team in the room. Discuss product launch dates, plans for holiday specials and seasonal trends where certain products should be spotlighted. Use the calendar as a guide to plan your social content, but be flexible enough to adjust content by checking in with sales on a monthly basis.

One brand that boosted its sales initiatives with social in 2017 was P.F. Chang’s, a chain Chinese restaurant. In celebration of Chinese New Year, the brand gave away more than one million red envelopes to diners for a month, some of which offered gift cards and vacations across the country. A social element was added to the sales campaign by associating the envelopes with branded hashtags. Photos that contained the hashtag #PFChangsWish were uploaded to a social media feed, which spotlighted user wishes in celebration of the Chinese New Year.

You might want to consider taking a cue from this brand by seeing what items on a sales calendar can get a social boost through social media contests, hashtag promotion, live video broadcasts and other social campaigns. Once you’ve created your content calendar and accompanying posts, save your team tons of time by automating content.

Use Social Media Tools to Automate Posts

Instead of your social media manager, or whoever’s in charge of social at your startup, having to manually log in to every single social network to post, schedule them all at once in one tool. This way, if you want to have an editor or second pair of eyes view them, they can do this all at once.

Here are three social media automation tools you might consider:

  • Hootsuite: Hootsuite allows your business to add up to 35 social networks to one easy-to-use dashboard. Create channel streams that allow your team to see scheduled and published posts, interactions with posts, mentions of your brand and more. The platform has a free plan for three profiles, 30 scheduled messages and one user and paid plans start at $25 a month and increase based on users, messages and networks.
  • Buffer: Similar to Hootsuite, this social scheduling platform allows multiple users to access various channels and messages within one platform. Besides the scheduling, Buffer has stellar analytics that track engagement, impressions and account performance. The free platform allows two profiles and 10 scheduled posts per profile, while paid accounts are similar to Hootsuite in that they increase the more users and platforms there are.
  • CoSchedule: In addition to offering a social media scheduling tool, CoSchedule enables article scheduling and blog post management, plus scheduling for marketing projects. It provides more transparency into the various arms of a marketing department, to help you align your strategy. Plans with social scheduling start at $40 per month.

Using fewer tools for scheduling and reporting saves more of your team time. But how do you know what to pay for?

Social Media Shopping Tips

The great news is, all of the social media tools mentioned above, and many more, offer free trials so startups can see what works best for their team and business needs. Take advantage of these trials by having your employees test them out. Pepper customer service members of each tool with questions as they come up, so you can see how responsive they’ll be when you have problems in the future and how much help they can offer. Before you start the trials, come up with metrics you’ll use to measure just how much time your team is saving, through ease of use and troubleshooting.

Ask your staff to reach out to their personal contacts or use forums like LinkedIn Groups to ask others in your industry what they’d recommend. Make social media tools a topic of conversation at your next industry networking event.

You can also request a consultation with each tool’s sales team, so you can explain exactly what you need and see what they offer you. Signing up for a tool can bring it significant revenue over time, and they want your business. Don’t be afraid to let each one know what you want, and have them get to work to show you how they’ll make the tool work for you.

Continue to ask for input from your team members who end up using the tools once you’ve signed up, so you can switch services if something is not working. As people get used to working with a tool, they may come to accept frustrations that could be costing you money, so regular check-ins can help keep your team — and your wallet — happy.

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