The simplest way to think about social media marketing is that it is simply a cost-effective way to network across a variety of communities, from businesses in your local community, those in the same sector, to directly communicating with potential customers. Drop in embedded links to your website, and social media also becomes one of the more powerful ways to market your products.

However, there is an ever-increasing number of social networks out there: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are perhaps the most recognised platforms, but Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and LinkedIn also have a committed body of users. It’s a full-time job to keep all of these accounts going, so how does a small business marketer decide which ones to use? Answer these four questions and then follow the tips below to quickly create an effective social media strategy for your business…

What social networks do you enjoy using?

If you are going to invest a significant portion of your time cultivating a particular online community, then it’s not unreasonable to prioritise your preferred networks! These networks will also tend to be those in which you feel most confident, and, since the functionality of social media networks is constantly developing, you will naturally keep up-to-date with changes that happen. Facebook is one example of a social network which is continuously tinkering with updates to its service, such as the recent news that businesses will soon be able to showcase products directly on the Business page.

Which ones can you access easily?

If you usually find yourself scrolling through social media feeds on your phone, you might want to think about concentrating on social networks that have more sophisticated apps and mobile-friendly services.

How much time do you have?

Try to be realistic rather than optimistic in your estimate, as the answer will have an impact on which social networks are feasible. Some small businesses opt to outsource their social media activity after answering this question, but if you do not have enough cash to justify this company expenditure, then you’ll need to come up with a social media strategy that works with the amount of time you have.

Where do your target market spend their time?

Go to where your customers are – if your main customer base identifies most with Tumblr, then spending hours on updating Pinterest boards may not lead to any profitable results. Equally, there are certain networks which may work better to promote the type of product you are selling; consider whether using video will best demonstrate the product’s assets.

Hopefully the answers to those questions will help you to determine which social networks are the most effective ones on which to focus your energies.
In any case, getting to know which social networks perform best for your business is often a question of time, so make your best guess and move onto these proven tips that you can implement today.

Seasonal promotions

A lot of people use their social media accounts to share good times that they have with their friends and family. This means that if it is coming up to Christmas, Valentines Day or another cultural festival in your calendar, then social networks will be flooded by people who are on holiday and have more time to spend looking at posts online. Think about how you could capitalise on this surge in online activity – perhaps posting a new seasonal product range or launching a competition.
The prize could be potential gifts, discount vouchers or another experience, and is an easy way to quickly gain Likes or Followers

Join in the #conversation

A number of social networks organise real-time hangouts for people to connect online. If you are a craft business for example, then you might think about being present on Twitter for #handmadehour on a Tuesday night. Many of these hangouts give you a chance to promote your name and work within your sector, as well as the opportunity of being retweeted or introduced to a wider audience.

Add pictures and links wherever possible!

Some of the more successful business orientated social media accounts often adopt a more friendly, personable tone than the more formal language on a professional website. However cynical we may be about the proliferation of cat pictures on the interwebs, there is no denying that people do like to share cute pictures of baby animals. In fact, a good image, photograph or infographic can make many people click through to your content, or share it across their own networks.
Before posting a tweet or image, ask yourself whether you would share this piece of content and let that answer help to shape your business’ online persona.

Schedule your posts in advance

If you are exceedingly short on time, then this tip is perhaps the most valuable one to you. A platform like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck will let you schedule tweets for multiple accounts, meaning that you do not have to be constantly alert to site notifications. If linking to a website, Blogpost or other piece of content, it’s a good idea to think of a few different posts that you can schedule around the clock. Do not be afraid to repeat well-performing posts, since the chances are that not all of your followers will have seen the original the first time around.

Keep an offline notepad to jot down inspiration

One of the more time-consuming aspects of social media is trying to think of what to say. As with most creative ideas, inspiration for a tweet or Facebook post might come to you while on a run or during lunch. Do not risk distraction by logging into social networks as soon as the thought comes to you, but note down the idea in a jotter pad. When the time comes around to scheduling social media for the week ahead, these ideas can be wrapped into one task.
The time delay is also useful as a precautionary measure – allowing you to correct errors and craft the message to perfection!

Work out when your followers are most active

There are a number of tools out there which can help you establish when your twitter followers are online. Peak times for social media use frequently tend to be first thing in the morning, towards the weekend and last thing on a Sunday night but who knows, perhaps you have a strong following overseas in different time zones?
If this is the case, then try scheduling posts (see tip number four above) to match your early birds in San Francisco… or wherever in the world they may be!