Starting a business is challenging. There is never enough time to get everything done and hard decisions on how to spend your time have to get made each day. Even if you own a small, home-based business, you can’t survive on the myth that “if you build it, they will come.” You’ll have to put your marketing hat on more than you probably realize and social media is a great tool for small business owners.

Do you need social media?
Many people ponder this question while others have a definite answer one way or the other. For anyone not sure, here are just some of the reasons to take the plunge:
– If you have reached a plateau
– If you’re looking for new prospects
– If you’re trying to increase awareness
– If you’re trying to get more website traffic
– If you want to build loyalty
– If you want to increase engagement
– If you want to target a specific audience

If you still aren’t swayed, check out some of these stats:

68%: The percentage of adults in the U.S. on Facebook (Source: Social Media Today)
41%: The percentage of Americans who say it’s important that the institutions they engage with have a strong social media presence (Source: Hootsuite)
42%: The percentage of users who learn about products and services via Twitter (Source: Hootsuite)
1 in 3: The number of professionals–in the entire world– on LinkedIn (Source: Hootsuite)

Where do you start?
Like any other business function, you allocate resources that you have available. If you find yourself able to spare an hour each week, that’s a great start. Think about how much time you can spare toward this effort.

Answer these questions:
– Who is your target audience?
– Where do your targets hang out? (Check out the links to the stats above.)
– What is your goal? (Build brand awareness? Drive traffic to your website?)

How to pick the right channel
Based on your answers from the above section, match up the right channels. There are a lot of social media channels but some of the most popular include:
– Facebook – The most popular platform. Slightly more women than men. Great for visuals, reasonable advertising rates.
– Twitter –  Great for succinct posts, easy platform to grow an audience for a brand. King of hashtags.
– LinkedIn – More of a professional platform. Great for B2B marketing but more expensive to advertise on.
– G+ – A social platform run by Google. Need we say more?
– Pinterest – Hugely visual and great for B2C retail.
– Instagram – Similar to Pinterest in the visual appeal but much younger audience.

You can also look into niche channels for your industry like the Lego social media channel example in this Kissmetrics blog post.

Don’t neglect your profile
It’s important that you fill out all the information on the profile for whatever channel(s) you’ve chosen. When you set up your profile, you can put hash tags in as well to appear in searches. Remember to include contact information and a link to your website as applicable.

What to post
The 3-to-1 content posting rule or, “give, give, give, ask” in the words of Gary Vaynerchuk, is when you post about things other than your brand three times and then post about your brand once.

That might look like this:
1) Give: An authoritative article about something newsworthy in your industry
2) Give: An inspirational pictoquote that relates to something or someone in your industry

— SnowbirdCreatives (@SnwbirdCreative) February 15, 2017

3) Give: A comic strip poking fun at something your customers would find funny
4) Ask: A recent blog post on your website

The point here is to be selfless so you don’t turn people away.

How frequently to post
If you ask 10 people any of these questions, you’ll get 10 different answers but this is the most widely varied, I find. It goes back to available resources. You can have a presence on one channel and post three times a week if that’s all you can manage and that will be better than not having one at all. (Assuming you follow the guidelines in this post.)

Know that social media has a half-life: the time it takes for the post to receive half of its total engagement. Posts get the most attention (and engagement) immediately after being posted and at some point, engagement dies down. Certain channels are faster-moving than others. The point here is that when the half-life is over, you are able to post again. Post too frequently and you lose engagement. For many small businesses, those numbers are still too frequent for the amount of resources they have available to them.

Buffer did a nice visual on posting frequency in its article, How Often You Should Post to Social Media.

Buffer suggests this many posts per day:
– Pinterest 5x
– Facebook 2x
– Twitter 3x
– Google+ 3x
– LinkedIn 1x
– Instagram 1.5x

That’s a lot of content to curate, manage and post if you’re doing it right which is why many small businesses will modify their social media frequency to a certain number of posts per week. If you are spread thin, pick one channel that best fits your audience and post as frequently as you are able to, and don’t exceed the numbers listed in the bullets above.

Pre-load and automate your posts
If you decide on more than one channel, check out a social media automation tool like Buffer to simplify things and save time. Here’s a blog post on How to Automate Social Media with Buffer.

There is a free and a paid version. You can load up 10 posts per channel with the free version. So, if you are lucky enough as a small business owner to take a day off, rest-assured social media is one less thing to worry about if you automate it in advance.

There’s more to social media than *just* posting
Posting is not the be-all-end-all. The whole point of social media is to be social. As in, a two-way street. To more deeply engage with your audience, share/like/Tweet respectively. (You can queue this up in Buffer too.) The more you “give” and are active with others, the more others will see your brand and the more likely you’ll gain more followers.

If you sell a product, be prepared to get related questions on social media. Customers expect to get responses on social media.

59 percent of Americans who have a social media account agree that customer service via social media has made it easier to get questions and concerns resolved. (Source: Hootsuite)

Many times, you can move the conversation to an email thread or phone call but you need to step in and address it at the post level so others reading it don’t get the impression that you’re ignoring a customer.

Use images (always)
Include a picture with each post. It’s that simple. If you look at stats from other platforms, there really isn’t a reason to post something without an image because the level of engagement is disparate among those with and without images.

When you Tweet with an image, it will get 18% more clicks than one without. (Source: Social Media Today)

Found a post that doesn’t have an image but really want to use it? Check out this post, 5 Great Sites for Royalty-Free Images.

Mention others in your post when applicable
If you’re posting about an industry article, you can figure out the handle of the publisher and/or author and include it in your post. Doing this has the potential to extend your reach because if the publisher or author engages with the post, all of his or her followers can see that. You may pick up more followers from a post in this instance as well.

We mentioned FlexiSpot in this Tweet and not only did we get more engagement, FlexiSpot added this picture to its website. (Since this Tweet, the picture has been removed and that page has been revamped to include blogs.)

Newsjack what’s trending
Take advantage of newsjacking as an easy idea for posts.

When #LoveMyDogDay or #SayItIn4Words is trending, you may get an idea for a quick post and “newsjack” it. Here are some examples:

It’s a way to get your post (and brand) in front of more eyeballs.

Small business owners can benefit from social media and despite how busy you are, it shouldn’t be overlooked. Even one hour per week is a start. Try to find the resources to start small and expand as you gain more resources. The effort you put in now will pay off later.

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This content was originally published here.