A vibrant social media following and community is a strong indicator that a brand is relevant and in tune with consumers. The ideal approach to building a social media following for your small business or SMB customers incorporates leveraging earned and owned media across platforms. If you want to jump-start engagement on major networks like Facebook or Twitter, you’ll need a strategy that leverages the website, email marketing, content marketing, and paid ads.

We’ll walk you through the basics of building out your social media properties, locating your target audience, delivering your content to them, and setting yourself up for continued growth.

 

Make Your Best First Impression

First things first: make it as easy as possible for people to find and recognize your brand. Logos, profile images, and header photo creative should be correctly sized, consistent across all social properties, and match your website.

Once you’ve built out your profiles, put social sharing buttons everywhere: email signatures, the company blog and website, and content like guest posts, articles, and presentations. Push blog and Twitter content to LinkedIn profiles where appropriate. If you can’t implement a button, include Google Plus and Twitter handles, Facebook Page URLs and any other profiles in content.

You’ll also want to configure Open Graph tags and Twitter Cards code on your blog and website, to ensure that the content you share consistently looks its best.

 

Pay to Play

Many marketers have declared the age of free, organic social marketing to be over. Indeed, many businesses have seen their Facebook Pages’ organic reach dwindle to less than 5%, but the old adage “when one door closes, a window opens” applies. Lots of Likes used to mean that your posts appeared in many News Feeds. But as Facebook’s user base grew and as more users Liked more Pages (in April 2014, a typical Facebook user’s Page Likes had increased by an estimated 50% year over year) most users were simply served too much content to see it all.

Though your Fans may not see all of your posts anymore, there are new tools available to help you get to know them better. Even a small Facebook Ads budget gives you access to user insights that can help inform other areas of your social strategy. The same goes for Twitter Ads, AdWords, and Instagram’s ads solution.

Long story short: you may need to invest some social advertising dollars up front to spark initial growth and drive users to your content, but this is only one of many tactics that will connect you with your audience. (You’ll be in good company. In 2015 marketers anticipate spending $8.3 billion on social media advertising.)

 

Make Your Content as Shareable as Possible

Once you’ve attracted an audience, your next task is to keep them engaged—and get them to help grow their numbers. Some quick sharing tips for the top social networks:

Twitter: take advantage of relevant (or trending) hashtags; organize feeds into lists; use analytics data to determine when followers are most likely to engage with your Tweets; tag relevant users

Instagram: use hashtags (which now include emoji); leverage tags to reach out to influencers

Google Plus: host hangouts; hashtag post content; take advantage of Google+ Collections to let users explore posts grouped by topic

LinkedIn: start publishing articles; join discussions and groups; post to your LinkedIn business page

Facebook: optimize image sizes in content for sharing; if you’re a content creator, enable ‘Follow‘ to allow public updates separate from your private, personal ones

 

Participation Points: Offer Your Social Media Followers Value Beyond Your Own Content

Chances are, the users following you are interested in products and services related to yours. ReTweeting, reposting, and Pinning other brands’ content can help you provide more value to your followers and access audiences you weren’t reaching before. If you sell wine, for example, your followers may be interested in wine and cheese pairings, party recipes or wine glasses and other accessories.

Most major social platforms make it very easy to share others’ posts with your own audience, as well as tools that can tell you what else your followers are interested in. Set aside some time to build a list of quality content sources from other brands that you can curate and share with your followers. The great thing about social media is that sharing is often reciprocated–so if someone whose content you repost, reTweet, or share sees that you’ve done so, they may return the favor.

 

How Do I Manage And Grow My Community Long-Term?

Social community management and social media marketing are two very different disciplines. Your “following” becomes a “community” when its members begin providing value for each other, instead of simply consuming your content. “Marketing” becomes “management” when your primary goal is engagement, rather than solely lead generation. So you can see why the two go hand-in-hand.

Your approach to managing a social media following and community around your brand will be unique to your business and its audience, though there are a few best practices you can rely on:

  • Post frequently
  • Serve up the content they’re asking for (address questions and trending topics)
  • Share content that’s easy to view and share on mobile
  • Consider your platform; your community on LinkedIn isn’t looking for the kind of content you share on Instagram
  • Let users opt in and keep them in the loop via email marketing campaigns

 

Next Week on the Social Series:  Everything you need to know about #hashtags

Intimidated by the prospect of trending hashtag research? Not sure how to use hashtags properly? Does the idea of creating, sizing and optimizing images stress you out? There’s a social marketing tool that can manage all this for you.

Join us next week for our post on the history and proper usage of hashtags.