Social media. As a business owner, you either believe it’s the key to unlocking your online potential or you consider it the bane of your existence and only do it when absolutely necessary.
Either way, it’s here and it’s here to stay. If you’re going to run an online subscription or membership business, you need to know how to connect on the biggest social networks.
In this post, we’re not going to give you some magic formula for growing a million+ following on Twitter, because there’s really no such thing. We’re going to discuss the basic principles of leveraging social media to find the right audience for your business.
Here’s what you need to know.
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How to Become a Thought Leader on Social Media
What Social Media Can and Can’t Do
Before we dive in, there are a few important things you need to know about what social media can and can’t do for your business.
Here are the facts: Frequently posting to social media can help you grow your online following, improve website traffic, build brand awareness, and, in some cases, bring in potential customers. What it can’t do, however, is magically transform your business into something it’s not.
Many business owners start social media accounts with a false belief that as long as they’re on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, they’ll automatically make a big dent in their site traffic or sales. That’s not the case.
There are no fancy gimmicks that will get you there faster. If you work at it and you take the time to thoughtfully plan and put your plan into action, you will see results. Got it? Good. Now here’s what you need to know.
Step 1: Audience Research
Whether you’re completely new to social or you’ve already been tweeting for years, the foundation of your social media strategy should always revolve around your audience.
Here are the questions you need to ask:
- What topics does our audience care about?
- What social channels are they using?
- What are our goals for posting on social (Sales? Audience engagement?)
- How will we measure success? (Likes and follows? Traffic? Sales?)
- What tone will our audience respond to? (Casual? Professional? Promotional? A mix?)
- Who will we follow and engage with?
What topics does our audience care about?
The most successful social media profiles are those that talk about specific things. The top brands on Twitter (all celebrities) don’t just post about their lives. They’re all business owners and/or former Presidents of the United States. Katy Perry has a clothing line. Rihanna has a best-selling makeup brand. When they post, they know what their audience wants to hear.
Looking at B2B brands that do well on social, you’ll see the same thing. They post about things their audience cares about, whether it’s sharing a thought leadership post or giving a product update. In other words, if you’re selling a fitness membership, post about fitness things.
The caveat: Sometimes it’s okay to branch out if that’s what your audience wants. If your brand openly cares about social issues, for example, then it’s okay to talk about your product and social issues.
What social channels are they using?
Go where your audience goes. If you’re not sure which channels they’re using, you can:
- Sign up for 2-3 of the bigger social channels (Pick your favorites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat)
- Look at your direct competitors and see which channels they’re using
- Determine your channels by the content you want to produce (images for Instagram, videos for YouTube, links to posts on Twitter, etc.).
Business 2 Community has a great post about finding your social audience here. (Also see step #2.)
What are our goals for posting on social?
Your goals will have some influence over the type of posts you craft and your overall tone. If, for example, your goal is sales, you will want to create a fair number of posts around free trials and other promotions. If your goal is simply to increase engagement, sharing articles from other sources or just retweeting a link to your blog will work fine.
How will we measure success?
Depending on your goals, there are a few ways you can measure success. If your goal is more traffic, then use Google Analytics to compare stats. If you notice more traffic in GA within 24 hours of posting to social, that’s a good indicator you’re making an impact. If you create a social posting plan around promoting your free trials, then you can track free trial sign-ups over the first month after posting. (See step #3.)
What tone will our audience respond to?
Here’s a good rule of thumb: Humans on social media want to engage with other humans, not logos. So, generally speaking, you want to sound like a human. But within those guidelines, there’s room to play around. Will you cuss? Will you use corporate lingo? That all depends on your audience. (See step #4.)
Who will we follow and engage with?
If you look at the top B2B brands on Twitter, you will notice many of them have an equal or higher ratio of followers to those they follow. Intel, for instance, has nearly 3 million followers but follows only ~1,169 users. Consider following those who you are most likely to retweet/share, mention, or engage with on a regular basis. And, of course, don’t follow accounts that look like bots.
Step 2: Choosing Your Channels
Here are the main social channels to consider — keep in mind that you don’t have to use all of them to be successful. Just choose 2-3 that your audience engages with the most (or that you want to use):
Facebook — Facebook is a social staple, and it’s great for every type of business. It’s usually a good idea to have an account here. Just keep in mind that your audience will typically skew older. Gen Z and some Millennials are ditching Facebook for Instagram and Snapchat.
Twitter — Twitter is another safe bet for B2C brands, and contrary to some opinions, B2B brands can do quite well on Twitter too. The key is knowing how to use hashtags and @ mentions correctly. (See step #4.)
Google+ — Google+ isn’t a thing anymore, in case you weren’t sure. But keep an eye out for a new social platform from Google as it’s bound to happen sooner rather than later.
Instagram — Instagram is quickly becoming a key social platform for both B2B and B2C brands, especially with their recent addition of IGTV and shoppable posts. We have a whole guide to using Instagram for business in this post.
Pinterest — Pinterest is a hit-or-miss channel. If in doubt, you can probably skip it. But if you’re a highly visual brand that does well on Instagram, you can also leverage Pinterest to grow your reach. Bloggers and lifestyle brands, or those with a primarily female audience, seem to do the best on this platform. Hootsuite has a guide for using Pinterest for business here.
LinkedIn — LinkedIn is gold for B2B brands. If you have people within your organization that are active on LinkedIn, or who can write short blog posts for the channel, then you’ll do especially well. The downside is that their tagging and hashtag features aren’t as robust. But if you’re all about direct sales, this is a great option.
YouTube — YouTube is quickly becoming one of the most important social platforms out there. Both B2B and B2C brands can thrive here, though it’s not an “easy” channel to engage with like Facebook or Twitter. You have to be totally committed to making great video content (or leveraging influencers who make great video content), but if know what to do you can do very well for yourself.
Snapchat — Snapchat might seem scary for business owners, but it’s where the young kids are at these days (a.k.a your future customers). Mastering Snapchat requires both visual and video creation skills, and a little sense of humor. It’s not an essential channel the way Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are, but it’s getting there. Quicksprout has a guide for using Snapchat for business here.
Twitch — Twitch is another channel that’s been around for a while but doesn’t have as much traction as YouTube or Instagram. It’s a social streaming site used primarily by gamers, but there are plenty of uses for business owners, too. If you’re interested in creating online courses or showcasing a skill that’s part of your business (woodcarving, yoga, etc.) then live streaming is a great way to grow your audience. Check out Social Media Examiner’s guide to using Twitch for business here.
Step 3: Creating Your Posting Strategy
Once you’ve done your research and you know which channels you want to commit to, the next step is creating a posting strategy.
A posting strategy is simply a way to get organized. You’ve already done half the work by researching your audience and choosing your channels. The rest of the process comes down to creating a posting schedule, deciding who will write, publish and nurture your posts, and setting up your process.
Create your weekly posting schedule.
Depending on your chosen platforms, you don’t need to post new updates on every channel multiple times a day.
While some channels, like Twitter, value quantity of posts to power their algorithm, most channels value quality posts over quantity. Most importantly, your audience will value quality posts. So as long as you’re posting somewhat regularly, and the content is good, you’re fine.
Each channel comes with its own recommended posting time, but you can vary your actual posting schedule based on your time commitment and availability, or any other factors of your choosing.
Here are some general rules for posting from SocialBakers:
Facebook: ~1-2x a day (or more). HIgher publishing frequency often leads to high engagement.
Instagram: ~1-2x per day (or more). Similar to Facebook.
Twitter: ~2-4x per day (or more). Twitter is a high volume platform. If you’re going to create more posts for any channel, it’s this one.
LinkedIn: ~1x per day or less. LinkedIn’s small business guide recommends posting about 20 times per month, which is roughly once per day. But most businesses can get away with 2-3x per week.
YouTube: ~1-3x per week. YouTube is a channel that values quality over quantity. A posted video may get more views over time, so there’s no need to keep pumping new content out like you would on Twitter.
Pinterest: ~2-3x per week (or less/more). Posts are easier to find and share on Pinterest (since they are “pinned” to boards, sometimes indefinitely) so you don’t have to post as often, but you could.
Snapchat: ~1-2x per day (or more). Like Twitter, Snapchat is a fast-moving platform. If you can engage daily, great.
Twitch: ~1x per week. If you have a regular day each week or month that you can live stream, that’s ideal.
Consider the time of day.
In terms of time of the day you should post, it can vary wildly between platforms. Check out Social Sprout’s heatmaps for some ideas.
Consider mixing up the type of content.
You can also build in certain types of content into your posting schedule. For example, if you always publish blog posts on Thursdays, you’ll know to schedule blog promotion posts on Thursdays and Fridays. Mondays could be a dedicated “Motivational Monday” post with accompanying hashtags. Be creative with it.
Set aside time for social nurturing.
Posting isn’t enough. You also want to build social nurturing into your process. Nurturing is when you go into your social channel and you like, share, comment and otherwise engage with your followers, other brands and posts.
This could be retweeting a brand you follow on Twitter, liking a post on Facebook, leaving a comment on LinkedIn. It doesn’t matter what you do, but you should be doing something that shows you’re active on the channel. If users tend to tag you and ask questions on Instagram, then respond to those question. Set aside at least 1-2 hours per week for social nurturing.
Nurturing can be the most time-consuming part of the process, but it can also be the most impactful if you do it right.
Create a posting calendar or spreadsheet.
To keep organized, use a posting calendar, spreadsheet or another social tool to help you schedule posts. Buffer has its own recommended posting times per channel that can help guide your posts.
But you can also use an Excel sheet or Google Sheet to track everything manually. Smartsheets has a few free templates here.
You can also write your posts in a spreadsheet first if you plan on having other team members review them, edit them or make changes. You can craft multiple posts at once to save time.
Step 4: How to Craft a Social Post
Of course, once you have your posting schedule, you’ll need to actually create the posts. For many business owners, knowing what to write is the hardest part. If you don’t have a dedicated social media writer (always recommended) there are a few tips you can follow to quickly write a good post.
Consider post length.
Twitter has a character limit of 280 characters (though not everyone wants to use them all), but that includes any hashtags, @ mentions, and article links.
In general, you want to keep posts short on Twitter. LinkedIn and Facebook have no character limits and can handle longer-form posts.
Just remember that Facebook will cut off half of your post behind a “…more” link if it’s too long. That doesn’t mean you need to shorten what you say, but just make sure that the most important facts are in the first sentence or two — or create a good teaser at the beginning.
Good social media posts don’t ramble on. You have a very short time to make your point, so start with the good stuff first. Here are a few tips from Funnel Overload:
- Use power words whenever possible
- Make them informative and useful
- Ensure your post is easily scannable (just like with blog content)
- Be persuasive
- Inspire urgency
- Be specific
Follow the leader.
If you notice that your competitors are nailing their social media posts, see what they’re doing well and try to emulate them. DON’T plagiarize. But follow their general flow.
Follow other social posts that sound like you want to sound. If you’re trying to promote a webinar, for instance, search for the hashtag #webinar and see what others are writing. It’s perfectly acceptable to mimic posts that work. Just remember to rewrite them in your own words.
Put things in your own words.
Pay attention to the tone. If you’re a fun-loving brand, don’t copy posts or write posts that sound robotic.
Here’s an example of a boring, robotic tweet:
The foundation is there, but it needs a little sprucing up. Here’s a more magnetic version with the same information:
Now, not all tweets will be as totally excellent as this, but hopefully you get the idea. If you’re a corporate brand, you might tweet something more like this:
If you want a casual tone, write social media posts as if you were hyping something for your mom. What would you say to get her excited?
If you’re a corporate brand with a more formal voice, how would you pitch something to your neighbor with whom you share a fence? You’d choose your words carefully, but you’d still be friendly, right? Picture your audience in your head before you write.
Include proper hashtags.
Most social media platforms use hashtags, but not all of them work as well. LinkedIn and Facebook both have hashtags, for example, but they aren’t as robust as Twitter’s.
And remember: #you #dont #want #to #hashtag #everything. Choose relevant keywords only. If you’re not sure what’s trending right now, you can use a hashtag generator to find the most relevant terms (see step #5 for recommendations).
Don’t forget the image.
Posts with images always do better. See step #5 for quick image tool recommendations.
Most social platforms will shorten links for you, but if you find yourself running out of room to post (like on Twitter), you will need to use a tool to shorten your links first. Which leads to…
Step 5: Using Tools
Tools will be your best friend to mastering social media. Here are a few recommendations for creating, editing, designing and sharing your posts.
Social Media Analytics:
Scheduling / Posting:
Hashtags / Social Listening:
Social Image Creation:
Writing / Editing Tools:
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How to Become a Thought Leader on Social Media
Social media isn’t magic, but if you understand the basics then it can do a lot of good things for your brand. Remember that consistency is key. The more you post, the more you’ll get the hang of posting, and the easier the whole process will be. Happy tweeting!