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Small Business Center

How to Leverage and Build Your Brand on Social Media

December 20, 2022

In this day and age, most people check out a brand’s online presence before heading to a brick-and-mortar location. Small business owners can’t afford not to invest in their social media presences. Social media is also a low-cost way for small businesses to build brand awareness and increase revenue and engagement. But even for those who are experienced in social media, it can be hard to decide what information about your business to share online and which platforms to invest in. At the recent ICSC NEW YORK event, Strategy + Style founding partner and chief strategist Karen Fluharty moderated a discussion with Azor Advisory Services president Beth Azor, Zelnik director of national advisory Kyle Inserra and Arvo Realty Advisors associate director Tiffany Ryland.

These experts offered tips on effective brand building and how to distinguish yourself online. Here are the top takeaways.

1. Strategize about the platforms you want to use.

Though the term “social media” lumps together every platform from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter to LinkedIn, each platform in reality serves different purposes and audiences. As Azor explained: “LinkedIn tends to be more educational, Instagram is more image based and Twitter is educational, in very small, short bites.” TikTok, by contrast, is the favored platform by Gen Zers, who look to its short videos for recommendations on everything from where to shop to where to eat. Facebook traditionally has been more of a social networking site, though businesses have found success running advertising campaigns and using Facebook Shops, which allows users to browse, explore and purchase products directly from Facebook or Instagram. And YouTube, the most popular website in the world after Google, has become of the most extensive internet resource for people to research things they need.

So how do you decide what platform to use?

Ryland advised: “Take inventory of who you are and where your clients are at. Then figure out: Where do you fit best?” As part of that assessment, think about the demographics of your customers and what sites they check most frequently. Also consider the goals you’re trying to accomplish with a social media presence. For some small businesses, the main goal is brand awareness. For others, it might be direct sales or impressions and engagement. Think, too, about which platform displays your products and services in the best way. Knowing that you might not have the time to commit to every platform, choose the ones that you are most likely to commit to. As Azor, who admits she doesn’t love posting selfie videos, said: “I’m not the TikTok girl.”

2. Think about the story you’re telling.

Today, more than ever, people shop at stores whose missions and founding stories they connect to. And consumers want to know the face behind the brand. The best way to start building your brand on any social media platform is, Inserra said, “to be yourself.” Start by explaining to your social media audience — whether by video, pictures or words — your mission, your origin story and your vision. Then continue posting content that relates to that narrative. For instance, if your store sells organic food, think about posting healthy recipes you love. And remember, Fluharty emphasized, “to be your authentic self.” If you’re quirky, be quirky online, too. People respond to that honesty, consistency, and humanness.

3. Create two-way conversation.

Social media is all about building relationships. In social media terms, that means both sharing information about yourself and asking viewers about themselves. Not sure where to start? Ryland suggested a strategy called “layering,” whereby you offer a personal detail about your own life — maybe you just got engaged or maybe you are experiencing frustration with supply chain disruptions, for instance — and then ask others to share their own experiences or offer suggestions on what they’ve done in similar situations. The purpose is connection. People want to work at — and shop at — stores and brands they relate to. Inserra, for instance, is a self-proclaimed dog lover who often posts on his social media about his French bulldog. A potential client who also had a French bulldog then reached out. The key to success with this strategy is response time. If you ask for audience engagement, make sure you respond to any comments or messages. Everyone wants to feel like they’re being listened to and heard, Inserra added.

4. Cross-promote and tag other brands.

One of the best ways to expand your audience on social media is to collaborate or cross-promote with another retailer or nonprofit that shares your values or interests. When Thursday Boot Co., a brand that sells handcrafted boots and shoes, wanted to increase its exposure, it did a joint social media campaign with Cobbler’s Choice Co., a retailer that sells premium footwear cleaners. In one post, Thursday Boot put up a video on how to clean suede boots and used a Cobbler’s Choice cleaning kit. Cobbler’s Choice, in turn, used Thursday’s boots to demonstrate how well the cleaning kit works and linked to Thursday’s site in the video description.

But don’t be afraid to give shoutouts to businesses even if you don’t have a formal agreement in place. Users respond to that honesty, as do other business owners. Azor mentioned an instance when StripMallGuy, a popular Twitter user with 117,000 followers, gave her a shoutout. “My own Twitter following increased like 5,000 people in one day,” Azor said. In turn, Azor often tags other owners and businesses on her social media pages.

5. Be consistent.

As in most things you want to be successful at, consistency in social media is key. Ryland’s dad, the president and CEO of commercial real estate firm Arvo Realty and a later-in-life devotee of social media, posts every morning at 5 am. Azor advises clients to start weekly themes, such as Mondays with Matthew, to keep them accountable. Customers want to see new posts, or your content will seem stale.

6. Look at engagement stats, but don’t take them as definitive indicators of success.

Not everyone who goes on social media leaves comments. In fact, experts estimate that 90% to 99% of active social media users are “lurkers” who scroll through the pages and posts without liking or engaging. But that doesn’t mean your posts aren’t effective. Users “are still seeing it,” said Inserra. “They're absorbing it. They're just not leaving comments.” Added Azor: “I cannot tell you how many people have stopped me in the hallway at this conference and said, ‘Thank you for posting that thing.’ … It’s just a good reminder that there are a lot of people looking at your feed that you may never know about. So don’t worry if not enough people are liking it, because you just never know who you’re impacting.”

By Rebecca Meiser

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today

Small Business Center

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