Sunday 23 August 2015 10:05 pm

Investec Comment: Five rules for businesses on social media

Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest, social media has become an essential channel for businesses of all sizes to reach customers, potential customers, and wider society. The past few years have seen an intensification of the social trend. The ability of a company to access consumers directly (and vice versa), to be in the public eye, and to monitor how its brand is perceived and used can bring significant benefits at relatively low cost. But for a small business or entrepreneur, this world of metrics, networks, and algorithms can be a daunting place. Here are five key tips for best using social media. First, you need a strategy. In the simplest terms, this should entail determining why you’re using social media and which channel will best help you achieve your goals. Do you predominantly want better brand awareness, to generate leads, or to improve customer service? LinkedIn users, for example, tend to be more interested in industry insight than product information, so it could be a good place to establish your firm as an expert in its field. Twitter, meanwhile, is excellent for answering queries or getting a message across quickly. If the channel doesn’t achieve your goals, don’t commit the time to it. Second, be tactical. If your time is limited, try to work out when your content is most likely to be seen and by whom. The key metric is engagement – the important thing is not how many people have seen your post, but whether they are your target audience and are responding favourably. You can maximise your chances of reaching this audience if you understand when they are most likely to be receptive. If your product is aimed at working professionals, for example, posting on Twitter at 10am on a Monday is unlikely to reach them. Monitoring tools like Hootsuite will enable you to see how your content is being received – and can even be useful for discovering how your business is being talked about more generally. Third, be clever about your content. Your communications should always be high quality, fair, clear and not misleading. They should be in keeping with the tone of your business, based on truth and an accurate reflection of what you have to offer. If it doesn’t add anything to your brand, it will sit there incongruously and could even do your business damage. So don’t post anything merely for the sake of being active on social media. Being visually appealing is also incredibly important – relevant photos, graphs or charts will typically double your engagement rate on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Fourth, remember that social media isn’t a one way channel. One of the interesting trends we’re seeing is people using Twitter or Facebook to communicate directly with companies with queries or complaints, rather than phoning a call centre. Some of the best engagement we get is through someone asking a question. It generates a conversation and a real interaction. Finally, don’t underestimate the risks but don’t let them put you off either. One of the most compelling advantages of social media is that your message can be magnified by people sharing your content with each other. Well-designed posts going viral can catapult your business in brand awareness terms. But there are enough examples of companies that have made mistakes on social media to make it wise to be cautious. And if one of your posts does happen to be perceived negatively, quickly clarifying or apologising can prevent a bad situation from becoming worse. All the signs are that social media will become increasingly important in people’s lives, so there is little sense in ignoring it. But be sure to see your social media strategy as an investment, rather than a free alternative to paid digital media. The more time and money you put into social media, the more you are likely to get out. This article is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as advice of any nature. The views and opinions expressed are subject to change without notice.