Just like in any culture or society, there are accepted norms or informal rules that help guide us on how to dress and behave in social situations. In the online and social media culture, it is no different. For example, you shake someone’s hand when meeting them or say please when asking for something. You don’t pick your nose in public or type in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS ONLINE (unless you are super mad).

Social media has it’s own set of unwritten rules for businesses that you should be familiar with if you want to look like you know what you are doing. In addition to pointing out these norms, I will also go over social media concepts that will provide all the context you need to succeed.

By understanding the role social media plays in society and digital marketing, I believe it will help you take a more informed approach to excel with social media for you business.

First Off, What is Social Media?

Social Media Icons

As we spend more time on our mobile devices and social media, it is extremely important that businesses are making their presence felt in these digital spaces. Americans spend an average of 4.7 hours on their mobile phones a day. Out of that time, 1.72 hours are on social media networks. In our online mobile dominated society, it only makes logical sense that your business accommodate for these trend.

To better understand social media for small businesses, it’s important to know what social media is exactly.

Here’s my attempt at a definition. Social media is an online network that provides a community for individuals to share content, story tell, express ideas and engage with others. It’s like an online club but on a website and mobile app. Remember those AOL chat rooms that usually started with A/S/L? I like to think of social media as a very high tech manifestation of that. Put another way, social media sites are like digital hang out spots where people spend their in between times of real life.

With that being said, social media can be a powerful marketing tool if used correctly. Its strength isn’t necessarily for driving direct sales, as many would assume, so keep reading to learn it’s true value for small businesses.

For more statistics on social media and mobile use, click here for the link.

1. Popular and Trending Social Media Sites

According to Statista (and a few other sources I Googled), here are the monthly active users as of 2016:

Facebook (1.5 billion users)
Youtube (over 1 billion)
Tumblr (555 million)
Instagram (500 million)
Twitter (320 million users)
Reddit (230 million)
Snapchat (200 million)
Yelp (142 million)
Linkedin (100 million)
Pinterest (100 million)

A common misconception is that businesses need to be on all, or at least the most popular, social media sites. It’s definitely encouraged to setup accounts for most of these channels so you can have them all under your ownership. However, is not a very cost effective strategy. Time is your most valuable asset so you don’t want to be active and post on every single site.

As a small business owner, you have to allocate your time and resources wisely on what is going to yield the highest returns on investment. Being on every social media network is not a good use of resources because you’ll just be spreading yourself too thin to make a strong impact. You want to dedicate time on the social sites that your target market likes to “hang out.”

Each social media network has it strengths and weaknesses for particular industries and demographics of its users. This is what will determine where you spend your time, energy and resources on.

An easy example is Pinterest. The predominate user base for Pinterest are women roughly between the ages of 25 – 45. Popular industries that are on Pinterest include things like food, fitness, interior design and fashion. With this being said, it may not make the most sense for a lawyer to have an account for their practice there.

Online trends play a huge role in what social media network is getting more attention. As I write this now, the big trend is mobile video and live streaming. Snapchat, Periscope and Facebook Live are the big ones garnering a lot of attention right now. Does this mean your business should automatically jump on the bandwagon? If it makes sense for your business strategically, it would be smart thing to do.

In later blog posts, I will breakdown each social media platform to see if it is the right platform for you.

Lesson here: Just remember that the number of active users alone or growing trends should not dictate which channels or sites your business should be on or spending time developing. Focus on 1 – 2 platforms that really make sense for your business and the demographics of who you serve. This will require some research.

2. The Power Shift

Youtube Site

Let’s take a step back to really set the context of why it is so important to understand the internet and its role on social and consumer behavior today.

Before the internet, businesses had the power. They controlled the narrative and information through traditional media channels. To see their content, you bought in with your attention by watching and listening to their advertisements. If you wanted to consume their content whether it as TV show, radio broadcast or magazine, it was on their schedule.

Once the internet hit the scene in the 90’s, that power began to shift towards the hands of the individuals. Our focus as a society began to revolve towards the online space. We control our own narratives by choosing what we want to pay attention to. No longer are we dependent on the traditional forms of media to get what we want with search engines.

This is really important to understand as a small business because the power is in the hands of your audience, and more importantly, your customers. Many older small business owners, who aren’t aware of this fact, make the mistake of treating social media as a more traditional advertising medium. This is not effective.

Not only do we have more control of what we want to pay attention to, we also have the power to create our own narratives and build our own audience. Anyone with internet access can be a creator with the opportunity to reach people from around the world. This is a massively important concept.

The reason why social media is so powerful is that it provides a structured platform for individuals to have a voice on the internet to express their opinions, passions, expertise as well as show displeasure with a brand. Studies have shown that people are more inclined to share bad business experiences than good ones. This forces business to be more careful as one mistake or bad experience can blow up for thousands of people to see.

As a result of this power shift, there’s an oversaturation of information and entertainment on the internet. As a business on social media, you’re fighting for attention. The problem is you’re not competing against other businesses in your area, you’re going up against your customer’s family and friends as well. This means if you’re going to interrupt someone’s social media experience, it better be good.

This is the big reason why businesses need to change how they approach marketing and engage with the online community.

Lesson here: Marketing in the age of the internet means that the power lies in the hands of the individual, not the business. It’s all about how to keep attention in a crowded online space. By acknowledging this shift, it should help businesses understand the best way to approach the social media landscape. It starts with understanding the fundamental rules of the game.

3. Understand Why People Use Social Media

Woman on Social Media

To best understand how businesses should approach social media, it starts with knowing why people use it.

  1. To connect and engage with family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and classmates. I know it’s how I like to keep in touch with my friends.
  2. To connect with people by sharing common interests, hobbies and sentiments.
  3. To express ourselves. We like to share the things that reflect who we are as a person.
  4. To learn more about a particular topic or to be entertained.

One thing that social media is generally NOT directly used for is to buy or sell products or services. This is a very important for small businesses not familiar with using social media to acknowledge.

I’m sure we all have that one Facebook friend who loves to promote their products or services in the news feed. It’s awkward and out of place in the social media realm just as it is in real life. It’s just like if someone were to come up to you at a bar or social gathering to sell something that you have no interest or need of at the moment. It is more socially acceptable if you were in a store since it shows that you have some intent to buy. Otherwise, people don’t like to have their experience disrupted in this way.

There’s a reason it’s called “social” media. Treat it like a casual cocktail party as a way to get to know your followers. It’s not an online market place or shopping mall where you virtually shout in everyone’s face to buy your product. Because think about it, would you follow a business so you can get spammed or pitched with advertising messages? Hopefully not. We try so hard in our lives to avoid them with ad blockers online and fast forwarding them on our DVRs so social media should be no different.

The underlying issue here has to do with intent of purchase. People use social media as a form of escapism, whether to catch up with friends or be entertained by a funny cat video. If I’m on social media, I’m generally not looking to buy. Unless, I’m on Yelp looking for where to eat.

I’m not saying that social media has no influence in sales or conversions, it just needs to be done more subtlety. It’s a soft sell. The industry the business is in plays a huge role as well. A restaurant will see a more direct influence on sales from social media than say a lawyer or a plumbing company. Overall, social media is not meant to be used to drive direct sales with hard pitches.

Understanding why people use social media is a very important concept for businesses to grasp as it helps to set goals and expectations.

Lesson here: Social media is not a place for businesses to blast their products and solicit their services to everyone. Most people on social media are not in consumer mode so learn how to tactfully influence sales. Social media marketing is done in a more indirect, subtle manner.

4. The 80 / 20 Rule

Hamburger for Social Media

The general rule of thumb is that 80% of your posts should be engaging to your audience whether it’s in the form of education or entertainment. The other 20% could be more sales or conversion related.

What kind of posts are engaging to your audience? Put yourself in their shoes. If you followed a business or brand you love on social media, what are things you would likely engage with? I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see posts that read something like,”Hey come buy this!” over and over.

In my opinion, product based companies have an advantage when it comes to using creativity for fun, valuable content. Let’s say you have a restaurant on social media. From my experience, people love to be informed about a restaurant’s new menu specials or discounts. Post visually appealing pictures of your food in a fun way. Get creative and incorporate national days with your brand. Show the behind scenes on how a popular food item is made.

What if your business is service based like an auto shop or a hair salon? For service businesses, there’s a huge opportunity to provide value to the audience through education. Think about what are common problems your audience may have and provide tips in a form of a blog or video. For example, an auto shop may want to talk about how to change your oil.

Creating content is not always easy. If you don’t have time or resources, you can always post other people’s content that you feel is valuable. This is called curation.

Ultimately, it’s all about leverage. If you provide valuable, engaging content in social media, then people will be more inclined to listen to your sales type messages and not be turned off by them. This leads us to the other 20% of posts.

There are definitely ways to sell on social media, aside from buying ads on the channel. You can offer coupons or discounts. Announce sales or new products. Think of social media as more of a soft sale. People don’t want their social media experience to be disrupted by ads and hard sales pitches.

In other words, avoid broadcast messages that sound like advertisements because it comes off as very robotic and lifeless. This traditional approach is popular with mass media like TV, radio and newspapers. When it comes to social media, you’re not trying to reach the “masses” per se so your messages should be more targeted to your audience. With all of the targeting capabilities and marketing data available in paid social, there is really no need to go this route.

This is all generally speaking as it is always best to test with your audience and think about what industry you are in for the right balance. You have to experiment and learn what resonates with your audience.

Lesson here: Deliver value to your fans and followers in the form of engaging information and entertainment. The more value you can provide gives you more leverage to ask for the sale.

5. New Channel For Communication

Typing computer

The other fundamental change in the online space has to do with how businesses and consumers communicate. Before the internet, businesses used traditional mass media to reach potential customers, which was predominantly unidirectional or one-way. Broadcasting to a larger, diverse demographic on mass media like TV, radio and newspapers is not really effective for creating authentic and personal connections with customers. It lacked one key component that we have now, real-time feedback.

Social media has opened new lines of communication that provides valuable feedback for businesses. Knowing how to take advantage of this is what separates good businesses from great ones.

When talking about connecting with your target market, this type of two-way communication is important as it reflects a more natural way of building relationships. It is a form that most resembles real life interaction between two people. Social media allows us to do that. It also helps to put businesses and consumers on the same level as opposed to a top to bottom authoritative approach.

With real time feedback, Twitter and Facebook have stepped into the role of customer service for businesses. Some people, on the other hand, may view this as a bad thing as customers or competitors may take advantage of this to leave bad reviews and complain. As long as you address bad reviews and complaints in an emphatic, humanistic way, you’ll show others that you do care and acknowledge it. This can go a long way and give your business to build trust. View all negative feedback and reviews as opportunities to improve and provide a better customer experience.

Lesson here: Social media has opened a new channel for customers to connect with businesses and provide valuable real-time feedback. Be sure to engage with your followers and fans in a timely manner that is honest and personable.

6. Building a Relationship With Your Audience


One of the most valuable assets you can have is an online audience, community or tribe that loves your business. Social media is one of the more common ways to accomplish this.

Essentially what you are trying to build and maintain on social media are strong relationships based on trust and credibility. This is important because it is more expensive to find new customers than it is nurture the ones you already have. In my opinion, this is where social media really shines. Social media is an effective tool for customer / client loyalty with the potential for increasing brand awareness. It’s a way for keeping your brand top of mind while strengthening your relationships with your fans that can pay off in the long term.

The key to maintaining this audience is engagement. Know what resonates with your target market. Be authentic, social and humanistic because people relate to people not a business. It’s really not about you or your business. Provide value to your followers and they will return the favor in the long run.

Of course if possible, you always want to try to draw fans and customers into your ecosystem i.e. your email list or website blog.

Lesson here: The power of social media is in how you can leverage your audience for customer loyalty / retention and increasing brand awareness. 

7. Differences From a Personal Account


Just because you use social media for your personal life, it doesn’t necessarily translate to success in social media for business. What you post on your business page should be more strategic and thought out based on your target audience.

With that being said, you will want to keep your personal life and business separate. Don’t talk and post on your business accounts as you would on your personal. No one really needs to hear about your favorite sports teams or political views. It may seem like common sense but I’ve come across a few clients that posted about video games they were playing and pictures from a night out at the night club with their friends on their business pages.

On the other hand, showing a personal side of your business is generally encouraged. It’s okay to give a sneak peek at the lives of the people behind the business. Keep in mind, the key words here are “personal side of your business.” Social media is a great channel to tell the story of your brand or business.

There has to be a line on what is considered too personal. That line will vary depending on what your business is but general rule of thumb is to keep it in the context of your business. Show behind the scenes or post about your employee’s birthday. I’ve seen cases where people talk about life milestones like getting married or having a kid, which people really liked. Others have posted about extremely sad situations like losing a dog and the audience really related to the experience and showed support. Use your discretion and test what works.

Lesson here: Post content on your business page that your audience finds valuable, not what you want them to value. Showing a personal side of the business is highly encouraged on social media because it helps to humanize the brand, but it generally needs to relate to the business.

What’s Next?

Now that you understand these basic social media concepts, you’re ready to dive into the more of the specifics. Here are some of the next topics:

Set goals for your social media marketing
Define your target market / audience
Find the right social media channels for your business
Develop a social media strategy
Develop a content posting plan
Grow your audience