With every tweet, like and pin, social media platforms continue to prove their worth as powerful marketing tools. From Facebook and Twitter to Pinterest and Instagram, the ever-expanding number of social media platforms represents a growing number of opportunities for businesses to interact with customers who are spending more time using these outlets.
Recent surveys calculate that time spent on social media accounts for 1 of every 6 minutes spent online in the United States. Factor in that social media advertising is expected to increase from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $8.3 billion by 2015, and it’s clear that large and small businesses alike see social media sites as worthwhile marketing tools.
Small businesses especially seem convinced of the power of social media. According to a 2012 report from HubSpot, small businesses intended to spend up to 19 percent of their marketing budgets on social media, while big businesses have only set aside 9 percent on the same type of spending. For a small business, it may seem like a no-brainer to devote some time and money to social media rather than a traditional advertising campaign. The sheer number of people using social media, along with the opportunity to directly engage with existing and prospective customers, is reason enough to embark on a social media campaign.
Brands and businesses that want to capitalize on these powerful tools must be nimble and creative, as keeping up with the ongoing changes and updates to these sites can be a job in and of itself. From Facebook to Instagram, here are the latest “must-knows” when it comes to social media.
Facebook. The average Facebook user spends 15 hours per month on the site. That’s equal to 900 minutes, or almost two full working days — each month! Due in large part to the massive number of people on the site on a daily basis, 70 percent of local businesses use Facebook as part of their marketing strategy. Unfortunately, it is highly likely that not all of those businesses are taking advantage of the site’s latest layout updates to maximize the marketing potential.
In March 2012, Facebook announced that it would migrate all brand pages to its Timeline format, a profile page design that was first introduced for personal profiles in September 2011. The Timeline is a departure from the original default profile in that it is a summary of a person’s entire life, including photos, videos, status updates, locations visited and other milestones. Luckily for businesses, the new layout provides even more real estate and opportunities to educate and interact with fans.
To create a visually appealing page, businesses should create an eye-catching and descriptive cover image. Swap out the image occasionally, perhaps to reflect seasons or to correspond with specific campaigns. Alternately, the profile image should remain fixed, as it represents a brand identity and should be instantly recognizable in a fan’s news feed.
When it comes to content, consider the “About” section as prime real estate. If a page is associated with a physical location, categorized as a local business and place, then the information displayed should include an address and phone number. If a brand page is categorized as a company and not linked to a specific location, a short description should be displayed. This option offers more mileage in terms of creativity, but remember to keep it succinct.
There are several ways to organize content on a Facebook page, and each gives page managers more control and flexibility than in the past, which is a huge bonus for small businesses. The Timeline itself features the opportunity to create “milestones” that can highlight major moments or events that are relevant to a brand. Photos and videos can be incorporated. As well, users have the ability to “pin” and “star” posts to showcase information they may want to call attention and drive traffic to. Pinning a post will cause it to remain prominent for seven days, while starring a post will highlight that content and expand it across the entire width of the page.
Brands that take advantage of these newer updates have great potential to reach customers in new and exciting ways. However, that doesn’t mean the key rules of Facebook interaction should fall by the wayside. Always remember that when engaging with fans, talk with them, not at them. Offer valuable content that is related to your business on a regular basis, and do not ignore the weekends and evenings. Consider establishing a social media policy that outlines what is and what is not acceptable and how you will handle customer service issues and inquiries. It’s suggested that brands post several times per week to stay competitive.
Pinterest. Since its launch in March 2010, Pinterest has experienced overwhelming growth. The image-based social network that appeals to the more visual user has grown 4,000 percent in recent months and is now second only to Facebook in the amount of time the average user spends on the site. This virtual bulletin board enables users to organize and share anything they find online. From planning weddings and decorating homes to organizing favorite recipes, Pinterest users can create boards dedicated to anything. The site is integrated with other social networks — if someone pins a photo from Flickr, their Facebook status can automatically update to share with friends on Facebook, for instance.
Brands are catching on to how to make Pinterest work for them, especially as the site continues to grow. Reports suggest that buyers referred from Pinterest are 10 percent more likely to buy, and on average, orders from Pinterest are double those from Facebook. In addition, with the daily number of users increasing at an incredible rate — 145 percent since January 2012 — Pinterest is reporting growth that is out-pacing Facebook and Twitter at the same point in their history.
Pinterest has enormous potential for small business marketing. The right Pinterest presence can impact a brand’s website traffic, as each pin leads back to the website. However, the key lies in first laying out a successful strategy that takes advantage of both the visual and social nature of Pinterest.
First, determine if the site is right for your business, and then consider a variety of engagement tactics that will appeal to your specific audience. As one would with other social media profiles, develop a plan for maintaining the Pinterest page while both creating and curating stimulating visual content. For example, the National Pest Management Association’s consumer-facing PestWorld Pinterest page, managed by the Professional Pest Management Alliance, sees increased interaction with content such as insect photography and artwork, pest-themed arts and crafts projects for children, and vibrant images that also share key pest information.
Instagram. Another visually stimulating social network, Instagram is an easy-to-use, mobile photo-taking and photo-sharing application. Users can take pictures with their smartphones, add various camera lens filters, and instantly share to social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, along with their Instagram followers. Acquired by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, Instagram has achieved more than 80 million users in just two years of existence.
From a marketing perspective, Instagram can be a valuable tool for brands. Businesses can engage with users by liking posted images, submitting images themselves and creating contests that encourage user participation. For example, Levi’s used Instagram for a 2012 model search, and General Electric recently hosted a contest asking users to post images of GE products that inspired them using the tag “#GEInspiredMe.”
While larger brands have proven that Instagram can be a valuable and effective tool, there are a few limitations at this early stage in its existence. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Instagram is primarily driven by mobile usage, and all content begins with a mobile device (i.e., a phone camera). In addition, while many brands are currently active, there is not yet a surefire method of measurement, and engagement is relatively limited in comparison to other social networks.
As social media platforms grow, so too will the number of consumers who interact with brands online. With nearly 290 million monthly active users on Twitter, and more than 1 billion Facebook users worldwide, it’s clear that the social networks represent a huge opportunity for marketers to communicate with a target audience. As newer sites like Pinterest and Instagram continue to grow in popularity, expect more platforms to enter the fray. Brands should strive to stay on top of the latest updates and trends to take advantage of these effective methods of engaging with consumers.
The author is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.