Social media for the small business: Start by listening

Here, Meera Sapra discusses how to create a personal voice on social media.

Small businesses owners are often quick to jump on social media to communicate and create a buzz around their business. But whilst an ad hoc approach in the early stages can be useful, mastering social media to successfully grow a business takes a little more strategy.

Businesses often spread their presence thinly. Many go the whole hog with Twitter, Facebook and Google +, syndicating the same content across them all. This shows a lack of appreciation for the most important aspect of social media strategy: listening. Here are four tips that will help you focus your efforts on social media and help you build a presence with the right audience.

Step 1: Know where your audience is

Sending information without knowing where your target audience are engaging, will just add to the noise. By listening closely to conversations on a few different networks around topics relevant to the business, you can work out where your audience is most receptive. Monitoring industry trends, keywords and conversations around your business and competitors gives a business insight into which networks are best for engaging.

For instance, a new restaurant would look for conversations about good food around their town. By working out where these conversations happen, they can target the desired audience more directly. In addition to general networks various industry specific sites exist, such as Zomato, Bake Space, or Foodie in the case of the restaurant. Listening gives you a clear idea of which networks a business can benefit from being vocal on. This provides a focus. In the early stages, you should avoid getting caught up in more than two or three networks. Whilst monitoring competitors is important, it is not necessarily right to mirror them. Only focus on the social networks where they have the most success.

Step 2: Gather insights

Proactive listening can also help gain important insights. Asking yourself the right questions when starting to listen is essential to focusing this insight towards the most useful information. As an example of good questions to gain insight, the local restaurant owner might ask:

  • What are the most popular, most-talked-about ​places for food in my town?
  • What are the issues that matter most to foodies in my town?
  • What kind of food experiences do they look for?
  • How do I reach and engage influencers such as food bloggers?

It takes time, skill and attention to find the answers to such questions. But the insights can help mould future business decisions to more accurately fit customer preference: whether that’s about the product, the most appealing offers, or how to organise events.

Step 3​ Engage and participate​

All social networks have their own style and unspoken rules. Knowing when to intervene into conversations without appearing intrusive is essential. The only way to learn is by listening. All interactions should provide some value to those participating in the conversation, and that doesn’t mean trying to sell. No one wants to hear from someone who is only concerned with pushing their own agenda. So, what type of conversations are good to participate in?

  • Conversations that mention your business: Respond to feedback, make amends for errors, and be thankful for praise.
  • Conversations with customers and influencers: Reaching out and interacting with customers as well as key industry influencers will make the brand more personable But stay clear of…
  • Conversations that only mention competitors: Jumping in can seem rude and aggressive. Avoid this unless absolutely necessary.

Remember these conversations can be about anything: don’t necessarily just approach conversations about products or the business. Being relatable is great for businesses trying to create a personal voice on social media: a friendly hello when engaging with relevant content can go a long way. Building relationships through meaningful conversations will transfer into better leads than creating noise.

Some brands are great at capturing attention by creating content around the news, popular events or trends that they know their audience cares about. A great example of this was Oreo’s infamous ‘Dunk in the Dark’ image during the Super Bowl 2014 blackout was shared on Twitter and Facebook more than 20,000 times and garnered 525 million earned media impressions.

Coming up with creative ideas in real time isn’t easy; aside from being clued up on all the trending topics, it takes a large dose of creativity. Businesses shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with social media. But it is important to remember that all communication needs to be aimed at and understood by the target audience.

Step 4: Build a culture of listening

Listening shouldn’t be a one man job – get the whole team listening. The advantages aren’t just for the marketing team. The sales team will be far more clued up about what support they can provide their customers. Anyone can stay tuned in to the search terms from their accounts, even if they can’t publish on behalf of the business. Business owners need to lead the way as the CLO – the Chief Listening Officer. There is massive value in stepping back and listening to what is going on in industry and amongst influencers. A team that is tuned in to what customers really want is far better placed to come up with better ways to provide a great service and keep them happy. 

Meera Sapra is senior marketing manager at Zoho Corporation.

Further reading on social media

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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