Social Media Best Practices for Business

Facebook turned 10 this year, Twitter turned eight, and even relatively new-kid-on-the-block Pinterest has been around since 2010. None of us can claim ignorance any longer when it comes to social media, which is why it’s critical you understand and embrace social media best practices, like the eleven below.

1. Be realistic. The biggest mistake small business people make when it comes to social media is that they have unrealistic expectations. Social media is not a panacea for poor sales, internal problems, or issue-plagued products or services. The other thing to keep in mind is the obvious: you own a small business. You’re not Home Depot. You’re not Starbucks. You’re not Jet Blue. You probably don’t have a social media team whose job it is to churn out content, tweet, post, share, etc. And that’s OK.

So what are your goals? Only you can define them. But a good place to start is by making this your mantra: I want to hang out where my customers and prospective customers hang out. I want to listen to their conversations, be part of their conversations, and start my own conversations, not only about my products, services, and industry, but also about the things that interest my customers. I want to connect with people on a real, human level.

From there, you can plan how you’ll go about doing exactly that.

2. Make sure you have an official social media policy in place. Unless you’re a solopreneur, you should have some sort of official social media policy for your company. We’re talking an actual document that  outlines expectations for employees who have access to the company’s social media accounts, what happens when someone leaves the company (e.g. all passwords should be changed immediately), and the overall posting protocol (e.g. does someone need to review and approve all tweets, updates, etc. before they go live?). In addition to a full-blown social media document, you should also address social media policies in your employee handbook.

3. Don’t pretend ROI doesn’t exist. You’ve probably heard that it’s impossible to measure social media ROI, but that’s not true. It is possible, but it doesn’t just happen. You need to set up good systems and analytics so that you can accurately gauge your efforts. Check out this article from Social Media Examiner, which walks you through what you need to do in order to measure your social media ROI.

4. Learn the rules of engagement for each platform. You might think, “Well, social media is social media. How I interact on one platform will be the same as another.” Sorry to break it to you, but no, that’s not how it works. Each platform has its own culture, its own etiquette, and its own lingo. Sure the “big” rules apply to all social media (e.g. be social), but beyond that, each platform is slightly different.

If you’re going to take the time to participate (especially if you’re doing so in the hopes of increasing your exposure and landing new business), then take the time to learn how the platform you’re on functions. There are endless resources online, so you’re only one Google search away from articles that will set you straight on the ins and outs of whatever platform you’re using.

5. Remember what your mother always said about being nice. Maybe it wasn’t your mom, but we suspect that someone at some point offered this bit of wisdom as you were growing up: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything. Remember, your social media accounts are the face of your business. How you respond to people and what those responses “sound” like can say a lot about your company.

Avoid snarky comebacks and sarcasm, which rarely “reads” well in social media, since people don’t have the advantage of hearing your tone or noting a sly smile. When dealing with irate customers, take the conversation offline. As for trolls, don’t engage them (and block them if you have to). Basically, if you’re about to type something that you wouldn’t say to a person’s face—or with your mom in the room—then don’t say it.

6. Don’t be annoying. We could have said don’t spam, don’t talk about inane things, and don’t think you’re above the rules, but all of those things kind of fall under the “don’t be annoying” edict, right? Here’s the thing you must always keep in mind about social media: it’s social. But you need to be mindful and responsible in how you approach being social, just as you do in real life.

For example, if you’re a wallflower at a party, you’re not going to have much fun. At the same time, if you drink too much and start dancing on tables, well…you know where that leads (never anywhere good). The same is true for social media: participate, but be aware of how you go about it.

Don’t talk endlessly about your products and services (use the 80/20 rule: 80 percent about other people and 20 percent about your company). Don’t constantly ask people to buy your products or services. Don’t hashtag conversations to death. Don’t engage in arguments. Don’t write about what you had for breakfast (unless it’s somehow relevant).

In other words, be the charming person at the cocktail party, not the blowhard who does nothing but talk about himself.

7. Commit to it (but welcome ways to make your social media life easier). Those who are most successful with social media are consistent with it and stick with it over time. That’s the key, because social media success doesn’t happen overnight.

At the same time, it’s OK to embrace systems and apps that will make your overall social media life easier. On almost all platforms, you can schedule your posts, tweets, and updates. Do this. Sit down once a week, once a month, or whenever you can and schedule a bunch of social media updates. Have a tickler file where you stockpile interesting articles, thoughts, quotes, photos, etc. and then pull from that when you sit down to schedule. Use third-party apps, like HootSuite, that help you navigate the onslaught of tweets and updates more easily. Take advantage of down time (e.g. waiting in the carpool line or at the dentist’s office) to check in and interact with your followers. Treat social media as something fun (instead of a must-do chore like bookkeeping), and your subconscious will eventually come around and start to see it that way as well.

8. Be gentle with yourself when you make mistakes (because you will). As long as you follow the other best practices (specifically the ones about being nice and not being annoying), any mistakes you make will likely be minor in the grand scheme of things. And, yes, you will make them.

The true test is how you respond once a mistake has been made. For serious blunders you’ll need to respond right away and do damage control. (The process for this should all be part of the social media policy mentioned above.) But for minor infractions, you might not need to do anything…just learn from it and move on.

9. If possible, crowd-source your efforts. In other words, create a team to help manage your social media presences. Yes, it’s helpful to have one main person in charge, but creating your own social media army of commenters, posters, etc. is a great way to share the work. Just make sure this team collaborates so that everyone is on the same proverbial page.

10. Accept the fact that you probably can’t (and don’t need to be) everywhere. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat…and those are just some of the social networks that are out there. Again, you’re not Home Depot or Jet Blue or Starbucks. Even if you’ve created a team as we suggest in #9, you’re still running a small business. You probably can’t afford to have a full-time team dedicated to every social media platform. No, you need to be selective and focused. Where you choose to spend your time (and potential dollars) will depend on your audience, your goals, your level of interest, and your own bandwidth. And yes, you might need to experiment with different combinations before you find the right social media mix for your business.

11. Have fun. Unlike some other marketing tasks, social media is supposed to be fun because it’s, you know, social. Sure, you need to be mindful of your audience, goals, and ROI, but you also need to interact with people on a human level, which a lot of the time is a lot more fun than reviewing website analytics or setting up lead nurturing campaigns. So embrace it and enjoy it.

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