4 Steps to Successful Social Media Promotion for Local Businesses

Back in February, we put together a nifty little Social Media Guide for coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. With summer in full swing and plenty of changes on social networking platforms, we’ve decided to revisit that topic in a series of blog posts. Bare with us as we try to unravel the allegedly complicated world of social media marketing.

It has now become clear to most that social media isn’t just a ‘thing’ but that the online world has become a standard part of consumers’ daily lives in the developed world and, hence, a powerful marketing and sales tool. And that’s part of the problem – everyone seems to claim to know what they’re talking about and many say it’s ‘easy’. So let’s start right there. It isn’t easy. But it is simple.

Step 1 – Know your brand and audience

Our target audience are small businesses and entrepreneurs who are sick and tired of marketing buzzwords. So we try to sound like actual human beings.

Whichever channel you decide to use to promote your business, there are a few prerequisites that need to be fulfilled before you get started. The first, whether you’ve got a budget for a TV commercial or are just creating your business’ Facebook fan page, is defining your brand and knowing your customers. Fail there and you’ll remain just another local business in a random neighborhood.

To define and establish an effective online presence, a local business needs to stand out. The things that make you stand out – the backstory of your business, your staff, head chef or signature dishes – are the basis for that. Build a story and a recognizable identity on those foundations.

Got an outstanding identity? Great. Now build a visual identity around that. Hire a photographer or set aside a few days to take photos yourself. Over the course of two or three weeks, and before you begin doing anything on social media, snap at least a thousand photos of your venue, the neighborhood it’s in, your customers and staff in action (with their permission), your dishes and your best drinks. Make sure the photos depict the atmosphere of your business. Once you’re done snapping, pick a couple of hundred of your best photos and prepare them in a folder for posting on social media channels.

In the meantime, talk to your favorite customers and regulars and try to figure out where they ‘hang out’ online. Sure, Facebook has over a billion users worldwide and is by far the most used social network, but are you sure your target group and your community are using it? If you’re targeting Millennial or Gen Z customers, you may as well forget about the world’s largest social network. Even if you garner tens of thousands of fans there, it may not mean much to your bottom line.

Step 2 – Choosing your social media channels

Take a few minutes to get to know your target audience and their habits.

Which brings us to step 2. If we had a dime for every time a client asked us whether their business should be on social media… Well, ok, we’ve made more than a dime for every time we were asked that, but you get the gist. It’s a question we’re asked daily.

The short answer is – yes and no. Which doesn’t really help, so allow us to clarify. Should your business have a social media presence? Absolutely. In fact, it will have an online presence whether you want it to or not – your patrons don’t need your permission to talk about your business, and talk they will.

Should your business be on all social media channels, especially the hip right now ones? Absolutely not. And here’s why.

One of the first and biggest mistakes that we see small, local businesses make is hopping on every popular social media channel, thinking a ‘wider’ social presence will bring them results. So wrong. In fact, every social network will require time and effort so trying to be present and interesting everywhere will wear you thin and tire you out.

Picking your communications and marketing channels is like picking the right dress for an event – just because it’s popular and looks good on most people doesn’t mean it will look good on you. The only proper way to choose your social media channels (and website design and placement) is by taking a look at where your customer base is already hanging out online.

If you’re targeting Gen Xers and young families with kids, a Facebook fan page is right for you. If you’re targeting Millennials, focus on Instagram, Periscope, and YouTube, and maybe just maintain a Facebook page to distribute the content. If you’re already looking to reach up-and-coming Gen Zers, it’s Snapchat, Instagram, and Tumblr you want to aim for.

Niche networks and websites are also great, but take even more effort and time – something you probably can’t afford right now. Sure, sharing info with beer lovers and oenophiles could be a boost once you’ve already established a fairly popular online presence, but other than that you’ll just be running around in circles and wasting time on those niche networks.

Focus on the local perspective – micro-local trends, habits, and your local community. These are your regulars, your returning customers, and your potential brand ambassadors. Once they get to know you and love you, they’ll be your greatest tool, online and offline, in promoting your business further.

In 2015, Facebook launched a couple of new incredibly useful tools for local businesses. Our absolute favorite among them is the Local Insights tool, which shows you simple but precious information, like who is in a 165-ft (or 500-ft) range of your business and when. You can now literally patch into the basic movement and behavior, uptimes and downtimes of age groups using Facebook in your vicinity.

Take your sweet time picking the right channels if you’re just getting started or revamping your online presence. And don’t pick more than three channels if you only have one or two people dedicated to handling those channels daily.

Once you’re done researching, picking and choosing, it’s time to set up your profiles and pages properly. Focus on visuals and make sure you have all your basic business information readily available in an appropriate place on the page. And make sure you’re there to talk to your customers on social networks once they start engaging.

Step 3 – Promoting your social media presence

If you know your own worth, it won’t be tough getting others to like you.

Another mistake we see far too often is businesses using their social media profiles and pages to simply distribute any content from their own website or events at their venue. Your social media pages are not billboards and have no use if you treat them as such. Frankly, no one is interested in listening to you talk about just you.

Once you’ve gotten to know your audience and after you’ve taken a good look at the common behavior of users on the channels you’ve picked – set a tone and provide your audience with useful information. Your business’ social media channels should be more like interest pages and less like a teenage girl talking about herself and her cool friends.

Let’s say your business is a local coffee shop. You’ve probably got one or more coffee shop chains in your neighborhood giving you a run for your money. So let’s go back to brand identity – what makes you different. Maybe it’s your knowledge of coffee, better service, and an easy-going atmosphere that your venue provides. Good. Now transfer that onto your social media pages. Share links and information from other websites about great coffee, science, best books of the year or current fashion trends for the summer. If you’re a beachside restaurant, share weather updates, surfing news, and update tourists and locals with safety warnings. If you’re a sports bar, fer cryin’ out loud, be the first in your feed to share announcements and news about your patrons’ favorite sports, trades, and athletes. Be a valuable part of your community and you’ll quickly see the results.

Now that you’re an active part of your community, both IRL and on Facebook, you can finally invest in social media advertising. Any cash you throw at advertising before that is like throwing it into a burning house. Poof – gone and turned into ashes.

If you’re running your accounts yourself, then boosting your best Facebook page posts and event announcements or promoting Instagram posts and tweets is the best and easiest route. And yes, there’s a catch. You shouldn’t just boost or promote anything.

There are three elements your boost or promotion must have:

  • Target your audience properly

Is your audience more active on your chosen networks on Mondays or the weekend? Morning or evening? It may take a little extra effort, but go so far as to manually boost your posts on Facebook for a few hours each evening, then pause the boost until the next evening and go back and boost again. It may seem like ‘just $5 a boost’ to many, but for a small business we know that every dollar counts. Invest a little more time and effort to save at least half of your ad budget. There’s a reason we prefer to say ‘invest in marketing’ instead of calling it what most of our colleagues call it – ‘marketing spend’. An investment should come back your way, spending seldom does so.   

Now make sure the tone of the post you’re boosting reaches out to your target audience, is visible and familiar to them. Keep in mind that a boosted Facebook page post will appear in your audience’s Facebook news feed, among posts of their friends. You’re entering their personal space on their screens. Keep your tone in tune with what they expect to see on their page and make your post look like something they’d actually enjoy seeing.

When and if possible, make people laugh. That works every time.

  • Design dos and don’ts

Each social network has their own design standards and requirements, with plenty of reason. Go out of your way to stick to those standards and fit in while standing out elegantly. No, Facebook isn’t just being a pain in the derriere by making you adhere to all of their ad design standards – they’re telling you what works and what doesn’t. Please take their advice and use it well.

Also, put your logo watermark on any and all original material you share in any posts, but especially on promoted content. If it gets shared, which is one of the desired results of promoting your content in the first place, it will garner you added visibility.

  • Create a call to action

This is one of those ‘last but certainly not least’ sort of things. You need to know exactly what you’re promoting and why – what’s the end result you’re looking for? And please don’t say “more fans on my Facebook page.” If you want the whole truth, the number of fans or followers you garner on your pages are worth zilch in real world business. What you want is an active fan base that is interacting with your business and brand on social networks. And 100 active followers out of 120 is a whole damn lot better and easier to manage and maintain than 100 actives out of 5000.

If you’re looking for real-world business results from your promotions on social media, aim for a concrete end result. Say you’re launching a new service or a new menu. Create a page on your website specifically for that and make clicks on the link and readership of that page your aim in your paid Facebook boost or Instagram promotion. Intice and call on your audience to click on the link in your promoted post, then include another call to action on that web page – whether it’s signing up for news about the new service or booking a reservation for a tasting of your new menu.

When creating calls to action, please make sure to read through the terms & conditions of the social network in question. You don’t want the page you’ve been working on for months or years to be banned from a network because of a silly mistake.

Step 4 – You’re ready to roll. Sort of.

That about covers it.

If you’ve followed through on everything, you should be all set to see new and returning customers calling on you these days. Which hardly means your work is done. In fact, this is just the beginning.

Here’s what professional marketers know that you don’t – measuring results and then using that data to build better campaigns and strategies. This is particularly important in online marketing and advertising. The world wide web is an ever evolving place and social networks are changing weekly, if not daily.

The third biggest mistake we’ve seen small businesses make on social media is relying entirely on past experiences and results. Now if we had a dime for every time we’ve heard the ‘but it worked for me last year’ line, we’d have Coca Cola’s annual advertising budget. Although the principles of marketing remain the same throughout, what worked last year on social networks is bound to be a dud six months later.

In the case of social media marketing, following trends and new user behavior data is what works. In 2015, it was images and links that go along with images. In 2016, it’s video and original text content (without links) that’s being promoted on all the major networks, while live video is the up-and-coming this. If you’re reading this in 2017, forget we said anything and go look for our freshest blog posts on this topic.

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