Online Work Tips & Best Practices
June 25, 2014 by Julia Camenisch

When I asked the owner of a new neighborhood coffee shop which social network I could find her on, she shook her head. She doesn’t have time to deal with social media, she said; there are too many other pressing matters to take care of.

This coffee shop owner isn’t alone. But with 72 percent of American adults using social media, there’s a good chance that most of her customers are online — and, for now, she’s not there to connect with them.

If you’ve shied away from social networks but want to reach your customers, you’ll have to tackle the social media beast sooner or later.

To help you do that effectively, I spoke to Melanie Feltham, a freelance community manager at oDesk. She also works as an online marketing consultant, helping companies craft strategic plans, and shared her advice on how small businesses can make social media work for them.

Finding the audience

Before creating a Facebook Page because “everybody is on Facebook,” you should know that all social media is not created equal; you need to be strategic. Melanie advises a two-pronged approach:

  1. Determine your target market, and
  2. Define your business goals.

Knowing your market is the key to choosing the best social media channel. When she’s helping a client identify their market, Melanie encourages them to “…get as specific as possible, to be sure that your marketing gets noticed by those people who are the most likely to appreciate and talk about you.”

To filter down to a specific group, she asks the following questions:

  • Are you targeting men, women, or both?
  • What age category do they fall in?
  • What is their level of education?
  • Do they have shared common interests?
  • Are they more likely to live in the city or country?
  • Are they within a certain income range?

This information can help you decide where to focus your efforts.

“Especially if you have a limited budget, focus on the platform that has a good percentage of people who are in your target audience,” Melanie said.

“For example, the majority of Pinterest users are women, many with above-average household income. If you’re trying to attract business customers, however, you’re more likely to reach them on LinkedIn or Twitter.”

You’ll only hit the target when you have one

Once you know where to find your customers, your next step is to define your business goals.

“Goals are often determined by what stage the business is in,” said Melanie. “Newer businesses often focus on a strategy that would build brand recognition. Older businesses who already have a high level of recognition will want to consider a strategy that would help them with a goal they have — whether that be building buzz around one of their products or building community.”

For example, if you’re trying to drive sales, sharing coupons and new product pictures will rule the day. If you’re hoping for customer engagement, share information about your business and encourage your fans to speak up.

Just remember: you’ll only know if you’re successful when you know what kind of response you’re aiming for.

Developing this two-pronged approach can be time-consuming and confusing. If you’re struggling with the process, it might be time to bring in a social media consultant. As Beth Granai discovered when developing a marketing plan for her BBQ sauce company, expert help can elevate your brand from okay to amazing.

It’s all about sharing good information

Melanie FelthamYou’ve created a profile on one or more social media sites. You know what your goals are. Now it’s time to start sharing content.

“The content should be related to your industry and needs to be interesting and valuable to the audience. Ask yourself, ‘Would I share this on my personal Facebook Page or click Like if I saw it?'” Melanie said.

Finding the secret to engaging content is a slow and steady process, so don’t expect a viral beginning. Instead, learn from the responses your posts garner. Track what gets shared, what gets Liked, and what doesn’t seem to fly.

As to how often you should post, Melanie shares this advice: “You don’t want to flood people on Facebook with too many posts or they will stop following you. With Twitter, however, you can post many times a day without offending anyone. The important thing to remember is not to post for the sake of posting but instead to post for the purpose of sharing something good.”

You don’t have to do it all on your own

Melanie encouraged business owners who feel out of their depth to look at hiring a consultant. “If the business wants social to work for them and they don’t have the time or experience to create a strategy, then it’s a good time to hire a consultant. It’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come.’ Your social presence needs marketing know-how in order for it to be effective.”

At the end of the day, social media is all about connecting directly with your customers. “People are going to talk about you regardless and it’s better to give them a place to do it where you can be part of the conversation.”

Have you developed a successful social media strategy for your business? Share your advice on how you’ve connected with your customers in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.