Since the rise of Facebook in the 2000s, social networks have become an essential part of the way companies do business. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the necessity of having a social platform as customers in many parts of the world were unable to shop in person for weeks or months at a time. Between 2020 and 2021, 54% of consumers said that their social media use had increased, 43% said they used social media to discover new brands, 36% to make purchases, and 33% to recommend companies to loved ones.
Social networking has become a core aspect of business
Although most businesses in 2022 have returned to in-person shopping, the power of social media has not diminished. Most business executives expect their social media marketing budget to increase in the next three years, and more than half expect that amount to increase by 50% or more.
So, we know that companies are prioritizing social platforms more than ever before, but with the wide range of applications these platforms can have, how are businesses using social media and what can we learn from these trends?
Businesses are using different social media platforms to network with different people
The first thing to remember in any discussion of social networks is that there are many to choose from and each of them do different things and attract different users.
Small businesses are prioritizing some social networks over others
Social networks are created for different purposes and have different user bases. In order to use social media to its full potential, businesses need to understand exactly what each social platform is meant to do and which demographics use it. Misunderstanding these distinctions could mean at best losing potential customers because you've tapped into the wrong social media sites and at worst giving your business a bad reputation by fundamentally misunderstanding how to use these platforms.
So, we've compiled a list of questions businesses should be asking as they develop a social media strategy.
1. What kind of content do people post on this social media platform, and what kind of tone are they using?
While Facebook started as a way to connect with family and friends and share photos and life updates, it has also more recently become a place where people share articles, news, videos and information. So, Facebook might be the right platform for your business if you want to post a mix of shareable bite-sized content and slightly longer-form content.
Instagram, on the other hand, has typically been for more visual and short-form content, like photos with brief, pithy captions or reels with short audio clips and bite-sized messaging. Instagram works especially well for businesses that prioritize aesthetics or want to routinely display new products. For example, a jewelry shop or plant store that frequently has new designs or varieties to choose from can create a beautiful, polished feed of high-quality photos that will keep followers updated whether or not they are actively considering a new purchase.
Twitter is typically geared towards politics, news and trending topics. It is more public-facing and political than Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes takes a more serious, professional tone. It is also more text-based and relies less on visuals like photos and videos—although Twitter is rapidly evolving. Twitter might be a better bet for B2B companies that offer a product or service that doesn't prioritize aesthetics or rely on visuals to drive sales.
2. Who uses this social media platform, and are they your businesses’ target market?
User demographics are an important part of choosing social media channels.
- Facebook, for example, is increasingly dominated by boomers, who are among the most frequent posters and active users.
- Instagram, on the other hand, has more users who are Millennials and younger.
- Tik Tok is in large part the domain of Gen Z.
Many savvy businesses have begun to realize that demographics play an important role in social media strategy. Because social media platforms have different demographics, paying attention to the social media platforms that these demographics use can help you connect with your target market. It certainly isn't necessary for a business to have accounts on every social channel. And analyzing customer demographics can help businesses decide where to direct their promotion efforts and marketing budget.
3. How has this platform changed over time, and is your company comfortable changing content to match it?
An important consideration for businesses to remember when developing a social media strategy is that every platform changes over time, both because user priorities change and because the platform itself updates and adds new features and options over the years. For example, Twitter famously changed the original 140 character limit, based on the official limit for text messages on mobile phones, to 280 characters in 2017. While this might seem like a minor change, doubling the possible length for content on a network that started with short-form text inevitably changed the way people used and interacted with the site.
In the past few years, Facebook and Instagram both added the story feature, which was once unique to Snapchat, prompting users to post more short-term and less polished content. Users also respond to user-generated content and trends, organically changing the way these platforms operate over time. For example, Instagram, which initially started as a photography app, launched the reel feature in 2019, only three years after the rise of the video creating app, Tik Tok, a content change that did so well in the algorithm that Instagram made the controversial decision to automatically share all new video content as reels in 2022.
Savvy businesses pay attention to these important shifts so that they can continue to authentically connect with social media users as the site changes, or so that that they can abandon platforms that no longer serve their needs or not create accounts on networks that are going in a direction that doesn't seem to fit with their brand or goals. Nowadays, there are many platforms to choose from, with different features and demographics. Many businesses are realizing that it's more worthwhile to devote time and effort to a few well-chosen platforms than to have profiles on sites that don't fit their needs, brand or audience.
4. Can your business use the specific features of this platform to curate a useful feed or following?
It might seem like some platforms are irrelevant to your business but remember that a little savvy curating can go a long way. Ask yourself whether, despite some of its pitfalls, the site you're interested in has features that you could optimize for your specific needs. A series of small, careful choices can transform the way you interact with a site and how useful it is to you.
Businesses using social networking can start by trying several different types of content creation on a site to see what followers interact with the most.
If your business is starting up an official Facebook account, you can try Facebook live, stories, photos, videos, sharing posts, articles from your own blog or website, or longer-form content. Trying out a few different approaches can teach you what your audience wants to see and how you can best communicate with them. Interacting with your audience can be well worth your while, too—interacting with customers on social media leads them to spend from 20-40% more money on products and services.
Businesses are using social networking to grow
Once you’ve answered the questions above, it’s time to consider the following insights about how businesses are using social networking to grow and reach more potential customers.
Social media marketing has become the best way for small businesses to advertise
Social media is changing the way that companies advertise. Business owners are rapidly abandoning TV and radio ads in favor of social media marketing strategies. In fact, as of 2022, nearly 92% of marketers for companies with more than 100 employees in the US are expected to start using social media for marketing. This is unsurprising, considering that in the last ten years the average time spent on social media activity in the US increased to over an hour per day. Social media is simply where potential customers are spending their time and is the best place to get their attention and gain their support—49% of consumers between the ages of 18 and 29 even admit to making purchases in response to social media ads.
Consistent social media presence, quick customer service and communication helps build consumer loyalty
70% of customers since 2020 expect companies to use social media for customer service. Many consumers understand and can easily use social media, and this is the quickest and most accessible way for them to reach out to companies that they purchase from. Being available to customers in this way has clear advantages since this enables businesses to quickly respond to problems and complaints, ensuring their brand maintains a positive reputation. In addition, customers who engage with companies through social media are more loyal and spend around 40% more with those companies than other customers do.
Social media allows loyal customers to become promoters
Businesses are also increasingly harnessing social media to encourage loyal customers to promote products and services in exchange for a chance to win prizes, or simply because they believe in a brand. Facebook and Instagram stories have become a quick way to draw attention to limited offers without spreading outdated information, since stories disappear in 24 hours. Many businesses have started using social media marketing campaigns that involve sharing promotional materials over stories for a chance to win prizes. It turns out, social media users are more likely to participate when the content won't have a long-term impact on the aesthetic of their profiles or their own personal brand.
Businesses are using social networking on social media to develop their brands
Beyond just promotion and social media campaigns, businesses are using social platforms to develop their brands.
Having a consistent social media presence with frequent original content helps companies to develop a look and feel. Developing a formal strategy for the types of content they post can also help their feed to have a specific aesthetic or character that customers can easily identify.
On Twitter, a company might try to develop a particular text-based tone and stick to it, whether that tone is formal, professional, funny or sarcastic. For example, Wendy's is famous for consistently tweeting digs at MacDonald's, and Chipotle's Twitter is brilliant at knowing and embracing its customer base and their quirks. On the other hand, posting frequent visual content like photos and videos to platforms like Instagram can help companies thoughtfully develop a visual brand aesthetic with content in specific colors, tones or styles.
Regular informal communication with a customer base helps businesses to humanize their brands
Social media is more than a brand development or marketing tool—it's the public face and persona of a company that often starts and maintains relationships with customers, clients, partners, peers and the general public. These lines of communication can work to humanize a business by making it more visible, accessible and relatable.
Businesses are using social networking to connect with other businesses
Companies are also using social media to grow their network. Platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn work especially well for interacting with other professionals in a field or other businesses in an industry, whether that means keeping an eye on the competition or developing business relationships.
Companies are using social media to watch the competition
Watching your competitors' social media posts lets you know what they're busy doing and how your work compares. It also helps to get a sense for what customers and other professionals are publicly saying about their brand, products, services or company values. Keeping track of competitors' online presence and reputation helps businesses to understand which social strategies are likely to work and which might fall flat—or blow up.
Companies are using social media to find partners and collaborators
Companies are using social media to find other businesses, industry professionals and influencers who can act as social media marketers. Many businesses are seeking out influencers whose platforms pair well with a specific product or service. For example, fitness influencers might get sponsorships from companies selling protein bars or supplements, self-improvement YouTubers might partner with Skillshare or Audible, and beauty vloggers might work with makeup or skincare brands.
Small businesses can use influencers to reach their target demographic
There are many business benefits to working with influencers to boost social media advertising. Influencers usually have an established, loyal base of followers who are already interested in the topics they discuss. For businesses, this means an immediate, attentive audience who is already primed to be interested in purchases related to a topic they're invested in, endorsed by a relatable person who they trust and might want to support. Influencers often make a small percentage from purchases made using their specific link or code. This is a win-win situation for both the sponsor and the influencer since some followers might make purchases partly from a desire to support a content creator whose work they enjoy. Of course, before making any sponsorship offers it's important to make sure that an influencer's messaging and values don't conflict with the goals or reputation of your business.
Social networking can help you advertise, provide customer service, maintain customer loyalty and more
Smart social networking can achieve multiple business goals at once. It's becoming the best way to advertise, the easiest way to provide customer service, and a great way to maintain customer loyalty. It helps businesses to get a feel for their consumers, competition and industry. In addition, it’s a great way to develop a recognizable brand. Social networking is well worth the investment—your business will thank you.