When it comes to choosing which social media platforms to use to promote a business, product or service, business owners everywhere have quite a variety to pick from – Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Snapchat are just a few that instantly come to mind.
The answer to the question of which social media platform is best for small businesses to be using, however, might surprise some people.
“When it comes to marketing on social media, Instagram is the place to be,” said Michael Wagner, digital and social strategist with Markon Brand Design. “Of all the social media platforms, Instagram is still a place where brands large and small can gain traction and bring themselves in front of a new audience organically without having to invest a lot of money. I think that the ‘stories’ feature that they’ve launched in the last year or so is really powerful.”
Wagner and Kristine Neil, owner of Markon Brand Design as well as a designer and strategist, said Instagram provides businesses with a much more relaxed, user-friendly social media platform than others like Facebook and Twitter. Wagner said that when someone tags a location, event or even certain hashtags on Instagram, Instagram then aggregates other people’s story posts around the hashtag or the location/event tag. So, from the perspective of the business owner, when they’re going to look and see how many people have looked at that photo post in their story, they can see that that photo has been added the that larger “story” of, for example, Vancouver, Wash.
“It’s a really powerful way to do something really simple and put yourself in front of new people,” Wagner said. “To support the claim that Instagram is the way to go, I think that Facebook has, through the nature of how they built their platform and what they’ve done, algorithmically, I think they’ve made it difficult for people to come across new content. The user has to take the step of liking a page or following something.”
“What you see on Facebook, you’re almost always suspicious of now because of the way that they’ve made that hard from the business perspective,” Neil said. “We now just say, ‘oh, that’s sponsored content’ and we move past it. So, the perception of people is to always be a little bit on guard when they see something on Facebook.”
Wagner and Neil acknowledged that Instagram is definitely not necessarily right for every business, but for most, if there’s a reason to be on social media, Instagram is the way to go.
In regards to Twitter, Wagner said that he thinks the climate on Twitter is difficult right now. He said Twitter is very “open and wild,” making it difficult to even follow conversations or use the same tactics that they’ve used for years to get in front of people on Twitter without seeing a lot of garbage. Wagner said he’s seen a real slowdown among businesses of all kinds in regards to how they use Twitter.
“I think right now they’re still looking for a way to monetize it (Twitter), but if they monetize it, then it becomes just like Facebook,” Neil said. “Now, it’s just a place to regurgitate content, so it’s just clutter. If you’re a business that’s thinking you’re not sure what to be on (which social media), the first thing you can automatically rule out is Twitter.”
Neil and Wagner said the same goes for Snapchat in most cases, businesses really have no reason to use Snapchat as one of their social media platforms.
“It’s really hard on Snapchat for a business to monitor what that return is,” Neil said. “You can be on Snapchat, but there’s no way to see trending hashtags, you can’t target anything, it’s really like throwing darts at a wall with your eyes closed.”
Ultimately, Wagner said use of social media by businesses, big and small alike, really comes down to what platform is a valid use of time. He said that if social media is something a business owner needs for their business, then they should choose the best one that is the best use of their time.
Wagner and Neil both said that they are not suggesting that businesses rule out the use of Facebook completely. Neil said businesses should maintain a Facebook page on some level, but should do the bare minimum, enough to just show at least some signs of life.
BUSINESSES SHOULD STILL MAINTAIN A WEBSITE
Neil and Wagner both said that websites are still a vital tool for businesses to have.
“I still recommend that every business have a web page, modern and updated,” Wagner said. “Just like your Facebook page, it’s a listing for a search engine and, the thing is, the more important thing to talk about in regards to how people find your business is mobile search. If you don’t have that content (from your own website), people will not find you when they’re searching for whatever they need nearby.”
Wagner said businesses large and small should all invest in a website, and investing in a website means a real, thoughtful project where you put real information online.
“Throwing up a big hero image and an address, that’s like the minimum that you can do (on a website),” Wagner said.
“One of the biggest things that we see that really makes us cringe are businesses that have a website and have it done once,” Neil said. “That’s not enough. It’s like mowing your lawn. You can’t just mow your lawn once. You have to update your website.”
Wagner said that any businesses that sell any kind of product really need to update their website on a regular basis, at least monthly. He also said businesses need to have quality photography on their websites.
OTHER ASPECTS TO THINK ABOUT WHEN BRANDING, MARKETING
In addition to social media and a website presence, Wagner and Neil said businesses need to think about other aspects when trying to market and brand themselves, such as mobile search, voice search and search optimization.
“Your website should be coded correctly because you need Alexa or Siri to pick up your business,” Wagner said. “You have to think about how you’re going to structure things so that your business gets picked up. It’s data first, visual second. We still believe in photography and good copy. The dressing still has some value, but it has value after that technical aspect.”
Wagner said branding is about experience. In the past, consumers may have sat in front of their laptop and looked up where they want to go for dinner, etc., but now they’re doing it with their voice while driving in their car, so the website is not going to be the first exposure a business receives.
“Consistency in that brand usage matters more than aesthetics,” Neil said. “Branding is just this tool to get people to engage, so the only thing that really matters is consistency.”
Neil and Wagner said each business should be authentic to their brand. There are all of these different ideas and thoughts, and Wagner and Neil said businesses need to utilize what works for them.
“Access is really high these days, so quality is low, but be respectful of the access, use the tools wisely,” Wagner said. “Otherwise, they become junk.”
“It’s still an exciting time because there’s so many tools for brands to make great things and make smart choices and, as far as small business, really get your name out in the world and grow and make your livelihood off of whatever you are passionate about,” Wagner said.