The complete guide to social media for small business
Welcome, small business marketers!
We’ve been hard at work figuring out the strategies and tools that help small businesses succeed on social media, and we want to share that information with you!
Social for Small Business Information Sources
- Sprout Social’s SMB Sales reps to uncover the most valuable tools, solutions, and workflows for SMB marketers.
- Sprout’s Success team to find out what trips up small businesses when getting started with social marketing.
- Sprout’s customers to find out what their main goals are on social media and the workflows that drive the most success.
Whether you’re new to social media marketing or a social veteran, you’ll find what you need here. Just use the table of contents to navigate to your preferred content.
Table of contents
While this guide focuses on small business social media, see our new guide if you’d like to take a step back and learn all things small business marketing!
Social analytics and reporting for small business
That’s why it’s important to use social media analytics to figure out what’s moving the needle for your business.
According to the most recent Sprout Social Index, social analytics is the most used social marketing feature and strategy.
Native social media networks offer analytics on your social presence, but if you want to get deeper analysis, cross-network analysis, cross-profile analysis and more, you will need to invest in a social media management platform.
Below are some of the most important metrics that you can track provided by the social networks.
The number of times an individual saw your message.
The number of times an individual has interacted with your message, including:
The number of engagements divided by the number of impressions.
The number of times someone visited your profile page.
The number of times your handle or brand was mentioned on social.
The number of individuals who follow you on social, usually shown as an increase or decrease over time.
If you’re using a social media management and analytics tool you can dig into additional reports and analytics. Here are some of the reports our small business audiences like to run in Sprout.
*Caveat:* This section includes reports from Sprout Social because I do work here. While there may be other solutions out there, Sprout Social is my favorite and the one I know most about. This is mostly just to show you what you can do with social tools. You can also run all these reports for totally free with no commitment if you start a Sprout Social trial.
The Sent Messages Reports aggregates all of your social messages from all of your social networks and profiles into a single location, helping you see which messages are the most effective for your audiences,
We do the heavy lifting to help you understand how responsive you are to messages that appear to warrant a response. You will see how effectively you’re responding to these messages (Response Rate) and how quickly you’re engaging (Response Time).
Get a sense of how you rank among the pack. We calculate your percentile ranking by comparing your Response Rate and Response Time metrics for the selected period against the latest data that we have on profiles similar to yours.
Engagement rates by time and day
Dig deeper into your Engagement Report to see which days of the week or times of the day you’re least responsive and make sure you’re properly allocating time to your efforts.
If you’re managing social media as a team, it’s important to dig into your team’s data to see who your top performers are and who could use a little coaching, especially across multiple locations.
Get an at-a-glance look at how your paid social media efforts are performing from a single dashboard.
While most small businesses I talk to spend a lot of their reporting time exporting data from each social media network and profile, the Sprout Social Group Report aggregates that all into a single report so you can see how you’re performing on social as a whole.
Figure out what topics and hashtags your brand is most frequently mentioned with, then you can use that information to create content you know your audience will like.
Keep an eye on your competitors by running Competitive Comparisons. Unfortunately for our made-up coffee store below, Starbucks seems to be doing a better job on social.
Those are just a few of the reports that you can run with Sprout Social. If you’d like to hear more about all of our reporting features and how they can help you achieve social success, just get in touch with our team!
Social media tips for small business
Alright, up to now we’ve figured out why social media is valuable for your small business, how to set goals that will have an impact on your bottom line, and how to track those goals with social media analytics.
Now let’s get into some of the more tactical stuff. Here are tips for smaller organizations ramping up their social media marketing.
1. Identify your social audience
Most marketers will tell you the first step in creating a successful campaign is getting to know your audience, and the same rings true for social media.
Though you may have an understanding of who your audience is there is social data you can pull to verify your understanding.
Get a better understanding of who your social audience is by using data from social networks or a third-party social media tool. Below is a look at my personal audience demographics from Twitter.
Twitter’s analytics report
To access this data go to your Twitter page, click on your icon in the top right corner, click “Analytics” and go to the tab “Audiences”.
This is a plethora of data that can help you identify who and where your audience is so you can create content you know they’ll enjoy.
2. Build relationships with engagement
Remember the graph we shared above which showed customers are 71% more likely to purchase from a brand after a positive experience on social?
That’s because engaging with your audience on social is critical.
Customers reach out to you on social for a number of reasons, and our Sprout Social Index surveyed customers to ask why they’re reaching out to brands social.
Reaching out to your customers to answer their questions in a timely fashion is essential to building a deeper relationship and selling more.
Think about it this way: you wouldn’t ignore a customer calling your office phone, would you?
3. Search social for new opportunities
This is probably my favorite tip and our customers light up when they first see the value.
It’s possible to use a social media listening tool to find conversations happening on social media that are perfect for you to join.
Let’s say that you run a pizza restaurant in Chicago that sells gluten-free pizza.
Within Sprout you can set a Brand Keyword that will constantly search social media for people who mention “gluten-free pizza” within a certain radius of your restaurant. Those messages will then be streamed to your Smart Inbox to interact with.
There are a few things you can do to those who are mentioning gluten-free pizza.
- Give them a simple Like or Favorite. Chances are they will check out your page and see that you similarly offer gluten-free pizza and may put you on their list of places to try.
- Actively reach out to them. Acknowledge their original message in a way that shows you care about their opinion and even offer them a coupon code for the next time they’re in the market for your gluten-free deliciousness.
It helps me be part of timely conversations that before I may have missed, especially on Twitter. It’s also really easy to say thank you to new followers and donors on social media, where before I may have missed it.
Communications Manager, Infant Crisis Services
4. Create a social content calendar
If you’re not taking the time to plan your social media calendar in advance, you could end up scrambling to find content to share.
This is a big problem because sharing quality content across your social channels is key to engage your audience and attract new followers.
Below is a view of a healthy social content calendar with a month’s worth of content across several platforms.
We’ve written a more detailed post on how to create a social content calendar, but it boils down to four key steps:
- Figure out what content resonates with your audience
- Decide on how often to post to each social network and profile
- Create or source great content to share
- Fill up your content calendar with a social publishing tool
5. Post your content at optimal times
One questions we hear frequently is “what is the best time to post on social”, so we built an entire post with the times that work.
But while that’s helpful it does create a problem: if everyone starts posting at that time, is it really then the best time to post?
The answer is no.
These types of studies come up very frequently and while they are fresh they’re an amazing resource to drive more engagement. But as they become more popular and more users post at those times, streams become flooded and messages get lost.
That’s why it’s a good idea to publish at your optimal send times. You can do this by studying your social media sent messages and finding trends in when posts get top engagement, or you can use a tool like Sprout’s Optimal Send Times to do that for you automatically.
I started using Optimal Send Times in June  right after it was rolled out and saw a huge increase in engagement and reach.
Communications Specialist, City of Lenexa
6. Find the best hashtags to use
While hashtags may seem a bit played out, and they’re frequently on the receiving end of jokes in media, they’re still critical for social media.
Hashtags can increase your reach tremendously and even incentivize customers to Tweet when they normally wouldn’t have.
Not sure which hashtags to use? One of my favorite tools is our Hashtag Holidays Calendar. It’s a free resource that shows you all of the upcoming Hashtag Holidays, like Small Business Saturday (*cough November 24th*).
Assuming the Hashtag Holiday makes sense to your brand, it’s a great way to inspire content while taking advantage of a trending topic.
We’ve also created an article about finding hashtags if you need additional help.
7. Audit your social presence
Whether you’ve been running your social media accounts for a while or have just been dabbling in social marketing it’s important to conduct an audit of your social presence.
A social media audit will tell you what has worked, what hasn’t worked, what profiles need a bit of an update and so much more. To make it easier our team created a free social media audit template.
8. Create great visuals
If a picture is worth 1,000 words, and the average length of an English word is 5 letters, it would take you 35.71 Tweets to tell the same story you could with one shared image on social media. So why wouldn’t you just include an image?
We’ve put together a separate resource with 39 Free Tools to Create Social Media Images if you need something to help get your creativity flowing!
And now it’s time for a braggy story. We all know how each social network requires differently sized imagery for posting, and if you don’t use the correct size your image may come out a bit distorted.
That’s why I submitted an idea for a free tool called Landscape for our Sprout Social “Hack Week”, and we actually created and shipped the final product! Give it a whirl when you need to resize images.
9. Create social media videos
Video content is an amazing way to increase your engagement on social channels, but creating videos can be intimidating.
Whether you don’t have the necessary supplies to shoot something quality, don’t have the proper location to film or have just a bit of stage-fright, it doesn’t have to be hard.
We worked with the video marketing professionals at Wistia to create the guide “10 Tips for Creating Engaging Social Media Videos“, but here are the cliff notes.
- Base your video content off your objectives and goals.
- Video marketing is never one and done – make more!
- Keep it short.
- You don’t have to hire outside talent – you’re the talent!
- Write yourself a script – don’t wing it.
- Edit your videos for each social networks requirements.
- Optimize the messaging in each social post.
- Respond to all inbound video comments.
- Pay attention to the video analytics.
- Pair video analytics with social analytics.
10. Combine organic with paid
With so many tips already on this list you can run with organically, why should you consider paid ads?
Well if your messages aren’t getting the impressions or views that you’d like then it is always possible to put a few paid dollars between them to give them a boost. Even just a few dollars can get you hundreds of new impressions for posts, and with Sprout Social’s Boost technology it has never been easier.
Not sure what kind of ads to start making? We have some data for that as well.
We even break down the most compelling content by the generation you may be selling to.
11. Get your team on social
There is no I in Tweet.
Thinking as a social business team is important because social touches all facets of your organization, not just branding and awareness.
From managing client relationships through your customer service and sales teams, to engaging audiences through your social and agency teams, to discovering new avenues for your product team, social plays a role in all ares of your organization.
With a small business, efficiency is key for your social media marketing team. Make sure you’re building a team that is able to respond to your incoming messages without getting overwhelmed. Social media collaboration is key!
Now that you have some stellar tips to improve your social media marketing let’s talk about some of the tools that can help you on the way!
Social media tools for small business
While some marketers may scoff at my “techstack” (the term most people refer to as all of the software in their toolbelt), it genuinely helps me save time and be more effective in my role.
And if I wasn’t using software to keep up with my own work I would be drowning. Our customers certainly agree when it comes to using Sprout to help them manage their work.
It’s definitely a time thing. If we weren’t using any kind of social media tool my workday would be a disaster.
Marketing and Communications Manager, The Garrison Institute
There are other social tools out there you can explore, but here are a few people who are glad they went with Sprout
But here are a few people who are glad they’ went with Sprout.
Social media management tools or native networks?
“Why would I use a social media management tool instead of the native social networks?”
This is one of the main questions I hear from small businesses who are looking into social media management software for the first time, and it’s very valid.
At Sprout, we have deep relationships with all of the social media networks out there and their tools are fantastic. However, there are certain advantages to using a third-party-platform for your social marketing.
A few of the king things are:
- Publishing to multiple social networks and profiles simultaneously
- Consolidating all of your social content calendars into one platform
- Aggregating analytics from multiple profiles and networks into one dashboard
- Streaming all of your messages from all of your platforms into one place for engagement
Sprout Social for small business: A social partner
Sprout Social helps nearly 10,000 small and medium-sized businesses build stronger relationships with customers and eliminate time-consuming tasks on social.
We do this not just by providing the software to take advantage of social media, but by working with you and helping you find success. From all the customer surveys that I ran one thing was abundantly clear:
Sprout Social isn’t just a provider, we’re a partner.
When SMBs subscribe to Sprout Social they’re getting more than just a leading social media scheduling, analytics and management platform; they’re getting a partner that truly cares about helping them set and achieve social goals.
Our entire company is focused on helping your business create real connections on social media, and we’re happy to do it (check the 4.7 star Glassdoor review). Don’t you want to work with a company who is happy to work with you?
Sprout Social support
To quote our amazing CEO Justyn Howard in a recent post he wrote about our customer experience (and the whole article is certainly worth a read):
Our brand isn’t our design, our products or our logo—our brand is how we make people feel. And customer support isn’t just a department or a job title, it’s our relationship with the people who allow us to do what we love.
CEO, Sprout Social
And I realize that it may seem a bit unfair to only quote our CEO, so here’s what one of our amazing customers had to say.
I just really liked that you guys took the time to call me. You’re still taking the time to call me and it feels like I’m not just a number.
Senior Social Media & Community Manager, Super League Gaming
And as you know I love sharing our customers quotes, so here’s another.
Sprout has the highest ratings in satisfaction, support, usability and retention (per industry analysts and real user reviews).
Sprout Social onboarding
If you’ve never used a social media management platform before, or if you have and didn’t enjoy the experience, you know just how important it is to get setup properly and quickly. Especially when you have goals to hit and stakeholders to share value with.
At Sprout Social, we’re here to help you with completely free onboarding to make sure you’re finding value fast.
I really liked how the onboarding process was. I had 3 different phone calls with people to teach me how to use the tool.
Senior Social Media & Community Manager, Super League Gaming
Sprout Social’s small business marketing lead
Oh yeah, there’s also me! I’m the Small to Medium Business Marketing Lead, and my job is to consistently create content that will not only help you find value with Sprout Social, but also give you the leading strategies and insights into the world of small business marketing.
Here’s a look at the face behind the keyboard and my Twitter handle (DMs are open).
Alright, yes we have a world class team, but that world-class team is also building and maintaining world-class social media management software.
Streamline and effectively scale social monitoring and engagement efforts with a unified social inbox.
We all know how good it feels to hit “inbox zero”, right?
Well with an all in one inbox like Sprout’s Smart Inbox, you can stream every single message from all of your social media profiles into a single location, making it easy to respond to the social posts that need your attention.
Then as you go through the Smart Inbox you can choose to Mark Messages Complete, removing it from your Smart Inbox entirely. It gives you the comfort of knowing every social message from your customers has been properly responded to.
I can leave at the end of the day, or start the day knowing that I really haven’t overlooked anyone that has reached out for help or has said something really great about us that didn’t get a response.
Communications Manager, Infant Crisis Services
If you’re lucky enough to have a few accomplices helping you manage your social media messages then Sprout is a must.
- Apply custom tags to your Smart Inbox to help divvy up the workload
- See live activity updates of who is responding to what to ensure no crossed wires
- Turn a message into a Task and assign that to a team member more suitable to answer
- Follow an audit trail to see who responded to what in the scary case that something goes awry
Sprout allows for publishing for all social profiles from a single location. Easily schedule content and use advanced posting capabilities to ensure it reaches the right people at optimal times.
Post messages to all of your social media networks and profiles at a single time with Sprout’s scheduler. You can also tag individual messages to later report on the success of specific campaigns.
Visual and collaborative content calendar
A visual social content calendar makes it easy to see what your upcoming social schedule looks like. If you see a few days with too many or too few posts scheduled then simply shift those messages around to ensure you always have great content to share.
Optimal Send Times and ViralPost
Not sure when the best time is to send messages to your audience? Sprout’s ViralPost and Optimal Send Times will use data to figure out the times your audience is most engaged and automatically publish those posts even if you’re not at your computer.
Image editing and asset library
Create a repository of pre-approved images to make it easy to find visuals to share with your messages. You can also edit images right from the Sprout Image Editor to make it even more personal to your messages.
Sprout’s reporting functionality simplifies the measurement of performance metrics, including audience growth and interactions, team performance, competitive analysis and much more.
I really do like Sprout’s Reporting features. They’re very user-friendly, comprehensive and easy-to-read. I can give them to my boss and they understand our engagement points as well.
Communications Coordinator, McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship
Customize and share reports
Create custom social reports based on the data most important to your team, then easily export those presentation-ready reports to share. Would you rather dig into the numbers yourself? No problem–download your numbers as a CSV and work your excel magic to make the data your own.
Social shouldn’t be diffcult
For the 52% of SMBs that depend on in-house staff to manage social, time is money. Sprout streamlines social through:
- Optimized workflows and user-friendly interfaces, including a content calendar and post-scheduling features.
- Centralized views of all social media channels and profiles, featuring real-time keyword and hashtag monitoring.
- Instant analysis of social performance through customizable reporting, at both a profile and post level.
My productivity was significantly lower before Sprout Social. Before I could maybe post once to each profile natively per day, but now we post 2-3 times a day from each profile on all platforms.
Senior Social Media & Community Manager, Super League Gaming