Maybe you’re coming up on a decade — or more — of being a Facebook user. Sure, you’ve mastered the occasional shared articles, the posts on friends’ walls on their birthdays, and the process of uploading the best filtered pictures from your latest vacation. If you’re among the two-thirds of American adults — and the 81 percent of millennials — who have a Facebook page, you probably feel like you know your way around the platform pretty well.
Now say you’re starting a business and want a social media account for it. It should be easy, right? Shouldn’t all the same rules apply?
According to Erika Montgomery, founder of a marketing agency in Yelm called Three Girls Media Inc., the answer to those questions is a firm “no.”
“It’s critical that companies have a strategy for social media marketing: Without it, (everything) can fall flat on its face,” Montgomery said. “You have to go in knowing what, when, and to whom you should be sharing in order to have a successful social media presence for your brand.”
Having a solid social media presence is the kind of thing that can make or break a company, said Montgomery, who analogized approaching social media use without a strategy to trying to bake a cake without a recipe: messy, wasteful, and likely unsuccessful.
But why has social media use become such a critical metric for businesses?
“I’ve always learned about new products and companies by talking to friends and family,” Montgomery said. “Facebook emerged as a new way to talk to friends and family, and companies need to be (in that arena) in order to spread the word about their products and services.”
The work it takes to master successful business-related social media etiquette can be overwhelming; luckily, companies like Three Girls Media can help provide the expertise necessary to nail a business’ social media strategy.
“One of my very first questions is always, ‘Who is your target audience?’” Montgomery said. “So many companies make the mistake of thinking they need to be (on all the platforms), but that really isn’t the case. Focus on one or two social media platforms and do those really well, and make sure that those two (cater to) your target audience.”
For example, if your main focus is a white-collar, professional audience, home in on LinkedIn. If you want to build relationships with high-profile influencers like Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank, Twitter is the way to go. Targeting millennials with a product that is aesthetically pleasing? Instagram is a no-brainer. And though there recently has been somewhat of a souring attitude toward Facebook, it remains the largest social media platform, making it a good place to start.
“(A lot of people) use Facebook as a sort of Yellow Pages — they might search for you and want to see that you’re posting somewhat recently to make sure you’re still in business,” said Allison Bishins, founder of Allison Bishins Consulting and a small jewelry-making business called Happy Fox Studio.
Bishins, who said that she can contribute 90 percent of the growth of Happy Fox Studios to social media (namely Instagram), has spent the last year working with small businesses like her own on creating savvy social media presences.
Because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful social media use, Montgomery and Bishins approach social media strategies somewhat differently — approaches rooted in differing goals and objectives for clients. While Three Girls Media works with small- and medium-sized companies and focuses on scaling up their success, Bishins focuses more on how small businesses can connect with local communities.
Their perspectives on the importance of hashtags and the need for paid advertising reflect their philosophies. Montgomery recommends strategized hashtag use appropriate for each platform — 28 to 30 for Instagram, two to three for LinkedIn and Twitter, and for emphasis on Facebook — while Bishins doesn’t see them as necessary to building a strong brand. It’s an opinion she knows is controversial.
Montgomery also sees value in paying for ads on Facebook and Instagram to promote content. Without them, she said, it’s difficult to get it in front of a lot of new people. Bishins believes that consistent posting, good photos, and genuine engagement with new people are enough to build a good social media presence.
At the same time, however, there also was plenty that Bishins and Montgomery did agree on.
Perhaps the most important of these ideas? The necessity of keeping a brand authentic and relatable.
“I do think (being authentic) is one of the biggest trends going into 2019,” said Montgomery. “Consumers want to buy from businesses that are relatable and trustworthy. You have to be real on social media. Let people know who you and your team members are, and tell the story behind your brand.”
Bishins agreed, stating that social media, and especially Instagram, create an intimate space online in which you can build trust with strangers.
“The magic of social media is that you can feel like you know people when you don’t,” she said. “Often with a small business, you are the branding whether you like it or not. People want to get to know you, because when they feel like they know you, they’ll buy stuff from you — or recommend you, which is just as important.”
Posts about a company’s founders, employees, and values fall into a category of helpful, entertaining, or valuable content related to the company’s brand that Montgomery said should make up a majority of the posts on any given platform.
“Nobody wants to be sold to 100 percent of the time,” Montgomery said. She explained the 80/20 rule of social media marketing, which states that only 20 percent of content should be explicitly promotional, while the other 80 percent should creatively find a way to provide useful information to a customer that has nothing to do with a sale.
Coming up with the right content in the right ratio that will appeal to the right crowd is no small task; doing it well can quickly spiral into a full-time job. Montgomery warned against the impulse to do everything in-house, saying that doing so often just translates into a job poorly done.
“Consistency is important,” she said. “A digital marketing agency may cost you upfront, but you’ll have a consistent professional presence that will make your brand shine.”
Both Bishins and Montgomery have each seen a wide host of fatal blunders made by businesses as they stumble through a half-baked social media strategy. A fully formed game plan, both agreed, is complicated to envision and execute.
And according to both women, a good consultant or agency should make you feel confident and supported by sitting down and helping you tailor an approach based on your goals, budget, and capacity. They’re there to build a brand that will pay for their services — and more — over time.
That’s the kind of recipe that promises a perfectly baked cake.