You’ve heard that social media marketing can lead to more loyal customers, more brand recognition, more repeat business, more… well, everything.
But successes like these aren’t instant or automatic. Effective social media marketing requires a great deal of effort. It isn’t easy for small business owners—or anyone—to come up with a steady stream of pithy statements in 140 characters or less.
That said, there are some simple solutions that can make a difference in reaching and connecting with your audience. Here are three strategies you can add immediately to your social media marketing arsenal.
1. It’s all about timing
Schedule your emails, tweets, status updates and blog posts at the right time—when you have a captive audience. You want to catch your audience not only when they’re checking their messages and news feed, but when they might have a few minutes to click through a link and check something out.
When’s that? It depends, of course. For marketing consultant Jay Baer, the best time to reach his audience of busy professionals tends to be during a “micro-opportunity window.” These may be as short as just a few minutes, but they’re critical for reaching a busy audience. Baer times his messages to hit before or after the top of the hour, when many time-starved professionals are sneaking a peek at their phone on the way back to their desk.
Late in the day is another good time to post. Author and social media expert Dan Zarrella’s Twitter analysis found that tweets in the late afternoon and early evening—during commute hours and around dinner time—led to higher click-through rates than those published in the morning. Zarrella also found that tweets posted on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays drew more click-throughs. A report by Buddy Media saw a similar phenomenon on Facebook. Brand interaction rates were 14.5 percent higher on weekends than on weekdays. The report also recommends posting between 8 pm and 7 am, when interaction is 14 percent higher than the rest of the day. The reason is simple: catch your audience during their downtime. Don’t want to work on the weekends or after hours? Tools like Buffer and HootSuite can help by letting you compose your thoughts in advance and publish them at an appointed time.
2. Issue calls to action
If you want to engage with your customers on social media, you have to ask for it (in moderation, of course).
Facebook posts with questions generate 92 percent higher comment rates than posts without questions, according to the Buddy Media report. Be sure to ask your question at the end of your post—that draws a higher comment rate than if the question is placed higher up. If you post a cool or amusing picture, don’t just ask your audience to “check it out!” Increase interaction rates by encouraging your audience to caption it, too. Or you can ask your fans to “fill in the blank,” a tactic that leads to four times as many comments as other posts. If you plan to run a promotion, note that some keywords work better than others. The words that drew the most interactions were “winner,” “win” and “giveaway.” Not so popular? “Sweepstakes,” “coupon,” “clearance,” and discount phrases “% off” or “$ off.”
Twitter looked at about 20,000 random promoted tweets and found four effective ways for businesses to engage their followers. Including a link and asking their audience to download something, its number-one suggestion, drew an average of 13 percent more clicks. Twitter also recommends that brands ask their followers to retweet a message, keeping it short and simple, and spelling out the word “retweet,” rather than just the abbreviation “RT.”
If you’re looking to build your following, you may simply want to ask people to follow your brand while offering them a compelling reason to do so, such as free prizes or behind-the-scenes access. Twitter found brands that paid for a promoted tweet and asked for a follow increased their audience by an average of 258 percent.
3. Use images often
Research shows that photos perform better than videos, links and text alone on Facebook. According to digital marketing blog Kissmetrics, photos attract 53 percent more “Likes,” 104 percent more comments and 84 percent more click-throughs.
Here’s the caveat, though: The best pictures are self-explanatory, like infographics and charts. Just posting a stock image doesn’t do much. Social media publishing app Buffer compared the responses to two different photos—one that didn’t need a caption to explain it and one that did. The infographic, which didn’t require a caption, drew 78 “Likes” and 20 comments while the other only attracted 11 “Likes” and three comments.
All in all, social media marketing can help your business win new customers and engage with a broader audience. Making it work requires time, effort and some strategic thinking. By knowing your audience, interacting with them on their terms, and making engagement easy and attractive, you can elevate your brand and even drive revenue. Not bad for 140 characters or less.
Ellen Lee is a freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. A former business and technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, she has also contributed to CNBC.com, The Washington Post, among others.