As small businesses continue to look to expand, traditional methods of marketing should be supplemented with social media marketing. In August of 2016, a report was compiled by Robert Allen of Smart Insights that looked at social media users. It stated that in January of 2016 there were 3.5 billion Internet users; 2.3 billion of them are active on social media. Comparing January 2016 to 2015, there had been a 10% growth, or 332 million, of people who use the Internet and also a 10% growth, or 219 million people, of people who use social media.

From the Pew Research Center, there were surveys done from 2005-2006 and 2008-2015 that asked a person’s age and if they use the Internet. The survey found that 10 years ago, 7% of the U.S. population used one or more social networking site. Now, that figure has increased almost tenfold to 65%. Of those who use the Internet, a massive majority of 76% of Americans use social media.

The popularity of social media and the amount of people who use the Internet will continue to increase and it’s important to look for ways to take advantage of it now. Whether you have never had a social media account, or used to and stopped using it, now is the time to jump into social media. Irene Williams is the owner and principal of Msg2Mkt, LLC, a digital marketing and public relations firm, and she also has 18 years of experience in the tile, flooring, interior design and building products industry. She suggests to fabricators that before they begin any social media endeavor, they think it through. Questions to consider are “What’s your goal?” “Who are your target audiences” and “What social outlets do they use most?” “What do you have to post and share?” “Who on your team will be responsible for the effort? “ “Answering these questions will help you work smarter, not harder,” said Williams. “Without strategy and clear intention, your efforts could easily be diluted or lost in the social media mix.”

Where to begin

When looking out to the sea of social media platforms, it may be hard to know where to begin. Williams suggests that your first step is to make sure your website is up-to-date and mobile-friendly. “Many people who find you through social media will want to learn more by checking out your website,” said Williams. “Make sure the site is ready for visitors. Get your inventory of images in order and commit to consistently collecting good photos now and going forward. Good photos are essential in creating social posts that will inspire response, not to mention they are must-haves for any of your marketing efforts.”

Matt Lee, the director of marketing for Adhere Creative based in Houston, TX, suggests that a fabricator just start with any social media platform, if they haven’t targeted any yet. “So much of mastering social media marketing is trial and error, finding the best days and times to post, the best platforms to post on and what messages to utilize where,” said Lee. “Often times Facebook is best utilized for fans of your brand — clients, employees and friends who may become advocates for you.” In the study done by Smart Insights, as of April 2016, they found that Facebook has by far the most amount of active users, tallying in at 1.59 billion. Tumblr is behind with 555 million, Instagram with 400 million and Twitter with 320 million. “If you’re looking to reach a new audience on this platform, take advantage of Facebook’s ‘social boost’ advertising ability,” said Lee. “This simple user interface allows you to reach more of those who already ‘like’ your brand or company page. You may be thinking, ‘Why would I want to pay to reach people who already like my page?’ And that’s a fair question. Facebook actually shows your brand status updates, organically, to only about 16% of your fans. Promoting your posts through social boosting will allow you to reach more of those who already like your company.”

While Facebook is by far the most popular, Williams suggests that each platform has validity so none of them should be ignored. “I’m seeing that Instagram is a very active hub of inspiration and activity for our industry right now, often garnering the most engagement,” said Williams. “Pinterest is great at driving traffic back to websites. LinkedIn business pages are effective in connecting with commercial specifiers. Facebook can be powerful – especially if you spend on advertising to get in front of geo-targeted audiences. If you’re targeting the residential market, Houzz should not be ignored, as it reaches those who are in the process of making decisions about improvements for the home. Google+ matters because it’s owned by the premiere source of online search and ties into a collection of Google-tools, including YouTube, that make businesses ‘findable’ on the web.”

Driving traffic to your business

Now that you started the accounts, how do you drive traffic to your business from your social media accounts? “Make it simple for followers to get to your website by including links to pages on your site within your social posts,” said Williams. “Use the tools that the various social platforms provide to invite followers to contact you, e.g., add a button on your Facebook business page. Make sure your location and contact information is clearly stated on all your social profiles and descriptions. Offer social specials or perhaps even host contests. Structure these offers so that you can easily track effectiveness of your campaigns. Use your own website as the source of what you share on social. That means you’ll need to make sure your website is content-rich. Write blog posts that answer questions and address topics your clients are interested in. Create portfolio pages that show the beauty of your work. Maintain pages that tell the story of your business. By being your own media source, you’ll create a loop in which potential customers are always pointed back to you. When creating Pinterest boards, ‘pin’ from your own website. Pinterest will provide a link to the source of images shared, and users will click back to your site to see more.”

A platform such as Twitter is a great way to get yourself, and your business, into a conversation and contribute to trending conversations using hashtags. “Twitter is great for posting quick company updates and news,” said Lee. “Don’t look for this to be a primary focus for fabricators generating new business, but it’s useful at the very least to share everything here that you are already sharing on Facebook. Twitter ads, in our opinion, are rarely worth the look. The other great way to use Twitter is for customer service, as long as you have someone on your end ready and able to respond to messages in a very timely manner. Remember though, this is public for all to see.”

Tools to help

While running social media for a company can be a full-time job in itself, there are applications out there to help. “HubSpot is an all-in-one marketing software suite for managing your social media accounts, email marketing, website, blog tools and conversion pages, customer relations (CRM) and analytics,” said Lee. “HubSpot’s social media tool, Social Inbox, allows you to schedule and publish social media messages to all your platforms, right from HubSpot’s tool. It also gives you easy access to your content right from the platform and gives you suggested days and times to publish based on your historical engagement levels.

“HootSuite is essentially HubSpot’s Social Inbox, and only that tool,” Lee went on to say. “So you don’t get all of the extra all-in-one marketing software bundles of HubSpot, but you do get the one dashboard to monitor and publish social media messages across all platforms. HootSuite also gives you suggested days and times based on historical engagement levels when going to create a new social post.”

Williams also suggests setting up an automation tool such as Hootsuite that will make it possible to schedule posts in advance for multiple platforms. “Consistency in posting is very important for long-term success on social platforms,” said Williams. “Commit to spending at least 10 to 15 minutes a day posting, checking and interacting on social media. You get what you give on social media. It’s about sharing and caring, not telling and selling, so be sure to follow, like, comment and engage with your audiences. Even a little will go a long way in building your business presence.”