For many entrepreneurs and business executives, social media is where you go to snack on cat videos, family pictures and political rabble-rousing. Can it really deliver against commercial objectives, build a brand and drive leads to the business?

The answer depends on whether you’re doing it right.

 

If you sell direct to consumers, you’re already sold on the importance of social media. Your business was likely built on the back of Facebook and Instagram’s power to reach a target audience.

If you sell to other businesses, however, success is far more likely to come from a small network of personal contacts, at least at first. You’re less interested in Facebook’s family-oriented user base and Instagram’s audience of preening teens. You’ve got better ways to spend your precious marketing time and money, right?

Wrong.

First, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are more viable than you think as a channel to reach business people. Senior procurement managers and company directors aren’t always at their desk. They have downtime, too.

Facebook has 2.3 billion users; Instagram a billion. The odds are your customers are spending at least some time catching up with friends, families and their favourite influencers on social media.

Second, there are platforms geared specifically to business. LinkedIn has 61 million senior level influencers as users, of which 40 million are in decision-making positions. Its main business is recruitment but it’s figured out that giving companies a platform to market themselves is the best way to generate engagement – the life blood of any social media site.

And it’s worked. According to the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn, 94% of B2B marketers use LinkedIn as a content channel.

And LinkedIn isn’t the only channel for people looking for business-related inspiration. Medium was created by Twitter founder Evan Williams and is focussed on in-depth, substantial articles by established authors and influencers. Industry-specific communities like the Smalls are a great place to connect with like-minded people.

For most, the question isn’t whether social media is worth it. It’s where do I find the time? Which platform do I start on? What should I do?

Running a company leaves precious little time for marketing and new business. Any available resource is ploughed into tried and trusted activities which deliver a reliable return. Small events, the odd sponsorship or partnership investment, taking a stand at the industry show. Many ‘marketing’ budgets are consumed by the cost of travelling to see clients.

I’m not suggesting that you should give these up. If something works, leave it well alone. But you should consider supplementing this activity with ongoing social media activity. It’s effective, rewarding and – best of all – free (sort of).

Let’s get down to brass tacks. How much time do you need to work in to your working week for social media, and how best to spend it? Here are five activities that, done well and consistently, will raise awareness and drive leads.

 

1. Original content

 

The best way to build a following is to convince people you’re a leader. That means demonstrating expertise, original thinking and firm opinions. You need to take a stand on issues that matter to your customers, offering insights and food for thought that makes them sit up and take notice.

Most people do this by writing articles, usually about 1500 words long. Blog posts are easy to create (though difficult to do well) and require no investment other than time. However, this applies to everyone, so it takes something special to cut through the noise.  

Increasingly, businesses are turning to video to get their message across. No budget for expensive videos? Don’t worry – all you need is a smartphone and something to say.  

How much time? Allow a minimum of four hours to research and create a quality piece of content.

How many posts? Monthly.

2. Curated content

Another way to demonstrate your knowledge and opinions is by showcasing other people’s work. We’re all looking to find our tribe, and a great way to show a customer you’re on the same page is to point to an influencer and/or viewpoint you have in common.  

So keep an eye on the right news sites, blogs and social feeds. When something comes up that inspires or irritates you, share it. Add a comment that explains why you (dis)like it. Be respectful to the author, but also forthright in your views.

The idea here is to help your audience discover content that will help them in their working life. It should either validate an opinion they already have or educate them on something new and relevant.

How much time? An hour to go through your feeds and schedule posts.

How many posts? Daily.

3. Sales messages

Let’s be clear: no one goes onto social media to be sold to. The objective here is to demonstrate your relevance, expertise, leadership and domain authority. However, social media – and especially LinkedIn – is an excellent lead generation tool when done right. So it doesn’t hurt to throw in an occasional sales message, especially if it’s nicely designed and written from a customer’s perspective.

The best sales messages are a single sentence and comprise either a testimonial or statistic. So something like:

“COMPANY NAME didn’t just deliver on time and under-budget. They were fun to work with too.”

“89% of companies already have a cloud strategy in place. If you need help with yours, get in touch.”

How much time? Two hours up front to create a half dozen templates on a site like Canva. Then an hour per week to research and create new content.

How many posts? Daily.

4. Engagement

The activity we’ve looked at so far involves creating content then sharing it as widely as possible. But LinkedIn and the rest aren’t broadcast platforms, they’re all about engagement. They want people to stay on their website or app as long as possible so their algorithms reward content that provokes conversations, likes and shares.

That means you need people to take an interest in your articles, videos, etc beyond a cursory view. One way to do this is to engage with other people’s content.

Start by following influencers in your market (look at their follower numbers). They could be customers, prospects, partners, journalists, analysts – even competitors. When they post something you enjoy, reward them with a like or, better, a comment.

Tag other people in your comments to involve them in the conversation if you think it’d be of interest and if they have something meaningful to add.

If your comments add value to the conversation then the author might reply, exposing your brand (personal or corporate) to their followers. Over time you’ll earn the right to link to your own content in the comment thread – only when it’s 100% relevant of course.

How much time? Ten minutes per day to skim social media and chime in with a comment or two.

How many posts? Daily.

5. Boost the best content

There was a time – oh, the good old days – when LinkedIn, Facebook and the rest promoted content based on quality and engagement. The more that people liked, shared and commented on a post, the more the algorithm put it in front of other users that it thought might also be interested.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone. While engagement still matters, money matters more. The chances of a piece of content generating broad reach (views) based on organic engagement (likes, shares and comments) alone are slim. Which means you’ll have to pony up to give your content a boost.

The good news is it’s great value for money. The targeting tools on offer mean your post will only be placed in front of relevant users. And it doesn’t cost the earth, especially if you focus on a specific, niche audience.

The trick is to see which of your posts performs the best without any help. Take the winner and boost it with a paid promotion. This will give it additional reach and engagement which will in turn help it gather organic momentum.

How much time? Half an hour per week to monitor organic results and set up a promotion.

How many posts? Weekly.

It can be intimidating to make a start with social media, and it can be a massive drain on your time. At the same time, there’s no doubt the right social media presence can help build a business. The trick is to focus on the activities that will deliver most value fastest.