It's hard to imagine running a business today without a social media footprint. Yet small businesses in particular struggle to find time and resources to learn to use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook effectively.
"Social media is one of the most powerful ways to communicate directly with your customers and potential customers," said Jenn Herman, a social media strategist at Jenn's Trends). "It allows you to open dialogue and build relationships in ways that were previously unimaginable."
Social media impacts small businesses also by allowing them to control the conversation online, she adds.
"Let me be clear, just because you aren't on social media doesn't mean your customers aren't talking about you on social media," Herman said. "So if you're not there, you're missing out on the opportunity to capitalize on those positive interactions and convert those negative interactions into positive experiences."
Social media experts offer quick tips on harnessing the power of hashtags and social influencers to boost followers and gain potential clients.
Know the platform. Hashtags are effective tools, but you should know where and when to use them.
"Understand that hashtags are not common practice on Facebook or LinkedIn and using more than one on these platforms looks awkward and misplaced," Herman said. "On Twitter, you can use two or three of the right targeted hashtags. And on Instagram, you can use 20-30 targeted hashtags to really maximize your reach."
Focus your resources. Stick to a couple of platforms at first, like Twitter and Facebook, says Jennifer Grygiel, a University of Syracuse assistant professor of social media.
"Don't overdo it if you don't have the bandwidth to support more than a couple of platforms," she said.
Choose words carefully. Familiarize yourself with social media dialect, Grygiel says. "It makes a difference to know that a term like 'Big Data' is more well known than just 'data.' "
If you create a branded hashtag for your business, for example Herman uses #jennstrends and #LearnFromJenn, then you can use those on promotional content.
"In general, for your branded hashtags, you want to make them as easy as possible to remember, so shorter is better." she said. "If you run a contest or campaign, you want to use a hashtag unique to that promotion, and these can be longer or more complicated. Of course, you want to make sure another company isn't using your ideal hashtag."
Herman recommends online tools such as Tagboard.com to search any hashtag and see what other content, if any, is being used around that hashtag.
Be creative. Someone already using a hashtag you like? Think of a derivative with abbreviations or other characters to make it unique, Herman says.
Consider what your target audience is looking at on Facebook or Twitter.
"If you are a florist, you would want to use local and regional hashtags for your local audience, but you might also want to use event-related hashtags like #wedding or #graduation or even more specific like #weddingflowers," Herman said.
Track your efforts. Follow your competitors, Grygiel says. Know the hashtags and keywords they're using. Scan the web for top trends in hashtags in your industry.
"Follow key industry blogs," Grygiel said.
Online tools can also help track your hashtag effectiveness. Herman recommends Agorapulse and Hootsuite as dashboard-management tools.
Aim for retweets, too. A social media influencer is someone who can reach consumers via their blogs, and other social networks that your brand may not be able to reach.
Know the social influencers in your industry, Grygiel says. "Try to get them to retweet your tweets or do sponsored tweets for you."
Social influencers don't have to have millions of followers to be helpful to you. Sometimes someone with a couple hundred followers — micro influencers — can help you. "Give them a couple hundred dollars, and they may be able to help you," she said.