Mapping out a social media strategy for your small business

small businessThis story was originally published by Entrepreneur.com and was edited for content and style.

Behind the review host and Yelp’s small business expert Emily Washcovick shares a look at this week’s episode of the podcast:

There is no doubt that it is difficult to run a business and a full social media agenda, especially since the rules of social media engagement are constantly changing. Even with the best of intentions and plans in mind, posting and following on social media sometimes falls by the wayside.

Lara Betthauser, social media manager for the Yelp and Yelp for business social media handles, knows how to start a campaign. But more importantly, she knows how to keep it up by recently launching the Yelp for Business Instagram page, giving Yelp a voice online for businesses specifically.

That’s essentially your social media – your voice, your brand, your company’s personality – in a digital medium. You can’t face every customer every day, but your online presence can.

Betthauser’s previous experience working for a brewers’ association — a conglomerate of small brewers — gave her an inside look at how small businesses can develop and maintain social media strategies, and she’s brought that expertise to Yelp and its customers.

“With some of my background experience working for the brewery association, it was a similar concept [to Yelp for Business] with the brewers and brewery owners,” said Betthauser. “They do everything. They are not only the beer maker, they are the beer tender, they are also the concierge. So I tried to bring that experience into the Yelp for Business role. We’re really trying to get hold of those entrepreneurs and see how we can break through the crowd and make an impact. One of the really big things we thought about was that [business owners] don’t have time. So how can we give them tips, tricks and inspiration quickly and in advance?”

When a small business is launched, social media posting usually falls to the owner. It can be fun at first and you may have some professional photos of your products or services to upload. However, as the business takes off, it can become more of a chore or just fall off the ever-growing list of priorities. Betthauser proposes a solid game plan to relieve stress on social media.

“Like everything else, planning is the roadmap for the future,” Betthauser said. “If you don’t have the schedule, it can be a chore. At Yelp for Business, it was a month in advance when we were planning our content calendar. I understand that not every entrepreneur has the time to sit down for a few hours and write that down. But even if it’s a week or two at a time, I really recommend businesses sit down and see what content they can extract so they can focus on other things during the week. Sure, social media is important, but if you don’t think about it, it’s one of those things that will easily be written off the list.”

It is equally important to understand that plans change, things happen and events arise that could interrupt your previously planned programming. That’s okay, according to Betthauser.

“Even if you schedule content, say two weeks, a month in advance, things will always happen,” Betthauser said. “If you have a live event, if you have a special, things can always move. But at least you have content that you carry through into the next month, always having backup content.”

She also recommends always experimenting. “Don’t be afraid to try different things, and at the end of the month or after the two weeks you’ve scheduled content, go back and make sure you watch that performance. Not only how many likes it got, but did anyone comment. Has anyone shared it with anyone? Has anyone saved it to their profile? Especially on Instagram. You want to see what’s going well and try to bring themes together to see how you can integrate that in the future.”

That sounds well and good, but how can companies come up with enough and enough variety of content to fill an entire plan? According to Betthauser, it helps to just look at your own agenda.

“What holidays are coming up or what special things are happening that your company is celebrating,” Betthauser said. “It might not make sense that you’re talking about National Wine Day, but maybe about the summer solstice. June 21 is the longest day of the year. Maybe your business stays open a little longer, or maybe you have a special. It’s an easy way to capture those particular days. You don’t have to say that every day is a “national day” to help your content calendar, but it can certainly take some of the pressure off being able to plan things more in advance.”

She also recommends checking out what other like-minded brands are doing. “Coming up with different content ideas can be a lot to think about,” Betthauser said. “It’s great to find some other people, maybe not competitors, but other people in your market that you can look at to see what they’re sharing. There are great channels, especially on Instagram that you can start following to get different ideas.”

You should also schedule evergreen content here and there — content that isn’t tied to a specific date or time of year — to fill in the gaps. This type of content is also extremely valuable because you can rerun it multiple times with different angles or messages, and because it’s not tied to a specific time frame, it stays relevant.

When it comes to the face of the content on social media, if you feel comfortable in front of the camera, go for it. “It varies by business situation, but maybe you’re the best person for the job, you’re the best person to talk about the brand,” Betthauser said. “You’re the one that comes across as most authentic and it’s something you enjoy.”

If you prefer to stay behind the scenes, you can reach out to your employees and see if they want to use their talent and expertise to build your social media presence. Most employees probably have their phones fairly close to them, so ask them if they want to take photos and videos during their free time at work or when there aren’t many customers around. “Any 3, 4.5-second clip where you make a cup of coffee, open your business in the morning, close your business at night, something like that — that’s something your employees can help you with,” Betthauser said.

If you’re a sole proprietor and all social media posts are for you, it can be daunting to think about creating videos or content about yourself. But the key to getting past that is to start with it and just keep doing it, Betthauser said.

“You just have to start with it,” Betthauser said. “Try to make a few 15 second videos every day of something going on. It doesn’t even have to be about your business. Maybe it’s your dog, or you’re making food, or you’re going for a walk, but it’s really important to just familiarize yourself with making videos.”

Betthauser also said to give yourself some grace and remember that you are not alone. Everyone collectively learns how to create the best content. One idea she proposes is to create simple behind-the-scenes content.

“It doesn’t really have to be behind the scenes, something that happens physically behind a kitchen door,” Betthauser said. “But since you talk to people online, unfortunately some of your followers will never visit your business. They may patronize it online, but they don’t know what the inside of your business looks like. They don’t know what your shop window looks like. They don’t know all the nice things you have, the artwork you have on the wall, etc. Just [filming] easy, fast, that sort of thing.”

According to Betthauser, once you get the content flowing, you need to stay engaged and engage with your audience. Take five, ten minutes a day to see what you’re tagged in on Instagram. engage. Share again. Remark.

You can also use your Yelp reviews to increase brand awareness on social media while rewarding your employees.

“Some of those could be reviews that people have left with you, telling you how great their experience with your company was,” Betthauser said. “It’s always free to ask if you can share their feedback on your Instagram page or even put it in a video. If the review was about someone in particular, do a “Yelp review reading” and then go to the employee the review was talking about and ask them how they feel. Or just put them in the spotlight and let a few stars roll around. It’s a great way to challenge your employees and also show your potential customers what experience they could get.”

With a few tips and tricks from Yelp’s pros like Betthauser, you can boost your social media presence and revenue.

  • Practice makes perfect. If you’re not sure how to create content, take the plunge and start creating. It will become more natural over time.
  • Look around to find talent in your own company. If you need help, you can engage your employees for additional social media content and ask what they think would be of interest to your customer base.
  • Plan ahead as much as possible. Schedule content around holidays or sales and always have green content on hand for in between.
  • Use your Yelp reviews for content. Highlight your good reviews in your social media feeds, through videos or posts, and praise employees for doing a good job.

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