Online businesses and social media pros share 10 ways to supercharge your brand’s social media marketing strategy.
Small business owner taking pictures on phone of ceramics
It’s no secret by now that the COVID was an economic disaster. Small businesses scrambled to stay afloat, taking risks and experimenting with tactics that could ensure their profitability and maybe even survival. But in the face of the crisis, many people got entrepreneurial, instead deciding to launch their own brands.
According to the Census Bureau, more businesses launched in the U.S. during 2020 than any other year in history, with the vast majority (80%) being business-to-consumer (B2C). In the U.K., over 85,000 online businesses launched during the first lockdown.
More than five million users identify as a small business, business professional, or brand on Linktree, according to new data. That’s over five million people using social media to market themselves or their products online—a trend that’s only grown stronger this past year as shopping became more virtual. Luckily, small businesses have thrived on places like TikTok and Instagram, prompting platforms to integrate new features specifically for shopping.
“Years ago social media was seen primarily as an amplification tool to drive customers to your website or app where they could learn about your product, make purchases, connect with other customers, read product reviews, etc,” Kim Robinson, the founder of 3pts, a marketing resource and newsletter for small businesses, tells us over email. “Current social media has destroyed that model. Brands now use social media to sell, provide customer service, market, create community and provide other direct services.” That probably explains why 76% of consumers say they’ve bought something they saw in a brand’s social media post, according to a 2017 survey conducted by Curalate.
For many small businesses who sell products online, success has come from following an accumulation of simple tips. We spoke to a handful of small business leaders—from bakers to ceramicists to retail stores—who have cultivated active online communities, as well as some social media professionals, to get their best advice for small businesses looking to grow a following on social media, increase brand awareness, and encourage sales.
1. Post frequently on social media to grow your following
This first tip comes from Rachel Karten who, after working for almost four years at Bon Appetit in the social department, is a social media consultant for brands and runs the social media newsletter, Link In Bio.
“To grow your audience and learn about your community it’s vital to post a lot—and not be too precious about posting,” she says. “When I worked at Condé Nast I met with Instagram and this was their biggest piece of advice. The more you post, the faster you’ll grow, and the more your audience will want to hear from you. This might sound overwhelming but if you start to treat everything you do as content and come up with series that ladder up to the brand stories you want to tell, the posts should come a bit more easily.”
So how much is enough? During Instagram’s Creator Week in June 2021, Instagram chief Adam Mosseri laid out a simple formula for people looking to grow their following: two feed posts a week, two Stories per day. Despite this, Hootsuite reports that the average business posts 1.56 feed posts per day, so it’s worth posting more if you’re trying to compete, especially because growing a following is a slow and steady game, with businesses on Instagram reporting a 1.46% monthly follower growth.
2. Share business updates on social media to encourage orders and prevent confusion
“View social media as the behind the scenes, not just a place to advertise shiny photos of what you’ve got for sale,” Polly Vadasz, the founder of Sighh Studio, a stationary and accessories brand with over 40,000 Instagram followers, says. “It’s a platform to teach your (potential) customer base about the business, get them invested in your vision and connected with your personality and company culture.”
Vadasz recalls this paying off recently when Sighh was open with its followers about having to cap the Back To Uni sale at 900 orders, in order to prioritize timely shipping.
“That was a customer experience over profit decision, and not only did it probably encourage the final 100 to get their order in before it was too late, but we had virtually zero customer emails asking where their orders were,” she says. “We shared how many we posted at the end of each day and if it was on target, did lots of packing videos on stories, and got customers involved in the excitement.”
3. Understand your social media audience
Different social media platforms reach different audiences, and require different techniques, which is why small businesses need to engage in “social listening,” according to Rachael Samuels, Senior Manager of Social Media at Sprout Social, to “understand larger trends and cultural nuances that impact how their audience engages with their content.”
According to Sprout, Facebook’s largest age group is between 25 and 34 years old, skewing 56% male. Instagram’s age demographics are the same, but skew 57% female. Twitter, on the other hand, is 68% mostly men, with a majority of users between the ages of 30 and 49. Unsurprisingly, TikTok users are mostly between the ages of 18 and 24, and 59% of users are female.
There are other factors to consider as well.
“Photos and videos are likely to receive more engagement on fast-moving platforms like Twitter, vs text-forward platforms like LinkedIn,” Samuels says. “By analyzing social data, marketers can approach each network strategically while gaining a deeper understanding of the customer voice and how their brand fits into the larger conversation.”
4. Utilize shopping tools to sell on social platforms
Shopaholics of social media now have tons of tools at their disposal for finding new products, and luckily for small businesses, the tools work. According to a Big Commerce analysis of 50 brands, Instagram shopping posts increased website traffic by as much as 1,416%, but Instagram isn’t the only platform where users can shop your products. On Linktree, PRO users can sell products directly through Spring, and collect money or donations through Commerce Links.
“Before I found Linktree, I was getting so frustrated not being able to share links easily to the various strands of my business,” Lily, the baker behind Lily’s Loaf, a microbakery with almost 4,000 followers on Instagram and 7000 subscribers on YouTube, says over email. “So it has been a real game changer for me!”
@VeganFlowerChild sells products using Linktree’s Spring store integration
5. Solicit your social media followers for feedback
Shannon Maldonado, the founder behind Philadelphia shop and design studio YOWIE, uses her 50,000 Instagram followers to test new product ideas and get “immediate feedback and gauge excitement” before committing to them.
“Always be in beta mode, aka test new products in a small way before ordering a larger assortment or try new product categories,” she says. “Our assortment has evolved a lot over the years and I’m always open to trying new things and exciting our audience with new things that we find!”
Claire Favre, the creator behind Australian homeware brand Store Tresor, which has over 6,000 Instagram followers and over 47,000 on TikTok, similarly advises fellow small business owners to listen to their audiences.
“Use polls and ask questions,” she says. For Favre, this actually saved her a lot of extra work when it came to her packaging. After running out of the hand-stamped tissue paper she normally uses to ship her products, she posted a poll to gauge people’s preferences between that or a basic black tissue paper.
“I added a question box to see which one they preferred (assuming they would all pick the hand stamped version) but they did NOT!” Favre says. “Actually 70% said they prefer the black one! I spend a lot of time stamping tissue paper by hand and so I was stumped [that] they preferred the plain one… but hey! Less work for me.”
6. Invest in professional brand photography to stand out online
Posting photos on social media is a no brainer. Tweets that include pictures receive an average 35% boost in retweets, and Facebook posts with photos receive an average 37% increase in engagement. On average, 95 million photos are uploaded daily on Instagram. That means it’s important to invest in your own photography so your small business stands out.
Noah Mackenzie and Sasha Lute grew Juice Ceramics to over 12,000 Instagram followers thanks to investing in tools that allowed them to take “high quality, clear pictures” of their products for Instagram and their website.
Sighh Studio Instagram with ceramic mugs
“Pictures are really your whole online identity and the first thing people tend to look at,” they say, telling us how they bought a cheap collapsible light box and use a digital camera to take photos. “We set it up in the studio before every drop to photograph all of our products with. We also make a whole bunch of backdrops and props to put in the light box, just so we don’t get too boring with our compositions.”
7. Social proof your brand
While investing in tools and time to make your content as professional and enticing as possible, nothing is as compelling to potential shoppers than seeing other happy customers—something that social media makes incredibly easy to broadcast.
“Social proof is a brand’s most critical tool to drive conversion amongst new followers,” Robinson says. One way to do this is partnering with influencers or asking creators to promote your products. Instagram itself said that 55% of shoppers have purchased a fashion item because they saw a creator promote it.
Other brands, like Dove, use hashtags to build social proof and brand awareness. In 2015, the soap brand partnered with Twitter to change how women talk about their bodies on social media using the hashtag #SpeakBeautiful. Throughout the year, women used #SpeakBeautiful more than 168,000 times, resulting in 800 million social media impressions of the campaign, according to Dove.
Then there’s user generated content, which Robinson says “should always be prioritized over a brand’s own content.” This is because authenticity is the most important factor for 90% of consumers deciding which brands they like and support, and 60% believe UGC is the most authentic kind of content.
8. Share testimonials to build credibility for your business
Press coverage and customer testimonials are key to increasing credibility, which is vital for small businesses who operate in an online world rife with scams and low-quality online stores. CXL found that including testimonials on websites lifted conversions by 34%, and social media means you have endless other outlets to share them.
Over 70% of customers look at product reviews before purchasing, and a survey sponsored by Zendesk found that 90% of participants were influenced in their buying decisions by positive reviews, and there’s perhaps no positive review more credible than one that comes from a respected press outlet. Maldonado’s YOWIE has been featured in New York Magazine, Bon Appetit, Complex, and Domino Mag, and she uses Linktree to broadcast these accomplishments to followers.
9. Use hashtags to reach new followers
Hashtags on Instagram can be a bit of a mystery. Some people bury every possible hashtag they can think of below the fold of their captions, while others opt out of them entirely due to fear they do nothing but add clutter to their posts. Last month, Instagram released some surprising guidance around using hashtags. The takeaway? You should be using far fewer than you think.
Specifically, Instagram recommends keeping the number of hashtags between three and five, making sure they’re relevant to your content. “Adding 10-20 hashtags will not help you get additional distribution,” the post reads.
There are still some tips Instagram recommends, like researching what hashtags are followed by your audience and keeping your hashtags specific—or even creating your own just for you and your posts or products. This way, your hashtags are a tool for your audience, and not something that reminds them of spam.
10. Show off your personality to boost social engagement
“We’ve all been to some of those shops where the shopkeeper is so lovely you just want to buy something—it’s an experience,” ceramicist Lucy Bromilow, who runs the UK pottery shop Wolimorb and has over 6,000 Instagram followers says. “Well it’s the same for online businesses.”
“I noticed that when I started sharing more about [my fiance] Gautier and I, people started interacting more with our posts, stories and we gained more customers,” Ashley Breest, who owns Brooklyn-based bakery L’Appartement 4F, says over email. The bakery, which got its start on Instagram and TikTok, and now has over 14,000 and 36,000 followers, respectively, even saw this engagement translate into sales.
“The first post I remember sharing a glimpse into who we were was when I shared that Gautier’s grandfather used to make Gautier a snack of bread, butter and a dash of salt,” Breest says. “We noticed that our bread sales increased and people were posting our bread with butter and salt and we felt a real connection with our clients.”
Social media and the online shopping landscape can be intimidating, but with over 2.14 billion online shoppers all over the world, there’s no shortage of demand for products—especially when they can be safely purchased online. And with the holiday shopping season coming up, everyone is looking to buy.
In lieu of billboards or flashy storefronts, brands and businesses can successfully rely on social media to bring in their customers. According to Sprout Social, social media is now the preferred method for consumers looking to find new brands, with 55% learning about brands through social media. When you look at just Gen Z alone, that number jumps to 78%.
While the prospect of standing out in such a large market may seem intimidating, all it takes is following in the footsteps of already successful online businesses and experts to make your mark, and help pave the way for a brand new way to shop.