Today, there’s no escaping social media. Twenty years ago, small businesses had the luxury of projecting their products and messages to their customers using a limited number of channels — direct mail, television, radio, or print.
When it comes to your small business, social media has put the customer in the driver’s seat. Businesses like yours are having to adapt and connect with their audiences in the online spaces in which they now reside. While big companies have shifted much of their marketing investment to social, many small businesses are laggards. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 44% of U.S. small businesses have an active social media strategy. Crunched for dollars and resources, small business owners once considered social a “nice to have” for their businesses; however, they’re quickly realizing it’s a powerful tool to drive growth.
When used correctly, social media can be a real asset to your business. Here are 30 small business social media ideas — from the easy to the more complex — that you can use to maximize your online presence:
1. Go “Live.”
Did you know that people spend three times longer watching Facebook Live videos than videos that are not live? Free and easy to use, Facebook Live can drive excitement for your business. Create hype around new products, film behind-the-scenes content and tutorials, and live-stream in-store or at community events for viewers who aren’t able to attend — especially if you’re a brick-and-mortar business with e-commerce.
The San Diego Humane Society raised $100,000 and mobilized their fans during a period of crisis. Responding to a hoarding situation late in the evening, they used Facebook Live to document the transport of over 90 dogs to the shelter, interviewing first responders and medical staff. Watching the event in real time, viewers felt part of the rescue efforts and they used the hashtag #92Yorkies to spread the word about the local chapter’s fundraising efforts.
2. Capitalize on National Holidays
What better way to insert yourself into a larger conversation than by creating social media content related to a nationally observed holiday (or even a fake holiday)? Local pie shops like Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn, New York, celebrate National Pi Day with…you guessed it, a pie post. Include a hashtag of the holiday for ease of search on social media.
3. Use Instagram Stories
With a reach of 250 million, Instagram Stories (a feature on Instagram that lets users post 15-second videos that expire in 24 hours) has grown in popularity. Stories can be a place where small businesses can have fun. You can launch new products, poll customers, and run limited-time offers since videos expire within 24 hours. Boston-based shoe retailer M.Gemi uses Instagram Stories to debut new styles every Monday, while West Hartford’s “Cow to Cone” ice cream sensation, Milkcraft, posts awe-inspiring videos of their nitrogen-churned ice cream.
4. Make a Meme
Be part of a larger online conversation by tapping into fun cultural moments with attention-grabbing memes. Memes may not be a sales driver, but they make your customers pause as they’re scrolling and they give your business personality. Gourmet sandwich chain, Jimmy John’s ran an endearing meme where they imagined themselves as the underdog in a relationship. It worked because they relied on a universal feeling to tell their story. This can be an opportunity to lean on your millennial staff to craft memes that link back to your business. While you’ll need a bit of creativity, making memes is simple.
5. Research What Your Customers Are Saying
Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay, California, was already a fan favorite on social media — delivering menus, education on food sourcing and sustainability, and daily seafood specials. However, customers clamored for new locations. In response, the owners launched the first gourmet seafood food truck in the country. Fans can follow the ChowderMobile on Twitter for daily specials, routes, and its up-to-the-moment location.
Twitter is as excellent research tool — not only to learn about what your customers are saying, but also how they’re talking about your competitors. Listening to their feedback could lead to a profitable shift in strategy or offer ways to capitalize on your competitors’ blind spots. Start simple by entering the name of your business into Twitter search and reviewing the results, and then do the same for your competitors. If you have a presence on Twitter, you can see customers who’ve tagged you by clicking on “Notifications.”
If you want to dial up the digital surveillance, you can sign up for free software programs like Hootsuite, where you can create and save multiple search terms (such as your business name, competitors, topics, and trends that relate to your specialty) and scan the commentary in real-time — think of it as “Google alerts” for Twitter.
6. Respond to Complaints
Failure to respond promptly to customer service issues can damage a business. Instead of hotlines and feedback cards, customers have taken their gripes to social media to the point where it’s become a spectator sport. Not only are your customers waiting for a response, but others also are gauging how and when you react.
Brands that don’t respond to customer service comments via social media see their Net Promoter Score (NPS) drop by 43%. Translation? Your non-response is a response and it’s being heard virtually, loud and clear. Block out time during your day to find and respond to customer issues and speak to them in a way that’s compassionate and caring. According to a Forrester study, 53% of customers will likely abandon their online shopping experience if they don’t receive adequate online customer service. This is your opportunity to stand out.
7. Launch Time-Limited Offers and Discounts
Fashion and accessories boutique, Pomp & Circumstance, in Houston, Texas, maintains a devoted following on Instagram because they showcase fully styled looks, employees modeling new stock, and timed special offers. Sales with a short window of opportunity tend to evoke FOMO (fear of missing out) in consumers because they want to make sure they score the best deals. Brooklyn-based bakery, Ovenly posts online exclusives tied to holidays and themed events. Consider posting flash sales on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and partner with a local or a social media influencer to publicize the event. Facebook carousel ads are an efficient and quick way to promote your sale to locals and brand fans.
8. Get Creative with Giveaways
Here’s a staggering stat: according to research from Tailwind, accounts that run Instagram contests grow their followers 70% faster over three months, on average, than accounts that don’t. The Spa at Traditions in Hoschton, Georgia, routinely features flash sales, new product announcements, and inspiring quotes on their Instagram page. They served up a spa giveaway to followers with one clever caveat — they had to tag their friends to be eligible to win. Both the fan and friend could win a spa experience while The Spa at Traditions gains access to potential customers. Consider running biweekly giveaways for a period of three months to steadily grow your followers, who may likely convert to clients.
However, you don’t only need to run giveaways on Instagram to grow your fan base. Independent Greenlight Bookstore, in Brooklyn, hosts Twitter giveaways that usually feature prizes that are aligned with their independent publishing spirit. Giveaways that spotlight other non-competing brands you love that are in line with your business not only invite effective cross-promotion, but also allow you to create a richer relationship with your customer, because you’re cultivating a larger community around shared interests.
9. Spotlight Your Customers
The more you show appreciation for your customers, the more loyal they become and the more likely they’ll be to recommend your business to their friends. Showcasing their photos using your product or service on your social media channels is known as user-generated content, or UGC. UGC works so well because it demonstrates a real person using and validating your product. Some 67% of shoppers, according to a Pew study, read customer reviews before they purchase an item, so UGC can help a company gain a prospective customer’s trust.
New York City’s Social Tees, a non-profit animal rescue, routinely shares adorable UGC of cats and dogs with their foster parents and updates from pets placed in their new forever homes. Sidecar Doughnuts in Los Angeles reposts craveable images of their cult-favorite doughnuts taken by their customers. Empower your customers to be your best salespeople. Use UGC online and also display it in-store in a location where customers can easily view the rave review.
10. Create Online Events From In-Store Experiences
Gift Gallery in Vienna, West Virginia, uses social media to extend the excitement from in-store events. The shop features jewelry and unique gifts, and often hosts themed in-store events to showcase their wares. Recently, they launched a Facebook contest where fans could vote on photographs they liked the most from a recent bridal event. The photo with the most votes won a $50 gift certificate. The campaign was smart because it encouraged attendees to invite their friends to make the contest competitive. The average person has 338 friends on Facebook, so exposure for a small business could translate to new fans and customers.
Another smart spin on this idea is to ask guests at an in-store event to post photos of themselves on social media using a branded hashtag so you can easily aggregate the entries. Have the attendees invite their friends to “like” or comment on their post. Award a prize to the guest with the most likes and comments, and to one of their friends, randomly selected.
11. Become the Place of Play
Miracle Mile Toys in Los Angeles, California, uses Facebook and Instagram to drive awareness to their in-store classes, events, and seminars. The toy store not only promotes their events on social media, but also shares event photos, knowing their fans are more apt to share content from a playful or informative experience. Consider using YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook Live to enlist fans to attend classes, seminars, or more educational events — even offering to share the video and a transcript after the event.
12. Team up With Another Business
Lively Athletics in Oak Park, Illinois, exemplifies the power of local partnerships, where businesses can mutually benefit from cross-promotion and audience exposure. From using Facebook Live to stream local fitness instructors pretending to be store mannequins, to sponsoring local athletic events, the retailer has tapped into how customers use their products in the context of an active life.
Replicate Lively Athletics’ success by offering free in-store fitness events with gift bags filled with products from local retailers. Brand the event with a hashtag and be sure guests share their experience on social media. Sporting goods retailers could partner with local physicians and physical therapists to host Facebook or Instagram Live events educating customers on how to avoid injuries.
13. Create Stop and Stare Content
Give fans a double take with impressive photography. Indianapolis-based Cafe Patachou’s website is a catalog of culinary delights, while their Instagram page allows their personality to shine. From remixing famous films as a vehicle to promote their sweet dishes, to employee spotlights, Cafe Patachou has created an inviting online destination that reflects the warmth customers experience in the cafe. Calder Clark, Wedding Designer in Charleston, South Carolina, uses Pinterest, the visual bookmarking platform, to provide a stunning display of her work. In addition to her portfolio, Clark also creates inspiring and informative boards for brides-to-be.
Take crave-worthy shots of your dishes, film quick videos of your employees in the kitchen, share recipes of customer favorites, use your expertise to tell visual stories, and reward fans who snap and share photographs with merchandise, discounts, and the ability to skip the line during peak hours. Concerned that you’re not a photog? Don’t sweat it. You can hire local college kids to snap a bunch of photos for $10/hour. Most students have a variety of free or affordable photo editing tools like VSCO, Afterlight, and Facetune, so you can skip the large-scale photo shoots. You can also source local professional photographers on affordable freelancing sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
14. Activate Facebook Online Ordering
Have you ever scrolled through your favorite restaurant’s Facebook page and wanted to order right on the spot? Facebook now makes it possible for restaurants to satisfy their customers’ cravings. If you use Delivery.com or Slice to receive orders, you can add a Start Order button to your Facebook page that allows people to order food directly through your page. Eastside Big Tom in Olympia, Washington, combines mouth-watering photos of their delicious eats with easy ordering. When your customer orders an item for delivery, their order will flow through either Delivery or Slice and will appear along with your other restaurant orders.
Facebook also offers service bookings and shop features for online businesses to capture appointments and sales directly from their page. Salons can share customer selfies and stylist testimonials to secure instant appointments. Spas can display images of their serene spaces, promote a first-time customer offer, and offer free samples of products used during their visit — all via their Facebook page.
Learn more about adding a call-to-action button on your Facebook page.
15. Create Shareable Infographics
For the business crowd, visualizations of data are powerful and are often shared on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Your business is probably sitting on a pile of customer data, which can be used to give insights about demographics and customer behavior that peers or publications could find useful. Sites like Canva offer free tools for infographic design.
16. Soundtrack Your Business
Take a cue from cycling giant, Soulcycle — pioneer of the fitness studio playlist. If you have a business that centers on music, consider recreating the energy in your space for customers when they’re on the go with a Spotify playlist. Not only can you use social media to promote your playlists, but you can also invite your instructors who’ve cultivated a loyal following to showcase their tunes.
17. Make Your Space Photo Ready
With Instagram’s explosive popularity, restaurants and coffee shops are primping for their close-ups. Flamingo wallpaper, neon signs, checkered floors, and natural light can transform a business from a local place to grab a bite to a social media destination. Famous for its “But First, Coffee” cups and pastel pink-painted tearoom, California-based Alfred Coffee has become selfie central for locals and tourists alike. Mr. Holmes Bakehouse in San Francisco became an overnight sensation with their sugary confections and their “I Got Baked in San Francisco” neon sign.
However, you don’t need to break the bank in order to attract the smartphone-toting crowd. Make your space irresistible by dedicating areas in your shop for snapping food photos in natural light or showcase decor that’s kitschy, colorful, and individual to your taste. Consider branded napkins, plates, or mugs — anything that makes your business stand apart from the pack.
18. Showcase “Selfie Stations.”
Social media is all about putting your best face forward, literally, and small businesses can capitalize on this trend. Aurora Organic Tan in Walnut Creek, California, installed a “step and repeat” style selfie station where coiffed customers can show off their styled looks. Salons and spas can create similar stations with their business logo displayed prominently in the background and encourage sharing by offering a discount off a future purchase.
19. Share Video Samples Online
People can’t resist the power of a freebie. Fitness studio owners know the impact of inspirational fitness content and they’re sharing tips, techniques, and sample workouts on social media. A Los Angeles-based fitness studio, LEKfit, routinely posts Instagram videos of classes in session, as well as advice on form and food from its founder. Gyms and boutique studios can implement a try-before-you-buy strategy by offering sample workout routines, images showing poor and proper form, and trainer tips. Prospective customers will not only get useful content, but they’ll also start to build a relationship with your space and instructors.
You can either share live content on Instagram Stories (click “Live” in Stories) using your mobile phone or you can set up a tripod and your mobile phone to film live sessions. There are free software tools that allow you to reduce the file size of your videos so you can easily upload them to social media. Want to go next level? Some studios film using a DSLR camera on a tripod to get high-quality content.
20. Design a Series
Starting a daily, weekly, or monthly series creates consistency with your content and gives fans something to look forward to. Whether you’re having live chats on Twitter or “Ask Me Anything” events on Reddit with your customers — or posting motivational quotes and inviting feedback from your fans — know that getting sales is not always about the product push. Learn about your customers, engage with them, and give them content that is useful, valuable, or inspiring on a regular basis.
21. Connect With Your Community
Your business is part of a community and there’s no better way of cultivating goodwill than by supporting locals during moments of celebration or struggle. From sponsoring local sports teams to participating in PTA, church, or social club events — be a pillar of your community by getting involved. The San Francisco Bay Area’s Patxi’s Pizza has established 52 Weeks of Giving to support local children and welfare programs. The pizzeria also is known for its involvement in local and national giveback programs, which is heavily promoted on its social media pages. People feel good about helping their neighbors, so make it easier by championing a cause close to the community’s heart.
22. Make Business Milestones a Moment
Although most owners would shy away from promoting business milestones, achievements, and anniversaries because they don’t want to appear boastful, celebrating these moments provides another opportunity to recognize your customers. A la Carte Gifts & Baskets in Denver, Colorado, applauded their 20th anniversary with Facebook cover photos, which were prominently featured in local advertising and a video that was posted on Facebook. You can take this a step further by showcasing your milestones with online video testimonials from longtime customers.
23. Make Fans Part of Your Business
The Kosher Express in Denver, Colorado, has migrated its love of food onto Pinterest. From themed boards to detailed kosher recipes and ideas for Jewish holidays and events, fans have an all-access pass to inspiration for, and information on, all things kosher. The Kosher Express has also involved their fans as part of their business by establishing a community board.
Do you have a clothing store? Invite your customers to photograph how they’re styling your wears and use those images in-store or on your product detail pages (if you have an online shop) to spark creative ideas in your customers.
24. Share Your Smarts With Tutorials
YouTube is an ideal platform that empowers you to share your knowledge, expertise, and product differentiation with others. People are constantly searching for educational content and, according to Google, YouTube “how to” video searches are growing 70% year over year. Use the platform to upload product demonstrations, assembly instructions, and customer testimonials.
Small business owners can also use YouTube as an educational vehicle for their expertise. Are you in real estate? Share current housing trends, mortgage rates, and checklists for buying a first home. Do you have an accounting-based business? Give information on current tax laws and the effect on different population segments. Do you own a CrossFit studio? Spark conversations around common misconceptions.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating and marketing business channels on YouTube.
25. Reward Loyal Customers
Nearly every salon, spa, and coffee shop has a punch card rewarding patrons for visits. Some small businesses have even taken their programs digital. California-based healthy eatery, Beaming, displays loyalty rewards points onlineand on in-store receipts. Why not take it one step further and exchange social currency for redeemable rewards? Invite customers to snap photos of your products, tag your social channels, and link to your business, and then set an engagement threshold to win escalating rewards. For example, if your customer’s posts receives 50 likes, they get a free coffee, 100 likes and they get a pastry, and so on.
26. Engage Influencers
Believe it or not, you don’t need Kim Kardashian dollars to attract savvy online influencers to promote your business. According to a recent BlogLovin’ survey, 84% of “micro” influencers (influencers who have fewer than 100,000 fans on their social media channels) charge less than $250 per Instagram post.
Online fragrance sampling company, Scentbird, grew online sales from $0 to $75,000 using influencer marketing. Not sure where to start? Search for influencers on sites such as Buzzsumo or Grin by using keywords related to your business. For example, if you own a cosmetics shop, search for “makeup reviews.” Scroll through the results to find influencers who most reflect your brand and approach them with an offer to review your product or business.
27. Coordinate a Social Media Takeover
Give online influencers the reigns to your social media channels so they can publish content on your behalf for a period of time. For example, Wooly’s, a small music venue in Des Moines, Iowa, frequently invites bands to take over their Instagram channel before their scheduled performances. You can work with the influencer on the goals of the campaign, cross-promotion on their channels, and overall guidelines so they have guardrails for creating content. But you don’t want to curb their creativity!
If you don’t have the budget to invest in an outside influencer, use employees or trusted customers as influencers to add a fresh voice and perspective to your channels. If you own a coffee shop, why not show how the influencer starts their day with your morning brew, which fuels their adventures throughout the day? If you own a restaurant, why not pair an influencer with your chef to prepare dishes for the crowd? Have your own clothing line? Invite influencers to style and wear your fashions in their everyday life.
28. Create a Customer Database
Polito’s Pizza, a Wisconsin-based pizzeria, sends out frequent notices on Twitter and Facebook with a link that encourages customers to go to the birthday club page and sign up receive a free slice of pizza on their special day. Signing up for the reward club promotion requires an e-mail address, and customers are encouraged to tell three friends about the promotion. This has allowed Polito’s to create an e-mail database of existing and potential customers.
29. Launch a Referral Program
Referral programs are perfect for small businesses because they give you access to a new pool of potential customers: your existing customers’ friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
Reward your customers for spreading the word and bringing sales to your business. Accounting software company, Free Agent, offers two-sided rewards: both the new user and the referring customer receive a 10% discount — lasting for as long as both parties are paying subscribers.
Perhaps offer incremental rewards (the more people they refer, the bigger the prize) or create charitable tie-ins where every new customer triggers a donation to the charity of the referring customer’s choice. For online businesses, setting up a referral program is easy — all you need is a landing page, instructions about the program, benefits, and redemption details. If you have a MailChimp subscription, the service offers free landing pages to promote sales, subscriptions, and reward programs. For brick-and-mortar locations, all you need is an in-store display outlining the program rules and benefits.
30. Be an Information Destination During Their Commute
According to a recent eMarketer study, of internet users who listen to podcasts, 85% tune in at least once a month, and 22% tune in once a week. We live in an attention-deficit age where our smartphone has become an extra limb, so why not connect with your customers during their commute?
A blogger turned entrepreneur, Jess Lively, transformed her blog on living with intention into a profitable business — all as a result of starting a podcast. The key to her success was compelling content, guests who were able to publicize the podcast to their networks, and sharing excerpts and tips on social media. If you have knowledge to share — and the idea of creating videos seems intimidating — you may want to launch a podcast. All you need to begin is a quality microphone and recording/editing software, such as Audacity or GarageBand.
Next Steps: Can’t wait to get started with some of these great small business social media ideas to help extend your influence — both within your local community and to the world online? For even more guidance, tips, and advice, sign up for our free newsletter for small business owners.