Mapping out a social media strategy for your small business

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small business(This story was originally published by Entrepreneur.com and was edited for content and style.)

There’s no question that it’s difficult to run a business and a full social media calendar, especially as the rules of social media engagement are constantly evolving. Even with the best intentions and plans in mind, sometimes social media posting and tracking falls by the wayside.

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

That’s what your social media is, essentially—your voice, your brand, your business’s personality—in a digital medium. You can’t be face-to-face with every customer, every day, but your online presence can.

Betthauser’s previous experience working at a brewer’s 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 brewers association, it was a similar concept [to Yelp for Business] with the brewers and brewery owners,” Betthauser said. “They’re doing everything. Not only are they the beer maker, they’re the beer tender, they’re also the janitor. So I tried to bring that experience into the Yelp for Business role. We’re really trying to get at those business owners and see how can we 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 really quick and upfront?”

When a small business launches, social media posting usually falls to the owner. It can be fun at first and you might have some professional shots of your products or services to upload. However, as the business takes off, it can become more of a chore or just fall down the ever-growing list of priorities. Betthauser suggests a solid game plan to help alleviate social media stress.

“Just like everything else, planning is the roadmap for the future,” Betthauser said. “If you don’t have the planning, it can make it a really daunting task. At Yelp for Business, when we were scheduling out our content calendar, it was a month in advance. I understand not every business owner has the time to sit down for a couple hours and get that jotted down. But even if it’s a week or two weeks at a time, I really suggest businesses sit down, see what content they can get out so that they can focus on other things during the week. Obviously social media is important, but if you’re not thinking about it, it’s one of those things that’s going to get easily written off the list.”

It’s equally important to understand that plans change, things happen, and events pop up that might interrupt your previously scheduled programming. That’s okay, according to Betthauser.

“Even if you are scheduling out content, say two weeks, a month in advance, things are always going to come up,” Betthauser said. “If you have a live event, if you have a special, things can always get moved around. But at least you have content that you’re pushing off into the next month, always having backup content.”

She also recommends to always be experimenting. “Don’t be afraid to try different things, and at the end of the month or after the two weeks that you’ve scheduled content, go back and make sure you’re looking at that performance. Not only how many likes did it get, but did anybody comment. Did anybody share it with someone? Did anybody save it to their profile? Especially on Instagram. You want to look to see what’s performing well and try to put themes together to see how you can incorporate that moving forward.”

That sounds well and good, but how can businesses come up with enough and a wide enough variety, of content to fill a full plan? According to Betthauser, it helps to just look at your own calendar.

“What holidays are coming down the pipeline or what special things are happening that your business is celebrating,” Betthauser said. “It might not make sense for you to talk about national wine day, but maybe about the summer solstice. June 21 is the longest day of the year. Maybe your business is going to be open a little bit longer, or maybe you’re having a special. It’s an easy way to tie those certain days in. You don’t have to say there’s a “national whatever day” every day to help your content calendar, but it can definitely take some pressure off to be able to schedule 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 could look at to see what they’re sharing. There are great channels out there, especially on Instagram that you can start to follow to get different ideas.”

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

When it comes to being the face of the content on social media, if you are comfortable in front of the camera, go for it. “It’s different depending on every business situation, but maybe you are the best person for the job, you’re the best person to speak on the brand,” Betthauser said. “You’re the one coming off most authentic and it’s something you enjoy.”

If you’d rather stay behind the scenes, tap into your employees and see if they’d lend their talent and expertise to help build your social media presence. Most employees probably have their phone pretty close to them, so ask them if they’d be willing to take photos and videos during their down time at work or when there aren’t many customers around. “Every 3, 4, 5-second clip of you making a cup of coffee, opening your business in the morning, closing your business at night, anything like that—that’s something that your employees can help you do,” Betthauser said.

If you’re a sole proprietor and all of the social media posting falls to you, it might be daunting to think about creating videos or content about yourself. But the key to moving past that is to start it and just keep doing it, according to Betthauser.

“You just have to start doing it,” Betthauser said. “Every day, try and take a couple 15-second videos of something going on. It doesn’t even have to be about your business. Maybe it’s your dog, or you making food or you going on a walk, but just getting comfortable with taking video is really important.”

Betthauser also said to give yourself some grace and remember that you’re not alone. Everyone is collectively learning how to create the best content. One idea starter she suggests is creating simple behind-the-scenes content.

“It doesn’t have to be really behind-the-scenes, something that’s physically happening behind a kitchen door,” Betthauser said. “But since you are talking to people online, some of your followers may unfortunately may never visit your business. They might patronize it online, but they don’t know what the inside of your business looks like. They don’t know what your storefront looks like. They don’t know all the fun things that you have going on, the artwork that you have on the wall, etc. Just [filming] easy, quick, things like that.”

According to Betthauser, once you have the content flowing, be sure to stay engaged and in touch with your audience. Take five, 10 minutes a day to see what you’re tagged in on Instagram. Engage. Reshare. Comment.

You can also use your Yelp reviews as a way to drive brand awareness on social media while also rewarding your employees.

“Some of those might be reviews that people have left you, talking about how great their experience was with your business,” Betthauser said. “It’s always free to ask if you can share their feedback on your Instagram page or even put it into a video. If the review talked about somebody specific, do a “Yelp reviews reading” and then pan over to the employee who the review was talking about and ask them how they feel. Or just have a spotlight on them and have some stars rolling around. It’s a great way to be able to shout out your employees and also show your potential customers what experience they could be getting.”

With a few tips and tricks from the professionals at Yelp, like Betthauser, you can grow your social media presence, as well as your revenue.

  • Practice makes perfect. If you’re unsure how to create content, just take the plunge and start creating. It will come more naturally after time.
  • Look around to find talent in your own business. If you need help, tap into your employees for additional social media content, and ask what they think would be engaging for your customer base.
  • Plan ahead as much as possible. Schedule content around holidays or sales, and keep evergreen content on hand for the in-between times.
  • Use your Yelp reviews for content. Highlight your good reviews in your social media feeds, through video or posts, and commend employees when they do a great job.

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