Marketing strategies for small businesses take creativity – and getting active on social media is a great place to start.

Now then, being present on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram won’t boost your sales overnight; but it will help build awareness for your business. Your company’s presence in social media is essential if you want to gain trust and increase brand visibility.

Most networks have developed tools to help businesses promote themselves with relatively low costs. But if your budget is too tight to cover these additional expenses, there are still plenty of creative (and free) ways to use social media.

What you will need to prepare for, though, is to invest a lot of your time. So, get ready to spend multiple hours online getting to know your fans and building a strong relationship with them.

Don’t get discouraged if some of your strategies don’t work. People are different and sometimes it’s hard to get post engagement. Keep experimenting until you find out what makes your customers like, share and (eventually) click through to your site. Check out these 15 creative tips below.

  1.   Answer All Your Customers’ Questions

One of the best things about social media is that it lets you keep in touch with potential and existing clients. This gives you a great opportunity to show fans what your company and product can do for them. Having a team working fulltime on responses will help, but you can also manage replies by yourself, if necessary.

Some brands use this feature to gain trust, by providing helpful information every time clients have questions. Sometimes there’s no direct connection between the answer and the company’s products. Herschel Supply Co. for example, increased their customer service satisfaction rate by 20% using this strategy on Facebook and Twitter.

They answered industry related questions by continuously monitoring hashtags like #Fashion and #Accessories. In a short period of time they managed to build strong communities around their products.

  1.   Tell Good Stories

Everyone loves a good story. Danish shipping company, Maersk, used Facebook to describe their ships’ journeys through the frozen waters of the Baltic Sea. This resulted in 150 unique leads — a large number, considering the industry.

So, if you have something cool to share online, then do it. Talk about people who work for you, tell stories about their everyday activities and how they manage to make your business better. Give a friendly face to your brand to facilitate interaction with customers.

  1.   Link Your Website and Blog to Your Social Media

You already know that selling directly through social media is hard, so don’t expect to find all your customers on your Facebook page. Keep your website updated and invest in high quality photos, relevant content and customer reviews. The more you can harness the power of social proof in your communications, the better.

Provide your clients with all the information they need and win their trust. Your blog should contain interesting and relevant posts that are easy to share on Facebook and Twitter. Provide customers with useful and entertaining details about anything and everything related to your activity.

For small businesses, blogs can be one of the best ways to get new customers. Emerson Salon in New York reached thousands of fans on Twitter and Facebook thanks to their consistent blog posting on social media. Without spending a ton on expensive campaigns, they reply to messages on time and participate in conversations online.

  1.   Create Facebook Groups to Stay in Contact with Your Clients

Communicating in Facebook groups is especially efficient, as members have a common interest. Create a group for your clients where they can share experiences with your product and even their complaints.

You’ll get peer reviews you can use to promote your business on other social channels, and you can keep members updated about what’s new with you. Respond personally to each message if you can, and create exclusive offers for members.

Groups help to get permanent feedback and give you a clear idea about who your buyer persona is. But don’t be tempted to add someone just because they’re your Facebook friend. This can be annoying and awkward for a lot of users and ultimately decrease engagement.   

  1.   Involve Clients in Your Social Media Campaigns

A good example of this practice is the “Instagram Menu,” launched by a popular restaurant in New York. They created a menu using tagged images taken by their customers.

Generally, this method works when you’ve already managed to generate some engagement. You have followers and fans talking about you online and are ready to get involved in an entertaining project.

Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to experiment with unusual ideas you read about, while going through your followers’ comments and suggestions.

  1.   Organize Original Contests on Facebook

Most people love the idea of winning. So contests in social media are still a great way of generating engagement. The most popular ones are the organized competitions using Facebook.

Try to be creative and come up with something new, that doesn’t involve the old “like and share” trick, or your offer may be passed over. Ikea, for example, made Facebook history with their simple, but successful idea of asking people to tag themselves in a series of 12 photos to win a piece of furniture of their choosing.

Facebook now has its own app that allows you to organize contests easier. If you don’t want to use this feature, pay attention to all the rules and restrictions this social network has put together, otherwise your page could be temporary blocked.

  1.   Reward Followers Who Help You Build Social Proof

Getting people talking about your company online is something many marketers and entrepreneurs can only dream about. So, whenever you get a chance to thank your advocates (the people who speak about you), make sure you do.

Dutch airline, KLM did this in 2010, using Twitter to identify their customers. Travelers flying with KLM who had mentioned the company on Twitter received small, but useful gifts to make their trips easier.

You can adapt this idea to your business and use it to reward your followers for mentioning you online. If you plan this campaign wisely, you can get great results with relatively low costs.

  1.   Interact With Influencers to Reach More Users

Start following people with large audiences and, when you can add valuable or entertaining information, get involved in their online conversations. This way, you’ll get the attention of a larger number of internet users.

For this strategy to work, you’ll need to find the right influencers that match your brand’s values, and have access to a relevant audience for your business (if you sell clothes, look for fashion bloggers, for example.)

Taco Bell is famous for having valuable conversations online with fans and even other brands. They use Twitter to get into spicy debates and attract a large number of new followers. Their team manages to alternate great content with spontaneous reactions, making them one of the most popular brand presences online.

What matters the most when aiming for this kind of strategy is a colloquial, but professional tone, along with high quality content, updated every day, including weekends.

  1.   Share Useful Information Through Funny Videos

Everyone has a camera today, so making a short video has never been easier. Use your smartphone to make videos for Facebook or YouTube and share them with your audience.

Choose topics wisely, such as original ways to use your products, practical advice on topics related to your area of expertise, or valuable tips and tricks. Or you can simply provide answers to some of the questions your fans ask on social media.

If you manage to make your videos funny, as well as useful, you’ll have better chances of going viral. Whether you do them spontaneously or hire a professional team to help with production, videos are a great way to increase your number of followers.

The real trick here is in knowing your audience well. Take Dollar Shave Club, for example. They managed to launch their product with humor, using a funny video that got over 26 million views on YouTube. Most marketers would stay away from this approach, but this company really knew its customers and used this information to their advantage.

  1. Give “Inside Information”

People are attracted by new and interesting tips online. It’s eaier to get their attention if you’re ready to share some interesting facts from behind the scenes. A lot of restaurants and fast food chains use this strategy, as they have plenty of things to share. From the ingredients they use, to how fresh they are, and what happens inside the kitchen before the food is served.

Chipotle used this strategy on social media, by publishing a series of videos and photos, as part of a larger campaign to raise awareness on processed food used by many fast food chains. They used YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote their products made with fresh ingredients.

Videos that explain “how it’s done” are popular online, so turn on your camera and start shooting!

  1. Host Regular Chats on Twitter

AAPD (American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) used Twitter chats to celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month in February 2016. As part of their campaign to raise awareness on the importance of dental health among children, they used Twitter to interact with people and educate them on this important subject.

Live interaction with followers can increase your audience, if you bring valuable information to the table. Try to come up with interesting topics and find an expert to include if you can, or if you feel like your expertise isn’t convincing enough. Try to keep a consistent schedule and always deliver the information you promise to gain more trust and followers.

  1. Give Customer Service Directly on Social Media

Posting photos and funny quotes won’t make a difference on their own. Don’t post monologues on social media either. Encourage your customers to talk to you instead, and let them explain their problems online. If you don’t have a team to do it, try a program like Hootsuite to manage all your social media accounts from one place.

Try to be present at all times, especially when there’s typically lower engagement, like on weekends or holidays. Alex & Ani were continually present on Twitter, ready to answer any follower’s questions and provide customer care services online. This brought them an increase in their social sentiment score from 5% to 85% in just one year.

  1. Start Using Google+

Many companies use Google+ successfully, including National Geographic, who customized their 125th anniversary campaign to Google+ to increase engagement.

This social media channel works well for both large companies and local businesses, because it allows you to use peer reviews to promote your products efficiently, through Google Shopping.

  1. Encourage Your Employees to Be Advocates Too

People tend to listen to other people, rather than brands, so have your employees talk about you online, even outside working hours. This is a great way of building your presence on social media. CA Technologies used this strategy to spread the word about who they were and what they were doing.

If you want to use this method successfully though, you’ll have to make your company a great place to work first! It will also help to teach your employees how to speak on your behalf. So provide them with training on social media and company guidelines to follow.

  1. Use Podcasts to Grow Interest in Your Brand

It’s easier to listen to someone than to read a blog post. This makes podcasts popular among busy millennials, who don’t have time to sit in front of their computers or smartphones.

Podcasts can help you reach a higher number of people on the go, and many social media specialists use them to promote their businesses. Michael Stelzner, CEO and founder of Social Media Examiner, hosts a weekly podcast called Social Media Marketing, where he shares valuable information about social media, success stories and interviews with specialists.

What’s important if you want the podcast to be successful, is to choose trending topics. Stick to the subject, and always talk about what you know. Also, try not to over-promote your company or product. Podcasts are meant to increase brand awareness and attract more followers, not to be used as a sales tool.

Be sure to make use of several social media platforms when you’re organizing your campaigns online. Not only will you engage larger audiences, but you can adapt your content to each of the channels you use.

Above all, remember that social media marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint, so don’t expect results overnight and never stop searching for new ways of being creative. Keep close to your customers and listen to what they have to say. A successful campaign is about them first — and what you have to sell second.  

Christina is a copywriter, MBA, marketer, columnist and general life enthusiast with a love/hate relationship with monkeys.

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