Social media is a straightforward and cost-effective way for small businesses to reach a wide audience. During COVID-19, however, many businesses have had to change or alter their business strategies, marketing, and social media plans.
People are spending more time online and on social media during COVID-19. Small businesses should use this time as an opportunity to reach an even wider audience and lay the groundwork for future marketing success.
We surveyed 500 small business owners and managers in the U.S. to understand how they use social media and develop a useful framework for small businesses navigating a global pandemic.
- One-third of small businesses (34%) measure engagement metrics such as likes, comments, and shares to determine the success of their social media strategies.
- One in three small businesses posts to social media at least once every day. Increasing the number of posts could boost engagement as stay-at-home orders drive people to spend time inside and online.
- Most small businesses (76%) use images on social media. Images can help businesses draw attention to their helpful content.
- Most small businesses (85%) run social media accounts in-house, and 78% of those small businesses have employees manage social media in addition to other responsibilities. User-generated content can help small businesses that struggle to create content.
- Almost all small businesses (91%) use Facebook, and 49% use Instagram. Those platforms have implemented features such as stickers to help small businesses increase visibility online.
5 Social Media Tips for Small Businesses
- Use engagement to generate leads
- Post to social media frequently to establish a platform presence
- Engage your audience with timely, helpful content
- Invest in user-generated content
- Stick to a few platforms at a time
1. Use Engagement to Generate Leads
Small businesses can use time during the COVID-19 pandemic to reevaluate their social media goals as part of their overall marketing strategy.
Goal-setting for small businesses should include deciding how best to measure social media success.
One-third of small businesses (34%) use engagement metrics such as likes, comments, shares, clicks, and followers to track social media success.
Engagement is the most popular metric among small businesses. Other top metric measurement strategies include response rates and times (19%) and ROI metrics such as conversions (17%).
Jeremy Owens, CMO of barbecue and grill review website Seriously Smoked, chose not to measure conversions when measuring social media success.
“Focusing on customer conversions doesn’t make sense during the pandemic,” Owens said. “We’re using the spike in social media activity to generate leads instead.”
Small businesses can track social media engagement and use it to generate leads instead of trying to drive conversions, which may be hard to achieve during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to social media automation service Hootsuite, Facebook is the best social media platform for generating leads. Hootsuite’s helpful guide to social media lead generation includes tips such as:
- Making social media posts clickable
- Creating social media landing pages
- Offering incentives or discount codes in your content
Enticing social media users with clickable elements or links can drive engagement and help businesses generate leads during an economic downturn.
2. Post to Social Media Frequently to Establish a Platform Presence
Social media is more hands-on than businesses might expect. Small businesses should post to social media frequently to meet engagement goals.
One-third of small businesses (33%) post to social media at least once a day, but businesses can adjust the frequency of posts based on the platform and specific marketing needs.
Some small businesses are posting to social media more frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the perceived increase in online activity among consumers.
“We have poured much more energy and funding into social media marketing over the last two months than ever before in our company’s history,” said Katie Ross, director of marketing at apparel company again&again.
“We have poured much more energy and funding into social media marketing over the last two months than ever before in our company’s history.”
Before COVID-19, again&agin posted to Instagram about once a week. Now, again&again posts on Instagram 3 to 4 times per week. Each post highlights the importance of sustainable fashion through infographics or photos.
The increased volume of posts led to again&again more than quadrupling its following on Instagram, going from around 100 followers in early March 2020 to more than 400 followers in May 2020.
More frequent posts also resulted in more organic engagement for again&again.
“We are seeing that our posts are getting a lot more organic engagement via likes, comments, follows, and shares,” Ross said. “Our average post now has a 10% organic engagement rate (as defined as likes plus comments as a percentage of the total number of followers) versus 3% just a month ago.”
again&again saw a 7% increase in organic engagement as its Instagram presence has grown. Small businesses looking for similar success during COVID-19 can increase the frequency of posts to reach people spending more time at home and online.
3. Engage Your Audience With Timely, Helpful Content
With so many businesses posting content about COVID-19, how can small businesses create helpful content while setting themselves apart from the other businesses online trying to do the same?
Small businesses should use visual content such as images, infographics, or videos to help their customers with tools or skills they need to navigate the pandemic. Images are the most popular form of content for small businesses to share on social media.
More than three-quarters of small businesses (76%) say they share images and infographics on their social media accounts.
Most small businesses (58%) share offers and promotions on social media, and 52% share reviews and testimonials with their followers.
COVID-19 has changed small businesses’ content priorities. Emails and posts that were meant to drive sales now offer resources for struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our main objective in content marketing is to provide our clients with information that is not only going to help their business right now but beyond COVID-19,” said Lauren Torregrossa, who manages social media for hiring software company CareerPlug in Austin, Texas.
“Our main objective in content marketing is to provide our clients with information that is not only going to help their business right now but beyond COVID-19."
Repurposing useful content marketing materials to be shared on social media can extend your content’s reach.
Samantha Russell is a marketing manager at financial technology software firm Twenty Over Ten. She maintains the company’s content on social media, including on YouTube, where she reposts marketing webinars she hosts with clients.
Twenty Over Ten creates value for customers in its social media content by repurposing useful webinars or other information for small business decision-makers who might have missed the webinar to access at their convenience.
Small businesses can also highlight their efforts to contribute to the global community during this time of strife and uncertainty.
Economic downturn causes consumers to be more cautious with spending, but they do want to see that businesses are supporting social causes.
again&again is leaning into corporate social responsibility in its social media marketing.
“We’ve shifted our social media communications to focus on spreading awareness about our jeans and the positive impact they can have on the world,” Ross said. “Those ideas seem to be really resonating as people shift their focus from ‘me’ to ‘we.’”
In one Instagram post, for example, again&again uses graphics on Instagram to explain “circular fashion,” the sustainability concept that makes up the business.
again&again uses multiple slides in this infographic to break down the lesson of “circular fashion” in an engaging way, encouraging readers to swipe through each slide to learn more.
Small businesses should be mindful that their social media content is helpful and demonstrates a commitment to social responsibility.
4. Invest in User-Generated Content
The COVID-19 pandemic has left teams spread thin. When your social media manager is also your email marketing manager, your PR manager, and managing remote learning with children at home, it might be time to seek out help and resources to maintain a social media presence.
Though 2020 might not be the best time for small businesses to hire outside social media professionals, investing in user-generated content can ease some of the burdens on in-house marketing teams.
Almost all small businesses (85%) manage social media in-house.
Of those employees, 78% manage social media in addition to other responsibilities.
Small businesses can ease any strain on social media managers by exploring alternative ways to collect and post content.
User-generated content, or UGC, is any images, writing, or videos that users post online. Brands can reshare or post user-generated content to their own channels to populate feeds with content.
Torregrossa uses hashtags to create user-generated content for CareerPlug’s Instagram account.
“We've been very active on our Instagram account to show support for our clients and local businesses,” Torregrossa said. “#TakeOutTuesday and #WellnessWednesday are a couple of examples of days during the week that we share posts from restaurant and fitness businesses to help drive traffic to their accounts.”
Small businesses can look for trending hashtags to identify and share user-generated content across platforms. Hashtags can be popular among a general audience, such as #ThrowbackThursday, or specific to an industry.
CareerPlug, for example, used the popular hashtag #MotivationMonday to share content from the team encouraging followers to follow social distancing.
Small businesses looking to save time and resources with user-generated content can source images from teammates like the one above, which features CareerPlug employees' pets in a collage.
Ask employees or customers to submit pictures or videos of themselves related to trending hashtags or other content relevant to your business. You can then use them to create posts with a “homemade” feel that requires less time than infographics or other professional images.
Small businesses can also start their own hashtag campaigns and repost content from other users.
User-generated content can help small businesses source content for their social media profiles at a time when resources are spread thin.
5. Stick to a Few Platforms at a Time
Limit the number of social media platforms you invest in your small business to tighten its budget. Instead, focus on creating a presence and following on 1 or 2 platforms rather than maintaining a faint presence on 4 to 5 or more.
Almost all small businesses use Facebook (91%), but fewer than half use Instagram (49%) to promote their businesses.
Different social media channels require different levels of maintenance. Algorithms on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter favor frequent posts with high levels of engagement, while Facebook and LinkedIn require fewer posts to generate engagement in the feed.
Instead of launching efforts on multiple platforms, small businesses can focus on using the platforms they have to build a brand and increase engagement with followers.
During COVID-19, small businesses should look at what free features platforms provide for boosting their visibility.
Instagram, for example, just introduced a “Support Small Businesses” sticker that users and businesses can share in their stories.
Instagram users can place the sticker in their stories and tag the small business of their choice. This makes it easier for small businesses to find and repost that content, as D.C.-based Ice Cream Jubilee did in its Instagram story.
Focusing on a few platforms at a time allows small business social media teams to focus on finding that content and engaging with it by sharing or re-posting, strengthening their relationships with customers.
Social Media Can Help Small Businesses During COVID-19
Social media is a cost-effective way for businesses to reach a wider audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Small businesses should use social media engagement to identify leads instead of driving conversions.
Posting on social media frequently will also improve engagement rates such as clicks, shares, and follows.
Many small businesses have shifted their content strategies to include helpful content about COVID-19 or other socially responsible business tips.
User-generated content across one or two platforms at a time can also help businesses save time and resources.
Social media can help small businesses boost visibility online during and after a global pandemic.