Garry Hamilton: How to use social media for business

Think about where your audiences are on social media.   Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Think about where your audiences are on social media. Picture: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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It’s one thing being on social – but is your business using the correct platforms, ask Garry Hamilton co-owner at digital marketing agency Equator.

Social media is a big part of all of our lives now – whether we use it personally or professionally. For businesses it’s vital to have a social presence. That’s fairly obvious. After all, to reach out to customers in 2015, you need to be on the communications channels that your target market is using on a day-to-day basis.

It’s not about jumping on any old social bandwagon – it’s about positioning your brand on channels which suit you

Garry Hamilton

There may be temptation to sign up to every new platform that comes along but spending time on a space where your target market isn’t active is a waste of investment and resource. Doing so could actually have negative repercussions.

First impressions are everything. In the ‘old’ days, an initial phone call or printed advert would help determine whether a potential customer would take a query forward – but we now live in a truly connected world where the decision making process for a customer and business can now happen online. Rather than a telephone conversation, a quick online search on a company website, or a glance at social channels will help customers make a judgement call about the quality of a product, service, or company reputation.

So if you’re not using social platforms effectively – it’s not going to look great, is it?

But before you sign up to anything – think about what social success would look like in the short, medium and long-term. What would a good result be? Is it about talking about products or services, telling your company’s story, having online conversations, or is it to make sales? It could be all of these. Regardless of the objective, all of these outcomes should tie in with a bigger, company-wide strategy, so take a step back and have a clear picture of what success would look like – and how it can be executed and managed.

Now think about how to use each channel. Facebook isn’t necessarily the best place to sell business insurance, and all the LinkedIn updates in the world are not going to get people rushing out to buy your shoes. Think about where your audience is and spend time crafting the right content to reach them – put a flexible content plan in place.

Police Scotland, for example, might not be selling a product – but it is actively social and uses Facebook and Twitter at a national, regional and local level to provide followers with local policing updates. It’s a valuable service.

Police officers use Twitter to speak to local members of the community, to update on local incidents and campaigns, and the Facebook account regularly hosts question and answer sessions with specialist officers who offer real insight into their roles, while also going behind-the-scenes with the force. These social initiatives add value for the audience – especially on these platforms. But would it make sense for Police Scotland to invest time in a channel like Pinterest just now – probably not. But then look at Brewdog, which has started to use Pinterest to share cool images of its brand and associated lifestyle products.

The outcome here is that whether it’s a service or product you’re promoting – Police Scotland’s, or Brewdog’s, social initiatives can be customised and are transferrable to any business. From a senior business figure talking about a new product or service offering via a LinkedIn Q&A with other professionals, to a national house builder, or even a local tradesman, showcasing the week-to-week progress of their work on Facebook and Instagram. It might take a little bit of research, planning and investment – but there are a host of opportunities.

And remember, once you’ve identified the platform think about your tone of voice. Consistency is key. If you are a financial firm discussing corporate tax changes on LinkedIn or Twitter – then you need to have a professional outlook and solid knowledge of the subject. Yes, there is flexibility to be a bit more informal on social, but your opinion impacts the reputation of your firm so bear that in mind.

There is the notion and idea that you have to be controversial, edgy and take risks to be successful on social media. That’s incorrect – do what is best for your brand image. Twitter is very fluid – and asks for short, concise updates. Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn don’t have these limitations so shape your content – whether it’s text, image or video-based – to suit the platform. Please don’t copy and paste!

It’s not about jumping on any old social bandwagon – it’s about positioning your brand on channels which suit you, committing to them, having relevant online conversations, and, most importantly, making the journey worthwhile for all parties.

Garry Hamilton is business development director and co-owner at Equator, an ideas company which has been at the forefront of digital technology and transformational thinking since it was established in 1999.