Social media marketing may feel daunting to some small-business owners — there's a lot of competition in the race to gain followers and translate that into sales. Plus, when you're just starting out, it may not always be in the budget to hire someone to create content for you.
Women small business owners, specifically, can have trouble delegating tasks, according to Mastercard's North America small business lead, Ginger Siegel. "They want to do more themselves," Siegel told Business Insider.
Mastercard conducted research to learn what problems it can address with its tools for small businesses. Social media was one valuable (and often untapped) area Siegel spoke about at the company's first Small Business Summit.
"Our research tells us that a lot of small business owners in general have a lot of trouble using social media because they can't figure out the return on investment," Ginger Siegel said in a panel during the summit.
Social media can be a low-cost opportunity to reach consumers where they spend an average of over two hours a day across platforms, according to a Global Web Index study of online users in 44 countries ages 16 to 64.
One panel at the summit featured women from many facets of content creation and marketing, including an influencer, the CEO of a PR company, and entrepreneur and TV host Marie Forleo.
Forleo said in the panel that some business owners may view sales and marketing as slimy and aggressive, but they are "the lifeblood of your business."
She encouraged business owners to pour their creativity into sales and marketing, adding that "modern marketing produces the best results, the highest profits in a business that you actually love."
The panel discussed from their own experience what businesses need to keep in mind when promoting their brands and products. Business Insider attended the summit and took the below quotes and information from the panel.
Here are the six ways they said every small business can build a strong community that will drive sales.
1. Understand your ideal customer on a deeper level.
Your target customer is more than the two-sentence description in a business pitch. Get to know your customers' needs, wants, desires, and the things they don't even speak about with their best friends, Forleo advised.
"When you understand the people that you're meant to serve on that level, the money and the business starts to take care of itself," Forleo said.
Courtney Quinn, the blogger and influencer behind Color Me Courtney, established a very specific brand with her style. One scroll down her Instagram feed makes it clear that everything in her posts, from clothing to props, centers around bright colors. So when a brand approaches her to promote a black coat or black pumps, most of the time, she turns them down, she said.
"When you create a clear brand, it kind of helps you differentiate early on," Quinn said.
Mallory Blair, cofounder and CEO of Small Girls PR, said Quinn is a replicable example of how influencers can help businesses build around communities that they're already cultivating. But it takes focus and research to know which influencers to target.
"You come up with what is your big brand house and what are the pillars that hold up that house," Blair said.
2. Bring your brand's values to the forefront.
Forleo said content is a way for businesses to signal their values to customers. "It really gives you an opportunity to inspire trust and confidence in your audience long before they ever do business with you," Forleo said.
Leann Livingston, a brand manager at Square, said most consumers are actively looking for brands with value and purpose, and are "using that to inform their purchase decisions."
"You know, we look out into the world and there's so much mistrust," Forleo said. "I think content is one of the most important signals that we can give people about our values, what we stand for, and then inspire them to do business with us."
3. Story makes the sale.
Social media gives businesses access to billions of people, but that also makes it highly competitive and overcrowded. In order to rise above the clutter, Blair said every business needs to figure out how to stand for more than its product or a price point.
"We really think about developing messaging pillars that ladder into something greater and building community around that narrative that people can buy into and make it part of their story," Blair said.
Quinn said she knows the people behind most of the products she owns. "I've fallen in love with that story before I fell in love with the product," she said.
"If people care about you as a creator, then they want to buy what you're selling," said Quinn.
4. Leave room for spontaneity when planning out your content.
Planning social posts and brand content ahead of time is often the only way to keep up with today's fast-paced market, but Forleo recommends always leaving room for timely things.
"You have to do the dance between planning and then also being able to be spontaneous," Forleo said.
Siegel said agility is key and advised businesses to think of ways their products can tie into current events. "There might be a local, national, or global event that happens. You've got to be able to capitalize it," she said. "For many small businesses, they think, 'Well, I have nothing to do with global events,' but you absolutely might."
5. Get the most you can from every post.
Once an influencer posts about a business or product, it's not the end of that partnership.
Reesa Lake, executive vice president at Digital Brand Architects, moderated the panel and also spoke on this topic. She said reposting and reusing is essential, especially for small businesses. "You have to look at those posts almost like an asset and how do you keep using it so you can get more and more dollars out of it," Lake said.
If your business doesn't have a large following, Blair suggests partnering with businesses that share your values but don't have a competing product. She said cross-promotion helped Small Girls PR cultivate a community when it was starting out.
"There's a lot of communities that already exist out there that have great networks, have great followings. Find out how you can partner with those individuals," Livingston said. She added, "they can be a really great advocate and source for you as well."
Visual artist Micah Ulrich has built a fanbase for his illustrations and gained the attention of musical collaborators like Post Malone by creating posts designed to stoke discussions among his followers.
Ulrich's formula is to post two to three times per day on Instagram and Facebook each, and four to six times on Twitter. A third of his posts include a call to action for merchandise. He also asks his followers once a week to link to their favorite music, which helps lead bands and brands he might collaborate with to his work. Posting photos of fans showing appreciation of his artwork — usually in the form of tattoos — turns posts into small forums where his followers can come together to share their enthusiasm.
6. It doesn't matter how many followers you have if you're not interacting with them.
Instead of putting all your effort into gaining new followers, focus on the ones you already have, Quinn advised. "My community basically is the reason I grow. They promote my stuff, they talk about me, they share me to their friends every day," she said.
Quinn said when her followers repost her stories, they reach more people who would follow her for the same reasons. "So instead of me trying to reach out to someone who might not even be interested, they're doing the work for me because I invest in them," Quinn said.
Forleo said she tells people who take her online business program not to have "small follower shame." Instead, she says business owners should reverse their perspective: everyone who follows you cares about what you have to say.
And in turn, those followers want to feel valued. Forleo said the biggest department in her company is called "customer happiness" and they respond to "every single email." She also recommends always using people's first names.
"I think it's really about paying attention to people and making them feel seen, heard, and acknowledged," said Forleo.
Lake said two-way communication is essential to connecting with followers and influencers. "If you see somebody talking at you about your brand, talk back to them, DM them, message them," she said.
Forleo said communities build when people feel how much you care, but you can't phone it in. "You can't do it with canned responses, you can't have an assistant do it for you," she said.
"Now more than ever, people's bulls*** meters are so high where you can feel the insincerity through a digital mean. So you have to be rooted in your heart and a genuine caring," Forleo said.
Ulrich said that his followers appreciate when his posts are honest, as opposed to glamorous, like drawings gone wrong or works in progress.
"There's a certain amount of romanticized ideas of how artists live," Ulrich said. "[that] we all sit in the Starbucks and gaze out the window longingly into the rain. But oftentimes it's more like 'here's the graphite drawing I did. I didn't like it.'"
Doing so helps his followers feel that they're following a person making art, not a brand selling products.
"They want to know that it was something that was not just made, chucked out there," Ulrich said. "They want to know every step of the process and to get a glimpse into the life of an artist."