Image: Yoel Ben-Avraham/Flickr Image: Yoel Ben-Avraham/Flickr

Social channels are congested with brands fighting to be heard, and small businesses need to ensure the time and budget invested in creating content, managing channels and promoting posts is delivering a return, says Moses Velasco, Chief Strategist, Socialbakers.

But it’s not a case of opting in or out. Social media platforms provide a direct line to your audience and are a valuable source of actionable consumer insights. SMEs need to build their community to increase awareness and breed loyalty, and social is the best place to collect, grow and engage your audience.

So how can smaller businesses ensure they make a mark when competing for the limelight with big brands and even bigger budgets? You have to start with insight.

Know where and when your audience is most engaged

Doing the initial legwork to identify where and when your audience is most active and engaged will pay off later down the line. This isn’t as simple as knowing what age group predominantly uses which platform. Your audience will likely use a variety of platforms throughout the day, so you need to know where and when to post in order to maximise engagement and drive awareness of your brand.

Jump on hot topics

As a small business, you are unlikely to be so restricted by strict internal processes as bigger businesses. This leaves space for you to be an agile, reactive commentator and content producer. A brilliant example of this came from an A level student whose fake John Lewis advert went viral. While you may not have the internal resources to create such content, a witty tweet or thought-provoking short video, posted with relevant hashtags, can capture audiences and drive engagement with your brand.

Be the solution to a problem

Meantime Brewery is a customer of ours and a brilliant example of an SME that listened to its audience, tapped into their conversation and used social to position its offering as the solution. Using influential hashtags including #gift and #greatpresents in posts, they reached an audience actively looking for present ideas around Christmas. This effort helped the craft brewery achieve a 20% increase in sales, selling over 3% of its annual volume in just one week.

Learn from the big dogs

You may not have their budgets but you can learn from their social successes (and mistakes!). Take Boohoo.com for example. The clothing company came top on social media around Black Friday, with its Facebook Live giveaways which achieved more than 300,000 interactions. The brand gave a clear call to action for entry, ‘just comment your answer for the chance to win’. This drove engagement through fans commenting to enter which in turn creates stories and a chance for brands to get into users’ friends’ news feeds, further raising awareness and engagement opportunities. You’ve got to give a little, to get a lot.

Make the most of your profile and network

As Virgin and Facebook have shown, having a strong entrepreneur profile and presence can be an extremely valuable asset. But when you’re starting out, keeping on top of hot topics and relevant conversations can be time consuming. A simple solution is to set aside regular intervals for checking social media channels and engaging with relevant influencers. It’s also worthwhile turning on notifications for relevant news apps so you stay up to speed with breaking industry news and are able to spot reactive opportunities.

There’s a huge opportunity for small businesses on social but shouting at your audience won’t drive engagement or sales. You need to know where your audience is, what they care about and what they’re talking about before you start to insert yourself into their newsfeeds and timelines.

Arm yourself with the above insight and you’ll reap the rewards of high engagement and improved ROI on your social media marketing.