Not so long ago there was just a handful of social media platforms to think about when promoting your micro or solo business. Since then many more have appeared and some have grown at a mind-boggling rate (Yes, I’m looking at you, Pinterest and Instagram…).
Not only does each platform have a different following and feel, you need to invest a fair bit of time and effort in a platform to get results. Deciding where to invest your time and effort can feel like a big commitment, especially when you haven’t really got to grips with how a platform works just yet.
That’s what I’m going to help you with in this post.
So the first thing to consider when choosing a platform is whether your target audience uses it or not. No point being there is the people you want to reach aren’t there too! But you don’t want them simply to be there, you want them to be active and engaging too.
Then you need to think about how well a platform fits your business. So if you’re selling professional services to other businesses then LinkedIn is going to be a better fit than Instagram.
But you need to go a step further as a micro or solo business. Yes, you need to actually like the platform to keep using it consistently.
I feel at home on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, for example but I don’t really like Pinterest. I have quite a few pins there and I do use it, but I’ll never fall in love with it the way many keen pinners have. The reason? I’m just not that visual. I prefer words and videos, which is why Pinterest isn’t a natural habitat for me and using it routinely would be a chore.
This is true if you’re managing your social media yourself, of course. If someone else is managing it for you then it would be a different story, although it would be a huge advantage if you personally ‘clicked’ with your platform – that would make it much easier to choose a social media manager, have a useful input to campaigns and even dip a toe in yourself from time to time if you wanted to.
So when you’re choosing a social media platform, you should look for one, maybe two platforms where:
a) Your target audience is active there in reasonably high numbers
b) It’s a good fit for your business and brand (more on that below)
c) You actually enjoy using it and can see yourself using it consistently on a daily basis for few years.
By the way, it’s fine to have a few more platforms where you have a presence but you’re not especially active. This is how I use Pinterest – I pin my blog posts there and I also pin a few other things while I’m there. But I don’t have a strategy as such, it’s just if people are enthusiastic pinners and want to find me there, then they can. I’m not going to get great results there and I know I’m just scratching the surface of what I could be doing, but I’ve chosen to focus my efforts on the platforms where I feel I can get the most bang for my buck.
And if I ever did choose to step up my activity on Pinterest (or hire someone to do that for me) then I wouldn’t be starting from zero.
So with this in mind, let’s look at the platforms:
Quick guide social media platforms for micro businesses
Good for: Anyone. Facebook had 936 million daily active users on average for March 2015 . The question for micro businesses is not so much working out if the right people are there as how to reach the right users in the most effective way on a tight budget.
Top tip: Facebook is all about the conversations and sharing. Aim to spark and join in conversations – this not only helps you build new relationships and strengthen existing ones, it also increases your reach so you appear in more newsfeeds. Also keep in mind that many people are on Facebook to take a break from their working day and catch up with their friends, so injecting a little fun and entertainment into what you post at Facebook can be very effective.
Good for: Almost anyone. Small business networking, keeping up with news, local business networking, sharing blog posts and other content, discussing topical events, connecting with journalists and many more.
Top tip: Twitter is no longer just about 140 character tweets. Share images, video and most recently you can broadcast video live using tools like Periscope.
Good for: Fashion, food, design, gardening, crafts, travel, DIY. Online stores with products and images that are well-suited to Pinterest.
Top tip: If you find it easy to create engaging images (and they have to be GOOD) then Pinterest is probably a natural place for you. If not, it could feel like a chore.
Good for: Very much a professional platform for business-to-business networking.
Top tip: LinkedIn has a more serious and professional feel than the other platforms. You may even find yourself having a serious business conversation on LinkedIn with the same people who are commenting on your cat videos on Facebook! This is fine because each platform has its own style and feel. Some people are afraid of offending or being unprofessional on LinkedIn, but don’t be put off as there are valuable connections to be made there.
Good for: Businesses who want to share demonstrations, expertise or teach a skill or technique.
Top tip: Don’t just use YouTube to host your videos. Interact with other YouTubers and optimize your videos so they have the maximum chance of being found in search.
Good for: Businesses that lend themselves to images, but the key is to tell the story behind the brand, so even if your product isn’t that visual, the story behind it may well be. Growing rapidly (300 million monthly active users  ). Particularly popular with young women, but there are many older and male users too. Good for lifestyle, food, celebrity, fashion, health and bloggers.
Top tip: The only place in Instagram you can have a clickable link is in your bio, so use it wisely and don’t be afraid to change it.
How to research the best social media platform for your business…
Don’t just take my word for it though…you need to do some research!
It’s so easy to slip into ‘behind screen mode’ but I guarantee you’ll learn a lot more about the habits of your audience if you have a chat. So go and find a few people who you might want to reach on social media and talk to them. You’ll also find out how, when and why they use social media, which is very valuable when it comes to creating content and reaching out to new people.
Follow some of the big names in your business, but – and this is very important – don’t get intimidated by what they’ve already done. Many have been on social media since its earliest days and some had a marketing career before that, so DO NOT COMPARE yourself to them. Just look at where they are most active and engaging. Look at the kinds of questions and comments their followers are asking.
Use the search features in the platforms themselves – what are people discussing in your subject area? How many of them are engaging? What are the trends and hot topics? How might you contribute to that or add a new angle or opinion?
Try it out – it’s free to open an account, so create an attractive bio, follow a few people and get involved in some conversations. If you’ve had an account for a while and haven’t done much with it, refresh the bio and commit to spending (say) a month using it to consistently share good content and take part in conversations.
…but don’t get too hung up on this
It makes sense to start off with a platform that’s likely to be a good fit, but it’s not the full story by a long way. The truth is you’ll get results where you invest time and effort. For example I spent a few weeks focusing on getting more likes on my Facebook page and guess what? I got a lot more likes on my Facebook page! There’s nothing mystical about this, it’s just that where you apply your effort, you get results.
If you’ve built solid relationships on one platform and choose to switch focus later on the chances are that people will follow you anyway.
And finally, don’t forget that social media is about engaging with people and building relationships. I see people getting hung up on getting the right tools and the right platform but forgetting to be useful, helpful and -yes- even forgetting to be interesting.
Whatever you do, be interesting. And be interested in other people, too.
What’s your favourite platform and why?