Harnessing social media is essential for small businesses in the era of ever-present smartphones, an industry head says.

"For small businesses it can be challenging because you've got so many things to do but the great thing about being online is your business could essentially work for you while you're off taking care of other matters," Mia Garlick, Facebook director of policy for New Zealand and Australia, said last night at a Boost Your Business event hosted by Facebook and the Newmarket Business Association.

"It's just another touch-point to keep your business humming."

Garlick said trying out different approaches to see what works well was key.

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"The thing with online platforms is that you learn by doing. It can be daunting if you sit down and try to map it out to the tee, but if you just start posting, the more you try it out, the more you'll learn."

Clayton Smith, founder and director of design retailer The Poi Room, said he believed social media was the reason his business was doing so well.

With just over 5000 followers on Facebook, Smith said it was vital for his business.

"We probably wouldn't be where we are nowadays without it. We don't have a huge following but our followers are committed to us," Smith said.

"In terms of a marketing platform, social media is hugely valuable. We probably don't use it enough and that's one of our down sores, but it's moving so quickly that we've got to get up, go and learn, and go and do.

"It's really important to us to be in that space, to show imagery of what we do."

Posting - almost anything - online was the key to getting started, Garlick said.

Here are the basics of what you need to do for your business to thrive online:

Create social media page

You won't get very far without a business social media page.

"First of all create a business page - don't use your personal account - because you get lots more tools to help you manage it," Garlick said.

Amanda Snedden, director of infant e-commerce site The Little Ones, said she doesn't think her business would be where it is today without social media. Her business page has close to 45,000 likes.

"We wouldn't have a business without Facebook," Snedden said.

"Facebook and Instagram is 100 per cent of our advertising and we have advertised with them right from the very beginning."

Put your details online

Making sure basic business details are accessible online is a must.

"My second tip is to put in all the details of your opening hours, link to your website and contact details," Garlick said.

"Lots of people are searching for business information on Facebook now and you need to make sure they can reach you whenever."

Keep posts visual and creative

Ensuring each post has either an attached video or photo is also important.

"The third tip would be think about some really great visual content," Garlick said.

"It can be low-cost, you can use your iPhone and some great filters from all the different apps out there including Instagram to make it look very professional."

Investing in lighting, backdrop or flat-lay surface is no longer expensive, she said.

Video is now essential

A single post has 1.7 seconds to attract the interest of a consumer or viewer so videos don't have to be long to be effective, Facebook says.

"Experiment with video is my fourth tip and then go into your insights page and measure how its working. Do more of the things that get you more reach, likes, comments and shares, and less of the things people don't react with," she said.

"[Video] is really part of a trend we've seen overall on the platform. Thirteen years ago when Facebook started we were desktop experience with mainly text and just as technology has improved, people are able to take better photos and videos, and people really like engaging content that is very visual and captures a moment."

Respond to comments

Replying and interacting with those who engage with your posts online is what connects people to you and what your business is offering, Garlick said.

"Make sure you respond to comments and questions, make sure people understand that you are a business and the voice and human story behind your business, so they feel that they can connect to you," she said.

"We all know what it's like going into our local coffee shop or our local clothes shop - we love that personal interaction - and being able to do that online is just an extension of that great personal interaction that you as a business owner already have with your customers."