Most people will be using Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and small companies can take advantage.

Are you a Facebooker, or is Instagram or Twitter more your thing? No matter which, it's a pretty safe bet you'll be living a social media life somewhere these days.

This week we're looking at social media in small businesses. I was keen to get a particular insight into how some small businesses are using social to drive sales.

Social media expert Duncan Shand says that hinges on a couple of key things: ensuring you post engaging content often (which builds brand preference), and include sales-related posts as part of that mix.

It's rubbish that social isn't about sales, he says. What's important is that the way you talk about your products or services remains engaging and on-brand.


Halfdan Hansen, of Nelson-based artisan jewellery workshop Jens Hansen, says posting photos of jewellery designs always results in a sale.

Competitions are also popular, says Hansen, and have worked well to boost follower numbers.

Also in the mix of businesses this week are a couple of fashion brands - Superette and I Love Ugly - which have both amassed an impressive number of social media followers.

Shand cites Superette as an example of a local business that he thinks is engaging well on social media - posting a good mix of content and using social to broaden the reach of its own media channels.

I Love Ugly has nearly a quarter of a million Facebook followers and the men's lifestyle brand's founder and creative director, Valentin Ozich, says social media is one of the most integral parts of the business because it's the main way the company communicates with customers.

Talking to people on social media every day, as you would do with a friend, and "not just selling to them all the time", is the company's approach, he says.

Ryan Baker and Andrew Long, of appointment scheduling software firm Timely, say they've learnt over the years that the hard-sell doesn't work on social media. Social only works well if the engagement comes naturally and it's part of the organisation's culture.

If you're not enjoying it, they say, you're doing it wrong.


Pick a target audience and entertain them

Duncan Shand is the managing director of digital agency Young & Shand.
There's a big emphasis in social media on numbers - followers, friends, connections - but should that be a focus for small businesses?

Yes and no. Social is a marketing medium at the end of the day. One thing that is always important is the size of your audience.

So getting a reasonably sized audience is important. But it's not just about the number of followers. Your content has to be engaging - that means either useful or entertaining.

The right content means your audience will share it and introduce your brand to their friends, which is what social is all about. There are lots of different platforms.

Is it best to spread your efforts across a range of platforms, or just focus on one or a few?

This depends on your resources. Facebook has been dominant for a number of years but it's important not to put all your eggs in one basket.

YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and so on can all be useful to the right target market.

To make a decision, look at who your audience is and decide the best fit based on your product or service and your target.

What kind of engagement have you seen effectively drive sales or have a tangible effect on the bottom line?

There are two key elements to driving sales.

Firstly, it's important to generate consistently engaging posts and post every day. If your target market is seeing interesting, entertaining and useful information from you every day they'll be more likely to buy your product.

The second part of that is to ensure in your content you have some posts that are sales-related. Often people will say social isn't about sales and you can't talk about your products. This is rubbish.

At the end of the day everything is about sales - but how you incorporate your product information is important; it needs to be interesting and on brand.

And check your analytics are set up properly so you can track and attribute the sales to the right channel.

Are there any local small businesses that you think are doing this really well?

Superette is a brand that we'd nominate for a doing a great job.

They have a nice page with a mix of different content, clothes, news and lifestyle.

They do a good job on Instagram too. You can also see they are pushing people to sign up to their newsletter. So they are building their databases and broadening the reach of their own media channels.

Other notable mentions are Mr Vintage, Ruby and Rapid Fitness.

What emerging trends are you seeing among small businesses engaging in social media?

I think there's an understanding that social isn't just about Facebook. Social is important to allow the content you create as a brand to spread as it gets shared. So if visual content is important, look at platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Also blogging is still important in allowing your content to have a home. And you need to think about how to make your content consumable on mobile.

What key pieces of advice would you have for small business owners with limited experience of social media?

Be curious, understand the different options and use social media yourself. Then tell your story in an authentic, interesting way. Be brave and give things a go.