Big Budget Social Strategy On a Small Business Budget

Advice from a former digital agency exec turned entrepreneur and small business advocate.

Social is now the foundation of any company’s digital footprint. With the digital landscape changing and evolving daily, trying to keep up can be a daunting process. Running a small business is enough of a struggle. And our very own Leverage Content and Strategy specialist, Ann Marie Almariei, has worked with many big brands to plan, create, launch, and grow their presence on the social landscape.

When Ann Marie decided two years ago to take the next big step in her career to launch her own brand, her past experiences helped her realize how important her knowledge was — not only for her own company, but for other entrepreneurs and small businesses she found herself working with along the way.

Small businesses don’t have the resources to hire an agency for a six-figure social strategy. So she decided to hack the big agency process and create a series of workshops and micro-strategies to help simplify the process.

The following techniques can help any small business build a solid social foundation, prioritize resources, and begin building a meaningful brand presence from day 1. And without breaking the bank.

Know where your opportunity is.

The big biz approach:

The process generally begins with discovery, starting with an exhaustive review of the main competitors social platforms. What are they doing well? What are they not doing well? Where are their opportunities to improve? Followed by an audit of consumer conversations that are already happening in the space. What do consumers talk about? Is the sentiment positive or negative? What are the popular hashtags being used? Which platforms dominate the conversation? Where can your company be part of this conversation?

Once the research is complete, findings are summarized in a competitive audit, social listening report and SWOT analysis (more on SWOT below). This is normally a one to two month process and can be costly.

The small biz approach:

Knowing your competition is always important — regardless of the size of your business. Do your own competitive audit by looking at your top three competitors plus one company who’s tangential to your space but doing it really well (a lot can be learned here, both from the good and the bad). Take time to look at their social platforms and see what their customers talk about.

Even if your company has been in business 10 years, this is always a worthwhile exercise. It helps to stay relevant and adapt your business to your customers as their needs change. Use your findings to do a SWOT analysis. The SWOT is helpful in identifying white spaces within the social landscape that can help your business.

Plan before you execute.

The big biz approach:

Once the discovery process is complete, the business goals and opportunities identified are used to develop a strategy. This strategy becomes the North Star that sets the tone for the social channels. Sometimes the strategy is altered depending on the platform. Each platform presents many different opportunities based on functionality and user behavior. The strategy should not only be based on your business objectives — it needs to add value for the user.

Within each platform strategy is a content strategy. It consists of a high level approach to the type of content to be created, how often it’s posted, and how it will help reach goals and metrics. ‘Content pillars’ are often created to give guidance on the topics and within these pillars a few different ‘content series’ that can make a regular appearance on the feed and become brand-ownable assets. The platform strategy, content strategy, pillars, content series’ and goals are usually packaged into a playbook or guidelines that are used to implement against.

The small biz approach:

First thing, reserve your brand handles across all platforms. Keeping the handle consistent — this might require deviating from your name slightly (for example, ‘Leverage’ could become @GetLeverage or @LeverageProductivity). Next, identify where your biggest opportunities are. Platforms where your target audience are highly active should be given priority and launched first. It really is ok to have channels that are inactive — just make sure you direct visitors to an active channel where they can engage.

Once you’ve identified your primary platform(s) try to commit a small amount of resources to plan how to get the best return on investment (ROI). Here’s how…

Look at the platform’s key strengths and user behaviors. Find an overlap where your brand can bring value to the audience.

That’s your sweet spot.

If [Instagram = beautiful photos] + [Your business = farm to table food], your social sweet spot would likely be visually sharing beautiful food, recipes and behind the scenes of the farms used to source ingredients.

This particular part of the process can be fun and benefits from getting a bit creative. Recruit some of your social media savvy friends and family for help or reach out to the leverage team and we’ll get you started. A mini platform playbook that outlines your pillars, content series and a few creative templates can make a big difference getting those first platforms up and running.

Once it’s gaining traction and your resources allow, expand into your secondary platforms.

Get creative with your execution.

The big biz approach:

Brands are investing bigger portions of their marketing budget into social media production, making it difficult for smaller brands to break through the clutter. Their robust social media guidelines can include in-depth tone of voice, character inspiration, catch-phrases and editorial guidelines — plus photography, illustration, iconography and video guidelines. This process can be exhaustive with guidelines well over 100 pages.

The small biz approach:

This doesn’t need to be exhaustive for a small business. Choosing some guidelines for your voice and look/feel can help establish your company’s brand presence.

Think of your brand as a person. What kind of person would be speaking to your audience. Who would they relate to? Assigning some key personality traits and maybe even attaching a celebrity persona to aspire to can help. Keep a cheat sheet handy when creating content to inspire the tone. Choose a few creative executions that can serve as templates with brand colors, elements and logo treatments to establish a visual look and feel.

Don’t get too cookie cutter in your approach, or users will tune you out. Outsourcing creative help to establish some basic tenents for your social guidelines doesn’t cost big bucks and will be extremely helpful as your social footprint expands.

Get in there and mingle.

The big biz approach:

Being an active part of the community once you’ve launched is important (platforms may even ‘demote’ you in content feeds if you don’t). Because of this, most companies and big brands hire full-time community managers who post, comment and share across platforms… being present and active just as a human would. Many of the recent changes we’re seeing across platforms make organic reach more difficult, so brands invest in paid media to get the additional reach they need to get in front of their audiences.

The small biz approach:

Being an active part of the community for a small business can be challenging. Even more reason to prioritize to only your priority platforms. Posting, monitoring and engaging with your audience is something all businesses need to do regardless of size, so deciding where to invest time and money is important. Here are a few things to consider:

Use existing resources: Identify a person on your team who can take an hour each day to participate in channels. They can answer queries, respond to comments and engage with the audience. It’s also easier for them to adapt their voice to your brand because they are closest to it.

Hire someone part-time: A part-timer can monitor the channels and keep your brand active and engaged. They can jump into conversations can add value — even expand your organic reach.

Leverage trending topics: Talk about things happening in the news (organic reach is possible when stories are topical and relevant). For example, look at the trending hashtags on twitter. What are people talking about? Contributing a piece of content that makes you relevant (and even better, useful) can go a long way. Don’t overthink it — you have to be timely and you can get scrappy with the execution. Here are a few examples we like:

During the season finale of Game of Thrones, the US Olympics saw an opportunity and had this tweet up almost instantly:

When twitter switched to 280 Characters, this tweet for the Official NBA Refs skyrocketed to 23k likes and 7k retweets.

Always be a work in progress.

Social is a fickle beast. I hope you will go in armed with the knowledge that this is the consumer’s party and the playlist is going to keep you on your toes. We can teach you a few go-to moves that will help you fit in. Then wait for those moments where you’ve got some killer moves to show off and jump into the spotlight. Be willing to adapt, change and learn as you go. React, refine and revisit.

Just remember, you don’t have to do it all. Just be strategic about where you think the big wins will be and start small. Who’s ready!?

This post was written by Ann Marie Almariei

Ann Marie is the Founder and CEO of will-it.com, an estate planning technology focused on the ‘who gets what’. She is the organizer of ‘Social for StartUps’ a local meet-up in Boston, MA where regularly speaks and holds workshops for other entrepreneurs and small businesses. She is also a Creative and Strategy Specialist with Leverage and available to members for coaching calls and projects.

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