How SMEs Can Master Social Media and Build a Digital Marketing Strategy

by Melanie Boylan
Social Media How To’s and Top Tips
Business Mindset

Understanding the Importance of Social Media for SMEs

Social media has become increasingly influential in shaping consumers' choices and business trends. To appreciate its importance to SMEs, it’s useful to understand the fundamentals of social media.

Social media refers to technologies, practices and services that make it possible for individuals to create, publish, share, and interact with content and other users. These include social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, micro-blogging sites such as X, and content communities like YouTube and Pinterest.

The importance of social media to businesses is evident. For instance, Facebook has an estimated 3.05 billion monthly and 2.09 billion daily active users 900million users (as of January 2024). It’s also the most preferred social networking site for small business owners. LinkedIn has 225 million members and is used in over 200 countries. There are also equally impressive statistics in other social media platforms. For instance, YouTube, just to give an example of a content community, has over 48 hours’ worth of video content uploaded every minute and over three billion views a day. The numbers in the statistics clearly show that social media is a strong platform of online marketing.

This is confirmed by the fact that profits of companies on social media are on the rise every year. Social media marketing also reduces the cost businesses must incur in terms of traditional marketing strategies. Businesses can make profiles on social networking sites which are free and use sponsored content which is a relatively low cost. Also, ad targeting allows them to focus on hitting the right type of customers for their business and this naturally increases the chances of a sale.  This is why I have noticed a drop in some of the traditional marketing strategies like the use of radio and newspaper adverts.

Benefits of Social Media for SMEs

These are all well documented and fundamentals for using online platforms for business.

·       They expand your company's reach.

·       It can also make communication easier.

·       Help give potential customers a better idea of what your company stands for.

·       Keep in touch with customer demands.

When your social media presence starts generating business and increasing your profitability, it will then start to become a higher priority within your day-to-day operations. The hope then will be this allows for further growth and an increase in customers. This cyclical effect of increasing your social media presence and the benefits can help any SME quickly expand in their industry.

Common Challenges Faced by SMEs in Social Media Marketing

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) face several challenges when using social media for marketing and by understanding these challenges, SMEs can take steps to make social media marketing more effective.

Time is always a major challenge for businesses. Some business owners see Social Media Marketing as a second job and they feel over stretched doing this on top of their everyday operations. It is however, perceived as more affordable and a much easier marketing strategy than utilising any traditional marketing.

I agree - especially in the beginning, it can take a lot of time to learn the new platforms and strategies. It’s also very tempting to set up profiles on every platform.However, only having the time to update a couple, if that, can lead to a stagnant following. Also, there is the risk of missing out on excellent marketing tools offered by some platforms, simply due to lack of time to learn about them.

Finally, a common challenge is the ability to measure the results of the time and money invested (ROI). When paying for ads online, a business needs to know that the money they are spending is generating the desired increase in traffic, sales, or brand awareness.

By seeing each challenge clearly and devising a strategy for overcoming these challenges,social media marketing should become a more practical and beneficial marketing tool.

Key Social Media Platforms for SMEs

As a small business owner, time and resources are always at the back of your mind. You need to make sure you're focusing on the right social media platforms to make the most of your investment. Each social media site has its unique users and its own style of sharing content. But let's look at the top six social media platforms to see why these are the ones most worth your time.

Firstly, Facebook.It's usually the first social media site small business owners turn to when starting their digital marketing journey and for good reason. With now well over one billion Facebook users, it's by far the most popular social media platform.The key to successfully using Facebook for marketing is to create a page which isn't solely about your business. It needs to be more about your customer!

Secondly, X. Founded in 2006, provides a fast-paced platform for brands to get their message across.Here there is an emphasis on sharing others posts and insights rather than the long-form content (though that has also changed since Elon Musks arrival) often seen on a Facebook profile or page. Businesses tend to use X to share news and updates.

Pinterest is somewhat unique in the world of social media. It's also the first visual search engine and a direct-to-consumer selling platform, so businesses can advertise their products and generate business income directly through pinning products and creating shoppable posts.

Professional from every sector benefit from using LinkedIn and it has over 500 million users already. With many success stories of business owners using the platform to catch up with other professionals and create business leads, LinkedIn is being highlighted as an essential tool for business-to-business social media marketing.

When you think visual content most people think instantly of Instagram and it is the perfect platform for this. With over one billion monthly active users, Instagram has varied ways to engage and inspire the audience with either Stories, Reels, Live’s or Posts and now you can broadcast to your channel as well!  

Finally, is YouTube, the second largest search engine in the world with a huge young user base. Videos rank high on Google and so having a strategy for your video content is hugely beneficial for any small business. With over one billion hours of video content watched on YouTube daily, a business can be completely transformed by an effective, YouTube marketing strategy so long as time and effort is put in to creating engaging, unique content.

Developing an Effective Digital Marketing Strategy for SMEs

The first step in creating an effective digital marketing strategy is to begin with goals and objectives. These goals define what you want to accomplish through your digital marketing efforts. For example, a large, well-established high street brand will use a different strategy compared to a small local business.

A digital marketing strategy helps to:

·       Develop an understanding of the target user.

·       Decide which channels and types of media should be used.

·       Allocate the budget according to specific channels chosen.

·       Set up structured evaluation and review points.

·       Create a better user experience.

·       Be proactive and not reactive.

A defined strategy will help businesses find:

·       the right type of content

·       for the right communication and marketing channel

·       that will engage users on different points of the customer communication and engagement journey.

What you’re looking for is creating strategies that will build strong customer relationships and satisfaction. For instance, by analysing user behaviour on the website, businesses can discover preferences and build products around these.

Every business, regardless of size, should have clear goals on what they want to achieve in the digital world. First, you should create a digital strategy that is based on your Mission and Vision statement.  Start the process by considering what the main business objectives are for the company and make sure these are clearly outlined through the vision and mission.

Defining Goals and Objectives

It’s a well know premise but by using the SMART framework, you can really hone your business objectives.

·       Specific - target a specific area for improvement.

·       Measurable - quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress (KPI’s).

·       Achievable - make sure that the target is attainable (Project Management).

·       Relevant - align the goal, i.e. customer gain, with the objective of the company.

·       Time - specify when the target can be completed.

Business development needs to be a part of your marketing every week to generate ongoing sales This can take the shape of networking opportunities, speaking, flyers, event creation and more.  

Planning a structured digital marketing campaign has never been more important. It's essential to define clear objectives for this activity and to have it align alongside other more traditional methods, as outlined above.

Identifying Target Audience and Market Segmentation

You may think that anyone would buy your product / service but that’s simply not the case. Identifying the correct target market is a process where you identify the best segment of everyone out there that is most likely to buy from you.

Once you’ve identified your target market through segmentation, this will also give you a much better understanding of who your competition is as well.

Now we’ll look at the 4 important market segmentation steps you need to be aware of. Market segmentation is the technique of dividing your target, necessary market section into several groups.

·       Objective Setting. Set segmentation objectives and goals. Identify segmentation variables and develop theories.

·       Identify Customer Segments. Research design.

·       Develop Segmentation Strategy. Select target segment.

·       Execute Launch Plan. Identify key stakeholders.

Choosing the Right Digital Marketing Channels

Another important step is to choose the correct digital marketing channel. For example, search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, pay-per-click (PPC), email marketing and affiliate marketing.

Each has its own pros and cons. It’s important for your business to understand clearly how each channel works before deciding which to use. For example, SEO is a channel that’s focus is on increasing the online visibility of an organization in all search engine results. We all want to pop-up in the first page of all search results when potential people are looking for products and services.

Having a strong SEO Strategy is vital because according to Market Domination Media, 75% of users will never scroll past the first page on a Google search. This means using SEO will eventually increase the quality and quantity of website traffic and exposure to the public.

There are 6 elements to a Digital Marketing Strategy that spring to mind:

  • Online advertising.
  • Search Engine Optimisation.
  • Online Content and Blogging.
  • Social Media Management and Listening.
  • Mobile Marketing.
  • Web Analytics.

Social media marketing is just one part of the full strategy and typically includes social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, X, YouTube and Snapchat. As social media sites continue to grow more complex and potentially reach billions of people, it’s a great way to interact with the audience in an informal and friendly way.

It’s important that once you have deliberated on the channels you want to use for your business, that you properly maintain them.  To do this,you need to keep a sharp eye out for updates and changes, so that you stay ahead of your competitors on these platforms.

Some methods require more time and / or money - namely PPC or email marketing (to name but a few). All of them are aimed at driving traffic to the business; however, they will each have different strategy. For instance, PPC is where the advertiser pays a fee each time their ads are clicked. These ads can take many different forms,such as Google display ads, YouTube video ads or a sponsored Facebook post.


Creating Engaging Content for Social Media

The importance of "engaging content" cannot be stressed enough. To continually run successful social media campaigns, a significant amount of research and planning needs to go into the content creation process.

A successful content strategy is all about the customer; content marketers must put customers at the heart of their strategy to succeed. Changing up your content is vital when aiming for different types of engagement and interaction.

“You can’t know what always activates your customer without trying different things,”  

By using a mix of different content forms, reach, engagement, and interaction with the audience should be diverse and it will give you an idea of who interacts and in which ways. There are several practices that have been proven to show signs of effectively engaging an audience.

It’s important to remember that quality and quantity of the content aren’t the only things to consider about the content strategy.  It’s also the timeliness of posting that should be thought about as well.

Get used to using a content calendar.  This is a central point where you can plan for campaigns, events, even days off and give each post measured consideration and conscious design.  There can be a huge amount of regret when you post responsively and in haste, so be being ahead of yourself you get the chance to advocate appropriately for your business.

Thanks to the advances in social media and the tracking and analytical software offered, you as a marketer can know down to the days and even specific hours in which posts are most likely to gain the maximum amount of visibility or interaction, so it is quite easy to plan calendars in advance.

Time and Cost-Saving Tips for SMEs in Social Media Marketing

Social media automation tools are applications that help social media managers with the process of content curation, updating and sharing on social media platforms and even posting or scheduling content in advance, for instance Buffer, Hootsuite, or IFTTT. These tools not only save time and effort, but also ensure social media updates are regular and frequent and are more effective in engaging your target audiences.

By scheduling posts and monitoring performance through a social media dashboard, you can also update websites and blogs (for some paid platforms). They also simplify the management of multiple social media accounts by using suitable automation tools. Automating some daily activities can give you more brain space to think about new ideas and step back to see the bigger picture.

Social media automation can kickstart the success of your online presence and build a community with meaningful connections only of used with a full strategy. Social media managers must make every minute count. Tools like Hootsuite and Buffer help systemise and streamline a variety of social media tasks and you can also track your insights effectively through them as well.

By learning to integrate smarter tools into your everyday life it can help you to maximize the output. It's very important to remember using User-Generated Content as well. It's usually received better than your own and if you're encouraging your audience to create content in a positive way, they are effectively working for you for FREE!

Automating Social Media Management

First, it is important to note that to utilise scheduling tools and automation effectively, you should seek to strike a balance between maintaining an active online presence and overloading your followers with posts. This means that you should have a rough schedule of when your target audience is most active to ensure your updates have the maximum reach and impact.

It's essential you become familiar of where to find and how to use your analytics and insights. Once you can see when your audience is there at certain times, the ultimate aim of the scheduler is to place the content up when they are there. Businesses can maintain their social media presence without having to devote time to physically logging in every time a post needs to go live.

I personally have experience with Hootsuite, Buffer and AgoraPulse (not used myself but Sprout Social is widely used) and they all allow users to manage multiple social media accounts by providing a single platform for content creation and scheduling. What I like about these tools ([aid version) is these tools provide a range of different functions, from post suggestions on Buffer to a social media content calendar and in-depth ‘fast analytics’ on Sprout Social. Also, most of the popular tools have “automation rules” functionality. This can be a valuable function for SMEs and means that they can make their social media strategy far more efficient, as they are able to adapt and improve their social media presence using information that they gather from the performance of previous posts.

By repurposing effective content or changing posting times or schedule, automation facilitates the agility and adaptability that can be seen in larger businesses’ social media strategies. However, it’s still essential that SMEs understand their brand and the messages they want to convey, so a degree of human input and oversight is advisable in any case. By ensuring that scheduling and automation are used effectively, businesses can realise the benefits of maintaining a targeted, active online presence.

Leveraging User-Generated Content

User-generated content is an asset for any business. It ensures a steady stream of promotional material and helps to maintain an engaged community. When users share personal experiences with a product or a brand, it increases confidence and encourages potential customers to make a purchase. This type of content is essentially a form of free marketing. Around 93% of consumers find user-generated content helpful when making a purchasing decision. It becomes even more important when you consider the impact that social media has on purchasing habits.

User-generated social media campaigns can bring a 50% rise in engagement; and when including user-generated content on a website, businesses can see a 176% increase in conversions and a six-fold increase in revenues.  However, gaining the benefits of user-generated content requires more than simply releasing a product and hoping people will start talking about it.

Creative and focused strategies are something you need to work on from day one. This means finding ways to persuade or incentivise users to generate material and presenting it in ways that will lend it authority and public appeal. By contrast to professionally generated material, user-generated content has three noted benefits: it is cheap, it shows an involved community, and it has an inherent credibility that purely commercially generated content cannot achieve.

Collaborating with Influencers and Micro-Influencers

If you wish to work with influencers or a micro-influencer at some stage, the first step is to find and engage the proper person. There are several platforms that pair influencers with projects and brands. The first place that springs to mind for me would be the Irish Blogger Agency but there are several influencer marketplaces that I have found in a search such as Popular Pays,, and Activate.Social.

These platforms have millions of pre-vetted influencers with a range of followings, from nano-influencers to celebrities. Actively engaging the influencer during the campaign can lead to a significant uplift in engagement and the campaign's success. Influencers recommend building yourself into their content rather than just having them produce photos, videos or written content and sharing it –this approach makes the content relatable to a larger audience and means the influencer will likely put more effort into producing it (they'll want to showoff their close relationship with your business).

Always check the influencer’s track record and do some research about any potential problematic content. If an influencer has been involved with fake followers or has had a bad track record of business relationships then his or her campaign, won’t have the intended positive effect. Also, doing a quick Google search of the influencer's name and go through their content can potentially avoid a business relationship with someone who doesn’t align with your brand’s interests or values.

Work out what sort of campaign you would like to launch and consider the key business message you would like to spread. An influencer marketing strategy should not only consider what your business needs but also how the influencer can provide authentic methods of promoting your business to a target demographic. By allowing the influencer to share resources and using their skills and own judgment, an influencer campaign can be successful in spreading a varied but recognisable message to potential consumers.

Analysing Data and Optimizing Strategies

Social media is a rich treasure trove of data that can help a marketing team understand which content works and what needs to be fine-tuned. It is crucial that posts, tweets, images,and videos are analysed in real time and strategies adapted to improve content and engagement.

There are several vital analysis steps you need to take to best understand what is and isn’t working.First, it is important to have a clear KPI’s. For example, if your goal is to raise awareness of your brand, you might want to look at data concerning the geographical spread of web traffic. However, if the intention of your campaign is to increase sales, analysis of the point-of-sale interactions via social media may be more appropriate.

Secondly, analysis needs to occur throughout the life of a marketing campaign and not just at the end. It is also important to try and avoid a narrow analysis of data. For example, if you have a small but very dedicated X following, it may be more useful to look at data concerning new followers and those who were reached outside of the existing user group.

Finally, if you’re monitoring the scale of the campaign you’re doing and wish to do more posts,create more images etc and you have limited resources - you may have to consider getting a virtual assistant or perhaps employ someone full time to do your social media marketing It’s not fair to expect too much from someone who is trying to “do their best” while doing their own job as well.  For example, a full-time marketing analyst will likely offer a far more effective approach to data analysis and their own strategy adaptation will likely be more effective than your current staff members.

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