8 Social Media Strategies to Remember this Holiday Season

Make sure your business is part of your customers’ conversation this holiday season by following these eight simple social media tips.

Already, holiday messaging is starting to emerge across social media. As a small business, the holiday season might be your best quarter, so it's important to get those sales in before the off-season hits. Maybe you have a holiday strategy mapped out? Or maybe you’re winging it this year?

Either way, there are eight key strategies to remember when using social media to promote your business during the holiday season. Let’s take a look!

1. Hit all the key points during the holiday season. There are peak points during the holiday season. Leverage social media to promote your business before and after Thanksgiving; on Black Friday (Nov. 24); Small Business Saturday (Nov. 25); Cyber Monday (Nov. 27); early December; Christmas Eve; and New Year's Eve. Plan out content that hits each timeframe.

2. Specify the holiday for a more customized approach. Many businesses will keep the generic " Happy Holidays" message, but consider being more specific with your holiday messaging. This will allow you to target more specifically on Facebook and other social media channels.

3. Go beyond discounts. You might feel a discount is the best way to increase sales during the holidays, but research shows there are other perks that can get customers to purchase more, such as free shipping or a free gift, or holding a holiday contest.

4. Make it about the holidays even if your business isn't something that resonates during the holidays. Businesses such as window replacement companies or auto repair shops know their businesses aren't top of mind during the business holidays. To be part of the holiday conversation in the social space, put a holiday twist on your marketing. Think about boosting a promotion on Facebook that's good for an after-holiday tune-up or giving your most loyal customers a digital gift.

5. Go all out. Update your profile picture, cover photos and other parts of your social media pages with holiday cheer. Think, "How can I turn my social media accounts into a digital Christmas celebration?" Use custom holiday photography and messaging. Get creative!

6. Do something good for others. Consumers love businesses that go beyond their daily duty of providing services and goods. It reminds them there are people behind the business who truly care. Consider using social media to collect money for someone less fortunate during the holiday season or inviting your followers to join you in a volunteer opportunity.

7. Hold a holiday event. Facebook's event feature is a great way to invite your followers to a holiday event. It can be as simple as an open house or a larger holiday party. 

8. Spread holiday cheer through live video. Sometimes just a good old, "Happy Holidays from us to you" can make your customers feel extra special. Use Facebook and Instagram live to send a cheery holiday message to your fans. Think of it as a digital holiday card.

Get creative this holiday season and make your small business a larger part of the holiday conversation in the social media space. Remember to always set up measurements on your social channels to ensure you're able to measure your efforts.

Happy Holidays!

Annie Pryatel is the owner of AMP Brand Studios. Learn more about how AMP is helping small businesses succeed by clicking here.

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  • Next up: 8 Ways to Improve Social Media for Your Small Business

    8 Ways to Improve Social Media for Your Small Business

    Operating a business social media account is a lot different than the way you manage your own personal account. Here’s how to craft an effective business-minded social strategy that will help your business succeed.

    If you build it, they will come.

    If you post it on a social media channel, they will engage.

    False. Today's social media channels require strategy thinking and creative ideas.

    Many small businesses today are relying on their knowledge of managing a personal social media account to run their business social media accounts. Running social media for a business is very different than running it for yourself. There are a variety of tools and resources out there, but it takes time and effort to keep a constant pulse on your business' social media accounts.

    Your social media will only work its hardest for you if you combine strategy and creative to reach and engage your audience.

    What are some things you can do to improve your business' social media accounts? Here are eight tips you can try.

    1. Be authentic and transparent. Be you

    Authenticity is vital in the social media space. Customers expect a brand's content to be honest and human-like. Your competition is most likely on social media, so be prepared to think of creative ideas that are unique to your business, include your tone of voice and branding, and are hard to replicate.

    2. Entertainment vs. Advertisement vs. Information

    All three types of content should have a healthy balance in your content strategy and work together. Advertisements need to be executed correctly, so they aren't ignored on social media platforms. Content should be entertaining, but still get your message across. Information, such as tips and tricks, can help educate your audience. Think about whether it makes sense for your brand to create each type of content or to share it from a third-party publisher.

    3. Video is very important

    Facebook predicts that in just a few years, most of its content will be video. Investing in video now will save you time in the long run and put you ahead of the game. Video is the top type of content and should in incorporated into your marketing strategy. It helps your business to show, not tell.

    4. Go live

    Many social media channels have added live features to their platforms. Facebook Live and Instagram Live help customers tune in and see what's going on at your business at that exact moment. Customers want to know the news now, not later.

    5. Organic reach is disappearing. Paid posts need to be part of your strategy

    If you've ever taken a look at your organic posts' reach compared to the number of fans/followers you have, you may be disappointed. Only a small percentage of your fans will see your content due to new algorithms. A low monthly social media budget ($25 to $100) can target your posts to all your fans and new customers and significantly increase your reach.

    6. Create mini campaigns for promotions and events

    Special promotions and events need their own mini-campaigns. Think about who needs to see your events and promotions and create a strategy that grabs that audience's attention and gets your content in front of their eyes. Promotions and events are time sensitive, so plan accordingly and think beyond just a single post.

    7. Only be where you need to be

    You do not need to be on every social media channel. Depending on your industry, it might make sense to only be on one or two channels. Facebook is slowly replacing the traditional and is a must for almost all businesses, with Instagram being a close second. The other channels depend on your brand strategy, industry, and audience. The more focused you are, the more time you have to create content that spreads and works hard for your business.

    8. Use social media as a way to spread your message beyond your own channels

    Great content gets noticed, shared, and goes beyond your channels. Use your content to get featured on third party publishers or get news coverage. Create content that matters and stands out, but also meets your business goals.

    Remember, social media won't solve all your marketing problems, but it can help a lot if you begin to understand each platform and correctly use it. Don't be scared to push the limits and think outside the box. It's a crowded marketplace, and there is a lot of content floating around the internet. Your social media strategy is important in keeping your business' digital presence strong, effective, and important to your customers.

    AMP Brand Studios is owned by Annie Pryatel, a Cleveland native who started her business to help small businesses in her hometown have a meaningful presence through creative and strategic ideas. AMP focuses on amplifying businesses' messages and brand, through social media, influencer campaigns, blog writing, PR efforts, and other digital tactics. AMP believes communities are stronger when small businesses thrive and this drives its work and mission. Be small, but mighty.

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  • Next up: 9 Tools to get Started with Content Marketing

    9 Tools to get Started with Content Marketing

    Content marketing has emerged as one of the most effective ways for small businesses to establish credibility, increase brand awareness, generate leads and drive other important business outcomes. In fact, 70 percent of customers prefer to get information about a company from content rather than through traditional advertising. Clearly, content marketing is a smart investment. But, it can also seem like an overwhelming task to take on – especially if you’re short on time, resources or budget. 

    Content marketing has emerged as one of the most effective ways for small businesses to establish credibility, increase brand awareness, generate leads and drive other important business outcomes. In fact, 70 percent of customers prefer to get information about a company from content rather than through traditional advertising.

    Clearly, content marketing is a smart investment. But, it can also seem like an overwhelming task to take on – especially if you’re short on time, resources or budget.

    Sound familiar? Have no fear. Regardless of what support you have access to, anyone can take on content marketing using these nine tools:

    1. Canva. Use Canva to create any and all content marketing assets you might need, from e-books and infographics to blog graphics and social posts. You can use their existing templates and design elements or upload your own, plus everything is instantly ready to email, download or share.
    2. Piktochart. Another option for creating infographics and visualizing data, Piktochart has over 400 built-in templates, icons and graphics to choose from.
    3. Wordswag. Creating a content series or just need branded/text-centric images? Wordswag is an easy-to-use iPhone app for making and sharing them.
    4. Death to the Stock Photo. If you need access to photos to include in your content marketing but don’t have time to shoot your own, Death to the Stock Photo is the answer. The service provides free high-quality photos to share anywhere. You can sign up to receive free monthly photo packs (each includes 10 pictures) or pay $15 to get premium access to their complete library.
    5. Dissolve. Use Dissolve to get access to hours of professional-quality stock video footage and clips from top filmmakers, editors and producers.
    6. Flipboard. Flipboard’s digital magazines have recently emerged as must-have tools for collecting and sharing stories. Whether you’re curating content or creating your own, get a little creative and the opportunities are endless.
    7. Storify. Another popular tool for aggregating content, Storify let’s you pull together photos, video, text and links from various sources (social media platforms and news outlets) into one comprehensive story.
    8. Slideshare. Use Slideshare to host e-books, white papers, presentations or other content marketing materials you create. It’s easy to embed Slideshare links onto your company website or blog, plus you can see exactly how many people have viewed or downloaded each file you upload.
    9. Buffer. If you’re going to invest in creating content, don’t forget about promoting the content you create. Use Buffer to schedule tweets, pins, Facebook posts or LinkedIn updates that share your content and increase your social footprint.

    Want to learn more about content marketing and how it can work for your business? Join Heather Whaling at the Small Business Convention for a workshop "Content Marketing: Become a Thought Leader and Share Your Expertise" on October 21 at 2:45 p.m.  

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  • Next up: 9 SEO Tips to Get Your Website Noticed

    9 SEO Tips to Get Your Website Noticed

    Content marketing is a proven powerful tool to get potential customers interested in your company. But with so many companies jumping on the content bandwagon, it can be difficult to get noticed. During a recent workshop, Insivia’s Andy Halko walked attendees through nine steps marketers can take today to help improve their search engine optimization and get their content seen.

    Putting together your company’s website is no easy task and once it’s completed, it’s easy to fall into a sense of relief that the hard work is finally over. Problem is, the work is only getting started.

    Getting your website online is one thing, but getting it found once it’s up is just as difficult. During a recent “SEO Deep Dive” seminar, Insivia’s Andy Halko walked attendees through some of the actions they should take to ensure their website pages rank highly on search engines.

    Following are nine SEO tips Halko suggested business owners should put into practice so their company’s products and services are easily found by potential customers.

    SEO tip No. 1: It’s a long road. Keep in mind it takes time to build your content. SEO is a journey and pays off over time; not overnight.

    SEO tip No. 2: Keep working at it. Relatedly, in some ways, your website is always a work in progress. Think of it like your house: You wouldn’t move into a new home and then never cut the grass, clean, or do any maintenance, right? It’s the same for your website. Take care of issues such as 404 errors, slow loading times, etc., as you become aware of them. Otherwise, you might drop in search rankings.

    SEO tip No. 3: Pay attention to Google Maps. Make sure your business information is included in Google Maps, otherwise you literally won’t be on the map.

    SEO tip No. 4: Don’t guess. It’s 2019 and there is absolutely no excuse for guessing on what parts of your site are resonating with customers when there are plenty of tools out there—such as Google Analytics—to help you figure out where you should be spending your time.

    SEO tip No. 5: Know your key word phrases. Key words, aka the search terms that people plug into search engines to describe what they’re looking for, are incredibly important. As was mentioned in the fourth tip above, there’s no need to guess here, either. Google’s free AdWords tool can help you narrow down which terms you’d like to try to rank for.

    Keep in mind you shouldn’t always go for the most popular phrases because they have the most competition, making it harder to fight your way to the top of those rankings. Experiment with other key word phrases that are just below the top phrase for your product or service so that there is less competition for your website pages to rank highly.

    SEO tip No. 6: Play around with the length of your keyword phrases. Shorter keyword phrases of one or two words are more difficult to rank. Think about using four-plus word phrases, which comprise approximately 70% of searches, and can generate a good amount of organic traffic for your content.

    SEO tip No. 7: Quality rules. Search engines such as Google love and prioritize quality content that adds value. What does that mean, exactly? When it comes to creating the impression with search engine algorithms that your content is valuable, consider:

    • Longer articles: Articles of 1,500-plus words show that you are trying to provide information that is going to be useful to your audience. This is a good word length goal to keep in mind as you add content to your site. That said, it’s important also to not write for the search engines—write for your audience! If, through your testing, you discover that your audience reacts more favorably to shorter pieces, then don’t be afraid to put together shorter pieces if that’s what your readers want to see.
    • Outbound links: Part of adding value is directing your audience to other resources that can provide additional information. Be warned though, make sure the site you’re directing people to is a quality site, otherwise your pages could be penalized in the search rankings. Check first before linking to make sure the site you’re directing people to is indeed providing information you think would be useful to your customers.
    • Social signals: One sign search engines look for is whether your page’s url is being shared on social platforms. This is because the search algorithms assume that a page being shared on social must have value. Want to know what goes into having success on your social channels? Check out our social media playbook here.

    SEO tip No. 8: Stay focused. Search engines like to single out those pages that maintain a tight focus on a specific subject, rather than those that provide just a broad overview of a topic. So, don’t be afraid to dive deep and get into the weeds on the subjects you’re writing about. This should help you generate better, more specific keywords, which, as noted above, will help your SEO ranking.

    SEO tip No. 9: Find your community. One of the best ways to amplify your reach is by working with others. Look for sites, companies or organizations similar to yours that also have a content marketing program in place and ask for guest post opportunities with links back to your site. Don’t be tempted to buy backlinks, as that will have a negative impact on your page ranking.

    Learn more about the power of content marketing by clicking here to check out additional stories on how you can draw more people to your site.

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  • Next up: 9 Ways to Take the Risk Out of Your Social Media Policy

    9 Ways to Take the Risk Out of Your Social Media Policy

    Establishing company policies around the use of social media is an important step in protecting your business. Here are some tips to consider when creating this content.

    Small businesses have found many ways to use social media to their advantage. They are embracing social media to interact with clients and to help build their business. They have found value in sharing content and in getting their business’s name out into the public eye. Social media can be beneficial to helping create brand awareness and to increase customer base.

    If you or your employees use social media, it is vitally important to understand that there is also an associated risk. And as a small business owner, you need to understand the risk as well as the reward of using social media. If your employees have access to social media at work or post anything on the internet, you need a strong social media policy to provide protection to your small business.

    It is not difficult to write a good social media policy and to include it in your employee handbook. Make sure it includes specific rules on how your employees use social media to engage with others. Having a strong social media policy protects your company‘s confidential information and copyrights, and also protects against using content without permission and much more. This includes blogging, which can be a source of copyright abuse and is subject to product endorsement laws.

    Here are nine tips to consider when crafting a strong social media policy:

    Tip No. 1: Disclose any product or other endorsements. All connections of this type must be disclosed, including reaching out to solicit reviews, mentions or endorsements. If any free items or compensation of any kind is offered, the FTC requires the endorser to clearly state in their post that the review or mention was in exchange for a fee item or other compensation. If you ask your employees to promote your product or business on social networks or in blog form, they must disclose their affiliation with your business.

    Tip No. 2: Understand the laws. Employers cannot punish workers for discussing wages or working conditions or for complaining about management or other employees. This means that even a casual conversation on Facebook about working conditions may be protected under the NLRA. Each situation is different, but be very careful about telling employees what they can and cannot do on their own personal social media sites.

    Tip No. 3: Communicate the repercussions. Make sure to carefully spell out any punishment that could be taken toward an employee for online posts deemed as hate speech or disparaging against race, religion or gender. Make it clear in your policies what the processes will be when an allegation is brought against an employee.

    Tip No. 4: Be clear on how you want your company to be represented. Your social media policy should outline how your business and your employees will represent the business and themselves in the social world. Include tips on how you want your business to be represented, customer service policies and rules for intellectual property matters. This is an important step to protecting your reputation.

    Tip No. 5: Include rules on when and how to use social media. Can employees post during business hours? Can they be on social media sites at work? Whatever your rules, make sure you clearly state them.

    Tip No. 6: Outline information on safety. Educate your employees on internet safety, including specific details on how to protect against cyber-crime. 

    Tip No. 7: Explain the potentially harmful nature of the internet. Your policy should stress that social posts are immediate, permanent and can be damaging. Encourage employees to carefully think through information they are considering sharing online.

    Tip No. 8: Brevity is best. Keep your policies simple and concise. Make sure they are easy to read and comprehend for all employees.

    Tip No. 9: Make sure the policy information is accessible. Distribute your written policies to all employees and all new hires. Keep an electronic copy of the policies where employees can locate them—in a shared folder, on the intranet, etc.

    Laws are changing constantly. Include your attorney in the process of crafting a social media policy. You can also hire an outside firm to help you craft a strong policy. No matter how you do it, every small business needs a strong, written social media policy.

    President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com


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  • Next up: A Big Voice for Small Business: Looking Back, Looking Forward

    A Big Voice for Small Business: Looking Back, Looking Forward

    One of the most important things we do is advocate for you with elected officials and regulators to ensure that the intersection of policy, regulation, and your business does not create undue barriers to your success.  The past year provided for some significant victories for small business owners locally and throughout Ohio and your voice as small business owners was driven by your peers as COSE members and leaders played an integral role in advocating for a number of small business community priorities outlined in the COSE 2015-2016 Public Policy Agenda. 

    One of the most important things we do is advocate for you with elected officials and regulators to ensure that the intersection of policy, regulation, and your business does not create undue barriers to your success.  The past year provided for some significant victories for small business owners locally and throughout Ohio and your voice as small business owners was driven by your peers as COSE members and leaders played an integral role in advocating for a number of small business community priorities outlined in the COSE 2015-2016 Public Policy Agenda.

    Workers’ Compensation Prospective Billing

    Ohio’s workers’ comp system is one of only two state systems run by the state.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to get updated every once in a while.  As part of ongoing efforts to modernize Ohio’s Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) operations, COSE supported legislation that is now law that transitions Ohio to a prospective billing system for private employers.  That law became effective July 1, 2015 for private employers. The switch to the industry standard of prospective billing provides many benefits, including:

    • An overall base-rate reduction of 2 percent for private employers;
    • Allowing BWC to better forecast the level of premium required to be collected each policy year;
    • Opportunities for more flexible payment options (up to 12 monthly installments);
    • Better opportunities for BWC to provide quotes online or via the phone;
    • Increased ability for BWC to detect employer non-compliance and fraud.

    Workers’ Compensation Successor Liability

    Can you imagine moving into a new space for your business and finding out that you’ve inherited someone else’s bad workers’ comp risks?  COSE led and convened interested parties meetings on this subject, advocated for change, and the General Assembly passed language that offers up a long-term solution.  The legislation was signed by Gov. John Kasich on December 22, 2015 and it will help to ensure entrepreneurs will not be penalized in the form of increased workers’ compensation rates, outstanding balances, or uncovered claims costs for assuming space that was previously inhabited by a completely separate business with negative claims experience; read here for more information on this victory for small business owners.

    Income Tax Cut & Deduction, Commercial Activity Tax (CAT) Rate & Exemption

    Taxes are a sore subject for a lot of businesses.  And, small business taxes are different in a lot of ways than big business.  The Governor’s tax plan was controversial last year, but our approach was to stay focused on small business needs in that process.  We focused on maintaining and increasing small business owner business income tax exemptions and the way in which the personal income tax and commercial activity tax (CAT) uniquely affect small business owners.  The state budget bill reflected COSE Public Policy Agenda priorities and the final version of the tax package granted a 75% small business income exemption for the first $250,000 in small business income for 2015 and increases it to a 100% deduction beginning in 2016.  One COSE small business owner cited that when they filed their 2014 taxes they saved $6,250 on 2014 state taxes due to the first small business tax deduction which was at 50%.  Now, that exemption will double to a 100% exemption.  In addition, we staved off increases to the CAT tax and expansion of the sales tax to service companies.  And, we worked to maintain a reduction in the state income tax which affects most of our small business owners that are organized as pass through entities.

    Business Filing Fees

    Every little bit helps, so COSE supported legislation that passed to reduce certain business filing fees charged and collected by the Secretary of State.

    Entrepreneur-in-Residence Pilot Program

    Sometimes it’s clear that government just doesn’t “get it.”  COSE has been working closely with the state to create an entrepreneur-in-residence program.  The goal is to put real entrepreneurs inside government agencies to work in tandem with the LeanOhio program to help improve state government processes to better serve and protect small businesses.  This program was authorized and the first group of entrepreneurs-in-residence have been named.  The entrepreneurs receive six sigma training, the agencies get help to better serve you, and you get your peers working to make government a better resource for your business.  COSE continues to provide LeanOhio and all the entrepreneurs with feedback on the agencies that they may consider working with to alleviate burdens for COSE small business owners.

    Common Sense Initiative (CSI) Representation, Toolkit

    Ohio’s Common Sense Initiative (CSI) has been a successful effort to get rid of old regulations and intervene on rulemaking that hurts more small businesses than helps them.  The goal is to ensure a state regulatory framework that promotes economic development, is transparent and responsive to regulated businesses, makes compliance as easy as possible, and provides predictability for businesses.  Two COSE small business members continue to serve on the statewide CSI Small Business Advisory Council.  Recent work has been focused on making CSI easier to access and help small business owners better navigate the state regulatory process.  We will be more aggressively marketing these tools to our members and helping CSI  to upload similar resources to their website in the near future.  COSE and CSI staff work closely together and we look forward to continuing to use this initiative as a way to alleviate real regulatory burdens for small business owners in the future.

    November Ballot Measures

    Ohio’s ballot has become a vehicle for constitutional initiatives that can make major changes to our state.  We have to remain vigilant on those issues that could impact your business.  We focused on four big issues on the ballot in 2015 and had success on each of those issues with the outcomes supporting our positions.

    • Issue 1, the state legislative redistricting proposal, passed with more than 70 percent of the vote.
    • Issue 2, an anti-monopoly amendment proposed by the Ohio General Assembly to protect the constitution from economic monopolies passed with just over 50 percent of the vote.
    • Issue 3, the Responsible Ohio led effort to change Ohio’s constitution to legalize medical and recreational marijuana was soundly rejected with 64 percent of voters opposing it.
    • Issue 8, the Cuyahoga County Arts & Culture Renewal Levy, enjoyed significant support from county residents, passing with nearly 75 percent of the vote.

    Thank You

    Your support for our work comes in many ways.  Whether you actively attended a COSE Advocacy Committee meeting,  COSE Day at the Capitol in Columbus or our Washington briefing; or you made a phone call or wrote an e-mail to COSE staff or an elected official along the way we thank you for your engagement in advocacy.  The direct involvement of small business owners everywhere are what allow us to make progress on the policy issues that are vital to helping foster an environment that allows small business owners to achieve their idea of success.  Even if you were unable to get directly involved in the advocacy effort, your support as a member through your investment in membership and your participation as a member of COSE give us the strength to advocate for your success.  That support is important and appreciated!

    To read more on other areas of public policy progress made to-date and some of the issues that we expect to be working on in 2016 click here.

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