FOR many people, a quick scroll through LinkedIn over breakfast, a leisurely perusal of friends’ Facebook or Instagram posts in the evening or a watch of the diverse videos on TikTok is now part of daily life.
But while individuals may be using these platforms primarily for entertainment purposes or for keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family members, one social-media consultant says that such sites offer tremendous potential for businesses.
Having started her career as a journalist, Hannah Hearne moved to Jersey in 2004 to take up a role as an on-screen reporter with ITV Channel Islands. After six years with the broadcaster, she moved to the States police to run their media relations and communications – and it was in this position that she first saw the potential of social media.
‘While there were some concerns initially about the amount of time it would take to keep our social-media platforms up to date, we soon realised that it was an incredibly powerful tool,’ she reflected.
‘Because we maintained a consistent presence and engaged with our followers regularly, when there was a major incident or a missing-person appeal, the public were easily mobilised and willing to help. It was a simple and efficient way to reach a large number of people in a very short space of time.’
But despite having seen first-hand the benefits that social media can bring to an organisation, Hannah says that a number of business owners are frightened to set up their own accounts.
‘When I talk to people, it is amazing to see how many of them have a negative view of social media,’ she said. ‘They worry about the time involved in maintaining an engaging page or feed, they are not sure what to post or they don’t think that they have enough content to post. But the comment I hear most often is that they are worried about what people will say about them; they fear the negative reactions of reviews which you often see, particularly on Facebook.’ While acknowledging that negativity does exist online – and urging Islanders to think before posting a critical review about a business – Hannah was determined to use her experience to try to persuade more firms to embrace social media.
Accordingly, after taking an extended period of maternity leave, she launched Hannah Hearne Social Media Consultancy earlier this year.
‘When my children started school, I wanted to put my skills into practice and launch a consultancy service which offers anything from audits of people’s existing social-media accounts to training and writing strategies to help them to manage their channels,’ she said.
And, as with nearly all aspects of business, Hannah says that the first thing to consider, when planning your social-media approach, is your target audience.
‘There are so many platforms available and they are all constantly evolving,’ she said. ‘A lot of people automatically think of Facebook or Twitter but you also have Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and TikTok so it is important to look at your target customer and then consider which platform is the most appropriate.
‘For example, Facebook is now used predominantly by a slightly older demographic and tends to attract a lot of women. Traditionally, LinkedIn was a strict business platform, ideal for business-to-business communication but now it is becoming a bit more relaxed.
‘And, of course, you don’t need to limit yourself to one platform. You can test the water and ask your customers which platforms they use and where they would like to communicate with you.’
Having selected the platforms to use, Hannah says that businesses then need to tailor their content accordingly.
‘While you can probably post the same content on Facebook and Instagram, it is important to remember the different audiences that you are reaching on each platform and adjust your messages accordingly,’ she said.
Just as important as selecting the right platform, adds Hannah, is striking the right balance and tone of content.
‘People don’t want to be preached at or sold to all the time,’ she explained. ‘Social media should be engaging. If you look at brands such as Innocent Drinks, you will see how they use humour to draw people in and encourage them to interact. This is particularly important for product-based companies, as people don’t want to see sales posts all the time.
‘If you do want to promote a product, you need to position in it a way which identifies a problem or a need you have identified or experienced and then explain how this product has solved that problem. Create a story and write something to which your followers will relate.’
Recommending that most small- to medium-sized businesses post three times per week, Hannah acknowledges that many people are daunted by the thought of finding that level of content.
‘One of the best parts of my job is going behind the scenes of businesses and finding out about the companies and the people driving them,’ she said. ‘I can then remind people how great their business is and just how much there is that they can share. We can then draw up a calendar of content ideas for the month ahead.
‘As well as updating your feed, it is important not to overlook the value of stories. These 24-hour fleeting snapshots of life behind the scenes are very popular and help to increase people’s understanding of what you and your business are all about.’
While drawing up content calendars with clients may alleviate people’s misgivings about the time involved in maintaining their social-media presence, Hannah acknowledges that the biggest barrier for many is the fear of negative reviews.
‘It’s such a shame that there is so much negativity out there and I don’t think people realise the impact that their post can have on a business,’ she said. ‘I understand that businesses can make mistakes but a lot of the issues you see raised on social media could have been resolved at the time of the incident.’
Although deploring some of the vitriol seen online, Hannah is adamant that this should not stop a business from embracing the platforms.
‘The conversation is happening and you’re either part of it or you’re not,’ she said. ‘And it’s nothing new. In the past, these conversations took place in pubs or coffee shops and you didn’t know anything about them.
‘At least now, you are aware of them and can respond – although I would recommend taking the conversation offline and encouraging the complainant to contact you personally so that you discuss the issue privately.’
Another area of concern to some business owners, particularly those first venturing into the social area, is the number of followers they attract.
‘My advice is not to worry too much about numbers and to stay true to yourself,’ she said. ‘People get so concerned about trying to attract as wide an audience as possible that they forget who their target audience is. It is better to have 100 followers who are really engaged with you than to have 1,000 who aren’t really interested.
‘Think of social media as an extension of your business and don’t be scared of it. It does bring challenges but the opportunities far outweigh the downsides. After all, from a business perspective, where else do you get a free tool that enables you to speak to thousands of people while you sit in your pyjamas and have your breakfast at home?’