Social media is here to stay. As a business owner, your approach to marketing on social media will continue to shape the kind of business you have – whether you’re a highly-connected networker, a curmudgeonly neo-Luddite, or somewhere in between.

Current trends in social media marketing reveal the big opportunities for 2014, so be informed to make smart decisions. Remember that you don’t have to jump on every new channel that comes along and spend all day in front of a screen trying to become Miss Popular.

Like all marketing, a targeted, strategic approach is not only more effective, but infinitely more sanity-saving.

From social media king to niche

As the numbers joining Facebook continue to decline, it’s clear there is a “too many, too much” point in social media. People are fragmenting into smaller, niche social media channels as they seek relevant and interesting information. Similar to how younger people are leaving Facebook in part because their parents and grandparents are there, smaller niche social media channels help enhance one’s social identity, being a refuge for friends to chat and swap information.

Sites such as Snapchat, BehanceGoodreads and Gentlemint are catering to audiences united around a topic or perspective. Smart marketers do well to target their efforts on being a go-to source of information and expertise on sites relevant to their niche. Not only that, but these sites tend to offer far more affordable advertising.

Professional and personal selves are merging

Social media encourages intimacy by sharing insight into others’ lives. As our behavior continues to adapt to online documentation, personal and professional selves are merging. People are well aware when they’re interacting with a business online. Done well, a business’s social media presence acts similarly to a helpful, wise, loving, well-connected and on-trend friend.

Friends who talks incessantly about themselves while constantly asking for favours are not friends for long. Smart business owners appreciate that being able to interact with their clients and potential clients in such an intimate, informal and revealing way is a privilege that shouldn’t be squandered by incessant promotions and selling.

Social media is still about helping

Social media marketing is always social first, with selling a distant second. People need to see value of being connected with a business’s social media channel if they are to stay engaged. It can be hard for the harried small business owner to understand why they should dedicate more time to social media, giving away information that is useful, relevant and valuable to their target audience, especially when there are so many other demands on our time.

This is an immense question with several different answers. In brief, I reiterate that spreading (and producing) information that is relevant, useful and valuable to your audience is something you likely do, or should do, anyway. You need to stay up-to-date with information relevant to your profession, you likely consume media relevant to your specialty and, as a business owner, you’re seeking to be of service and of help. It’s a small step from there to sharing online.

Ambassadors and influencers wield immense power

Ambassadors and influencers with huge social media followings, respect and credibility within a niche continue to wield immense sway. This is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. Small businesses who cultivate relationships with key individuals in order for their offerings to reach the Influencer’s audience are working smart, not hard.

Many ambassadors and influencers don’t fully appreciate the sway they have, and often promote businesses for the (cost) price of a product. Opportunity lays here.

Think visual

Facebook is a largely visual medium and image-based sites Instagram and Pinterest continue their upward trajectory. While text is still very much necessary in social media marketing, smart business owners seek to incorporate images into their social media mix, to complement and promote their written content.

Be quick

I’ve talked for years now on one of the natural advantage that one-(wo)man bands have over big business online, how we can respond quickly to events and news as they unfold. Called ‘news-jacking’ or ‘trend-jacking’, this is particularly suited to agile small businesses that aren’t afraid to be seen.

One of the most impressive and talked-about moments of social media marketing last year was Oreo’s spontaneous blackout tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl. The pace of conversations happening on social media networks means that you’ve got to be ready to jump when you see an opportunity for your business.

Offline compliments online complements offline

Online marketing and offline marketing complement each other. People are increasingly taking their online relationship offline, meeting individuals for the first time that they may have been corresponding with online for years. Not only that, but sites such as Meetup organise social gatherings of strangers united around common interests. For social media naysayers who protest that social media is superficial, I argue that Meetup demonstrates how social media is a complement to face-to-face gatherings, not an opponent. Nothing beats warm bodies in a room together.

Use social media to market your offline events and activities and use these gatherings to extend group rapport into your online communities.

Blogging still leads the charge

Regular, strategic business blogging still leads the charge in social media marketing because it’s a longer form channel that allows businesses to explore the various themes, questions, and issues that clients and potential clients have.

Blogging gives you natural fodder to use on your social media channels and savvy businesses use blog posts to seed questions and stories related to the post, in order to stimulate discussion, inspire further insight, and drive people back to their website, where social media followers become leads and clients.

Take action!

  1. Where are your clients? Spend at least one hour researching where your clients are. What social media site would be a natural fit for your niche?
  2. What social media sites do you enjoy? If you enjoy a site, you’re likely to do it better. Go ahead and give yourself permission to go nuts on this site. What sites don’t you enjoy? Remove your accounts from social media sites which you infrequently use because you don’t enjoy it.
  3. Are you talking enough about what people are interested in, rather than talking about yourself? Write down 5 topics for your social media marketing that your clients are interested in that are related, even if indirectly, to your business.
  4. Write down a list of helpful topics to use for your blog and for social media marketing
  5. Who are the big influencers and ambassadors relevant to your business? (Remember, we’re talking clients here, not colleagues. Many influencers and ambassadors will be relevant to your colleagues but not your clients).
  6. Are you using enough imagery in your social media? Do you have an account with a stock photography company? Do you regularly take your own images to stockpile for your marketing? Are you well-versed in how to locate royalty-free or Creative Commons images?
  7. How can you bring an online element to your face-to-face events? How can you extend your offline community online? How can you better marry offline and online marketing so they work seamlessly to promote each other?
  8. Are you blogging at least once a week? If you want to start (or start again), what’s stopping you?

Join me at one of my Social Media Savvy courses, run regularly around the country.