From Facebook ads growth, to expanded length Tweets, LinkedIn news, SnapChat, WhatsApp and Reddit, what can small businesses ignore, what should they double-down on in 2017 and beyond, and how can we better ensure that hours spent in the Facebook-time-space vortex translates into new clients through the door?

Social media is a massive topic. There’s plenty you could do. Shiny new features roll out every week on our favourite channels, most causing a brief flurry of activity and excitement before they fade away. In the six years that I’ve been teaching public courses on social media marketing for small businesses, I’ve edited, rewritten and relaunched these courses several times over.

As anyone who works in social media marketing knows, this is not a game in which you can afford to become complacent. But not all channels and features are awesome – many are an expensive distraction for small business owners.

If I haven’t included something in the list below, it’s not because it’s not popular or not popular among businesses, but that I can’t justify the efforts required from small business owners to make it worth their while.

Social media marketing is time consuming. We do well to understand how much we need to do to have an affect, as well as how much is too much.

Facebook Live on the up and up

“There are only 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps for 8.8 of them. That means more than one-sixteenth of the average user’s waking time is spent on Facebook,” according to the New York Times.

Facebook is one of the fastest growing, most well known, trusted and valuable companies in the world and Facebook Live is one of its hottest marketing features for small businesses right now.

Particularly for business owners in professional services, building their reputation as an authority, expert or leader in their field, “going live” regularly is a great tactic and strategy to talk directly to your Facebook page fans or group members.

I go live in my Non-Planner’s Business Plan group regularly, to give short talks on topics such as planning, productivity, procrastination and clarity. I go live in my Facebook Hustle & Heart program group to answer frequently asked questions, and encourage program participants to go live to introduce themselves.

What you can do

  • If you’re already running webinars, or want to, consider running a series of Facebook Live events using BeLive instead. You can promote these to your email list, on your Facebook page, and turn a Facebook Live promotion into an ad to encourage attendance.
  • If you’re podcasting, do two things at once by recording your Lives and turning them into pods.
  • You can supplement your written blog posts with Facebook Lives and embed these videos into your blog. That way, you’re extending the topic and promoting your blog on Facebook at the same time.

Smarter Facebook advertising strategies

Although Australians are early adopters for social media, we are a cynical bunch – Facebook ads in Australia are more expensive because we don’t tend to convert at the same rate as other countries. Nowadays, people are far more reluctant to leave a social channel, especially if the ad makes it clear that you’ll be asked for your email address or hard-earned dollars.

That’s not to say Facebook ads aren’t worth it – they can be hugely effective when done well. No other advertising platform has as much information on its uses as Facebook. A good social ad strategy should give you a great return on your ad spend, while helping widen your reach to new people through your door. And, as people are increasingly reluctant to leave a social channel, social ads are our main method to convert new people.

As the price continues to rise as more (big) businesses jump in, we need to smarter and more strategic. The most effective Facebook ads strategy is multi-layered, combining ads to your strategic content (your own blog posts, Facebook Lives and other content), retargeting, Facebook Lives to create momentum and authority and build anticipation, ads to your Facebook group, list building and email marketing funnels, and click-to-purchase.

What you can do

  • Before you spend a cent on Facebook ads, you need to figure out what you want people to do AND you need to install the Facebook pixel on your website so you’re measuring your campaigns effectiveness.
  • Consider how much it costs to pixel a well-targeted group. You can use strategic blog posts, FB Lives and other content to attract a specific group of people, pixel them, and use retargeting to follow them around the web with your ad, which is far cheaper.
  • All ads (Facebook or otherwise) need a great landing page to send people to. It’s not just your ad that needs to perform – half the work is done by your landing page, and the better that is, the cheaper your ads.
  • Determine the lifetime value of a client over a set period (such as six months), rather than the immediate purchase they’re making to better determine your ads’ performance.
  • Facebook Live currently has more free organic reach than any other post type. Remember to get straight to the gold – brevity is courtesy, so don’t ramble with long-winded introductions. Dive in!

Insta-worthiness (and the anti-movement)

Instagram is kind of insane. What started as an intimate, behind-the-scenes channel has metamorphosed into a glamorous, digital magazine-like smorgasbord of aspiration and #inspo ration.

“Good enough” is no longer good enough on Instagram. We need to be, at the very least, aware of how our pictures appear in our stream in context of each other. For those Insta-obsessed, this can be a very time-consuming channel for marketing, between stream themes, photo curation, replying to comments, cutting large images into grids, and “the rule of three”.

Unless you can directly correlate new business through your door into effort and hours spent on Instagram, don’t spend too much time dreaming over lush feeds. You’ve got work to do, right?

Alongside this glamour process of #instaworthy and #inspo is a counter movement of realness – as evidenced by the popularity of Australian comedian Celeste Barber (with two and a half million followers). Realness never goes out of fashion, as seen in hashtags #real #nofilter and #theimperfectboss

Instagram stories, a feature copied from Snapchat, are currently overtaking Instagram image updates for engagement. Stories enable businesses to be more casual, sharing snippets of their everyday without saving these on the Instagram profile as these disappear after 24 hours.

The stories feature enables you to share multiple photos and videos, and they appear together in a reel, with the ability to add text, doodles and funny filters to your photos and videos. (Just like Snapchat!)

What you can do

  • It should be immediately apparent what your business does for people looking at your profile and feed.
  • Remember you’ve only got one active hyperlink on Instagram – so change it up often and make it work for you.
  • If you don’t always carefully curate your Instagram feed carefully, it’s time to put a little more thought into how your pictures appear in context with each other and don’t go too heavy-handed on the promotional imagery (or inspo imagery).
  • Look out for like-minded business owners from complementary industries and curate their images – first commenting, seeking permission, giving credit, and following up (like the olden days). Social media is meant to be social (and that goes way beyond a like or comment).

The rise and rise of video

Social media has replaced TV for younger audiences, with many tuning in directly to YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to view video. Whether live, pre-produced, casual or polished (or all of the above), video should be part of all your marketing campaigns.

It can be live, pre-produced, casual, or polished. Remember, each has their place for different purposes and different audiences. Expect more video on all social feeds, including Twitter, and remember, people are watching video on mobiles and iPads, not just desktops – in fact, more than half of videos worldwide are now viewed on mobiles and, to a lesser degree, tablets, not desktop computers.

Live video is suppose to be raw, rough and real – that’s part of its appeal – as such, it represents the lowest barrier to entry for small businesses. The only real barrier? Your ego.

What you can do

  • Video is second-to-none for quickly and easily establishing the ‘know, like and trust’ in your prospects. Heighten the effectiveness of your premium-priced sales pages with video – address common barriers to purchase or colour in the details of your benefits or outcomes.
  • Any videos you create (including Facebook lives) should have captions. Luckily, you can now add captions within Facebook, using their caption feature.
  • Consider creating all videos in square format – landscape orientation used to be commonplace, before portrait became more popular due to mobile usage. A square shape circumvents both.
  • Create a schedule for regular videos – and consider breaking up the audio to distribute as a podcast or on audio share sites such as Soundcloud.

Creating a strategy for each channel

Social media is not one homogenous thing; each channel is different, requiring a different approach, so don’t try to shoehorn your Facebook strategy into your Instagram strategy. For the time-poor small business owner, I recommend you pick two or three social media channels (one is too risky if things change significantly, which they regularly do).

A modern social media marketing strategy doesn’t try to drive people out of these sites, they turn social media sites into a conversion funnel in and of themselves.

Content is still central to success and your blog should lead the way – giving your conversations, images and topics strategy and direction. Pretty pictures aren’t enough – you still need to stand for something.

Don’t focus on your social media marketing to the detriment of your website – remember Google still brings leads that are far more qualified than social media – and strategic blogging is pivotal to improving your website ranking too.

What you can do

  • Pick 2-3 channels only and prioritise which are more important for your efforts, time and ad spend.
  • Create a mini strategy for each and remember to cross promote your social media channels and email lists, where relevant.
  • Ads aren’t successful in isolation! If you’re employing a Google AdWords consultant or Facebook ads specialist, ensure you share what you’re doing on other channels so that your ads and marketing can be as efficient and effective as possible.
  • Your business blog makes your social media marketing far easier, providing fodder for your updates, helping you to pixel the right audience who you can serve ads to by paying to promote particular, strategic blog posts, and finding topics through social media that you can blog on, knowing that they’re already popular.

Ready to learn Facebook ads essentials, smart, strategic blogging for business, Facebook Live video, Instagram and Facebook organic marketing? I’d love to see you at our upcoming courses in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. Register now.