Spread too thin on social mediaOne of the things we hear as freelance trainers or small business owners is that we need to grow our presence on social media, engage with potential customers and let our personality shine through on platforms that are all about connecting with people. While this is true, I think it’s important to approach social media strategically or it can quickly leave you feeling overwhelmed and actually do your marketing more harm than good.

Using social media to market your business has lots of benefits – you can build your reputation, drive traffic to your website, connect with potential customers and other suppliers, grow your mailing list and much more.

It has its downsides too, not least that social media is full of distractions and can quickly steal time you don’t have.

Should your freelance training business have a presence on every social media platform? Should you really be juggling Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and others to build your business?

I would answer ‘no’ to both of these questions.

Personally, I think it’s better to have a strong presence on just one or two social media platforms than to spread yourself too thinly trying to be noticed everywhere. The danger is that, if you try to be in too many places at once, your presence will be inconsistent and, without meaning to, you’ll neglect different platforms for significant periods of time. And people can’t get to know you if you’re not posting or joining in the conversation.

In my opinion, it’s better to focus on using one or two platforms well initially and then make an informed decision about adopting a further platform at a later date.

But which social media platform should you choose?

Different platforms are right for different businesses – Pinterest tends to be used by women; approximately 47% of people see Facebook as influencing their purchasing decisions, the 45-54 age bracket has grown its presence on Google+ by 56% in the past two years; 34% of marketers use Twitter to generate leads; LinkedIn’s most thriving demographic is 30- to 49-year-olds. Each platform regularly supplies stats about its users that can help you decide which platforms to focus on as a starting point.

Below, I’ve listed three important questions it might help you to ask:

1. Where are your potential customers hanging out?

You can plug your business like crazy on your favourite social media platform but if your customers don’t use it too then your efforts won’t be seen. The first step to a successful social media strategy is identifying the platforms that your target customers are most likely to use.

If you work with blue chip companies, for example, you may decide that you need to concentrate your social media efforts on building a presence on LinkedIn. If you want to specifically connect with local businesses, Google+ or Twitter might work better.

Not sure where your customers hang out? It’s fine to ask them. If you give out a feedback questionnaire at the end of a training session, one of the questions you could ask is how people would most like to connect with you on social media or even just to name their two favourite social media platforms.

2. What do you want to use social media to achieve?

Many businesses begin using social media because they’ve been told they ‘should’. In my experience, it helps to have a clear set of goals that highlight why you want to use social media to market your business and what you want to get out of it.

• Do you want people to sign up to your mailing list by downloading a free ebook?
• Do you want to build your reputation as a trainer within a specific industry or career bracket?
• Perhaps you want to promote a specific training programme or meet with other local trainers?

By understanding what your goals are, it’s easier to decide what content you post on your chosen social media platform(s). Ask yourself whether it’s relevant to your potential customers and to the goals you’ve identified. If it isn’t, it might be time to rethink what you’re posting.

3. What results are you getting?

Most of the social media platforms now offer business users analytics to help them measure the success of their posts. Facebook and Pinterest, in particular, offer comprehensive data to help you pinpoint which posts work well, who’s looking at them, the best time of day to post and much more.

You can also track which social media platforms are sending the most traffic to your website using the data provided in Google Analytics.

By keeping an eye on all the data at your disposal, you can make informed decisions about where to spend your precious time. You may find that one platform stands out as the best place to connect with potential customers. If that happens, you might decide to concentrate on that platform for the next month and see whether it brings in bookings.

A final word of caution

Whatever you do on social media, it’s important to market your business in other ways too and to grow your own mailing list. Social media platforms can change their rules at any time – for example, Facebook has recently started throttling organic reach in favour of paid advertising – so the only audience you can truly guarantee is the one for which you have contact details.

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