Once upon a time, social media was a place to share a photo of your morning cup of coffee or an aesthetically pleasing sunset. Now, it's become a tool to connect with people from around the country or even around the world, have conversations about topics, and even be a place for small businesses to thrive.
Small businesses are utilizing all that social media has to offer to grow their following and customer base. Brother-sister-duo Stephanie and Kevin Lin opened their brick-and-mortar shop, Kestan, in California in 2019 but were forced to turn to a fully online store when the pandemic hit.
To promote their store and keep sales going despite not being physically open, they turned to social media (specifically, Facebook and Instagram) to grow brand awareness and get more online customers.
"We started to make our social media presence more authentic by posting about the design process, behind the scenes of the stores, fashion tips, stuff like that, and people started getting into the content, and we started to grow our followers [on Instagram]," Kevin tells ZDNet.
Their social media strategy is pretty simple: Kevin is behind the phone getting the perfect shots and angles, while Stephanie is in front of the camera showing off outfits, going on Instagram Live with customers and showing upcoming products and fittings. They even post old family photos, selfies, and small business wins, like making it on the front page of the Irvine Standard newspaper.
"I feel like people want to feel a sense of authenticity from brands. And that's why small businesses, I think this is our time to shine right now," Stephanie says. "People want to connect with their community; they want to connect with people they relate to, with a product that has a story behind it. So, there's no need to make sure you create like a picture-perfect piece of content you want -- we've found that they just want to see what you're up to."
Kestan now has over 40,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook, with customers purchasing locally from California, as well as faraway states like South Dakota or Alaska and even other countries around the world -- something the business could not have achieved by just their in-person store alone.
Like many other small businesses, Kestan has found success in engaging with customers on social media. According to Digital Marketing Magazine, 74% of consumers rely on social media to guide their purchasing decisions. In addition, 55% of consumers learn about a new brand via social media.
Maayan Gordon, a social media content creator, and entrepreneur who helps small businesses and their marketing strategies by utilizing tools like Hootsuite, has seen her small business clients turn towards social media in recent years. She says the main benefits small businesses get from social media are growing their customer base and establishing their brand presence.
"Social media is an incredible place to build relationships with your customers. These days, it's become very saturated with product promotion, and so what's really working for any brand -- whether it's a small business or a large business -- is being able to leverage social media to build those relationships," Gordon tells ZDNet.
Small businesses now have access to useful tools valuable tools like Hootsuite that can schedule batch content and give them insight into which posts are working and which aren't.
Gordon tells her clients that it's essential to keep up with what works and what doesn't since social media is an ever-changing landscape.
"If you're reading a post about how to be successful on Instagram, written in 2019, it's probably not very accurate or helpful to what's working today," she says. "It changes so quickly, and I think that's really intense -- small businesses not only need to learn a platform, but they have to keep up on all the changes that are happening, too."
One of Hootsuite's small business customers who has worked with Gordon, Innovetive Petcare, has had to learn the ropes of social media, even in a traditional industry like veterinary care.
"Years ago, when we first used social media, we would share fluffy kittens and puppies and share those types of stories," says Malia Rivera, the vice president of marketing at Innovetive Petcare. "And over the past several years, we've really worked hand-in-hand with our veterinary hospitals of how that they can use this platform to drive new awareness to new pet owners and share our culture and use it as a lever for compelling storytelling while building a relationship with new and existing clients that we have."
Innovetive Petcare represents 67 animal hospitals across more than 15 states and runs over 150 social media profiles. And while posting cute animals is still very much a part of its social strategy, it also shares veterinary training, what some pet procedures look like, and stories about emergency instances so pet owners know what to look out for.
Gordon says this authentic approach is the key for small businesses that use this technology. "The way small businesses are successful [on social media] is by saying who they are and what they stand for, and that kind of humanized approach is, I think, giving the best result."
Small businesses can now reach beyond their immediate communities through the power of social media and attract customers from all over if they do it right.
"Social media is the next generation of marketing -- if you're not utilizing social media in your small business, you are behind the curve," Rivera explains. "I can't think of a better tool that is low cost, easy to use, can reach the masses, and weave artificial intelligence to create a compelling call to action for your small business."