On paper, using social media as a business is free.
In reality, social media can consume hours of your time every week: it has a significant opportunity cost.
In other words, all that time you spend updating your company Facebook account might be put to better use elsewhere.
For a social media strategy to be affordable, therefore, it needs to not only be super-cheap but also super-quick.
That narrows your options significantly - but don't ditch social media just yet.
Your brand can still build a strong social media presence on a low budget, but you need to understand that your constraints will impact how quickly you can gain followers and get noticed on social media.
With a smart, pragmatic social media strategy you can get great value from an extremely limited budget.
Your low-cost strategy should be:
- Easily manageable
- Human, not robotic
If you don't reckon you can hit all four of those points, aim for three.
Aiming for those attributes is a start, but your social media strategy isn't going anywhere until you've worked out the practical steps that'll help you make progress.
These low-cost social media tactics should give you some ideas...
When you're following an event, a hashtag certainly helps you keep track of the conversation.
Hashtags are great tools for discovering new accounts to follow - which means that they're an area full of potential for social media marketers.
Add a relevant hashtag to your Tweet or Instagram photo and you immediately extend the reach of your post far beyond your normal followers.
The right tweet featuring the right hashtag can go viral, potentially securing you hundreds or thousands of new followers - and a boost to your brand recognition.
Of course, given that the most popular event hashtags may see thousands of new posts every minute, you'll still have to work hard (or get lucky!) to be noticed.
Choose hashtags that are relevant to your business, fit your brand and fit your followers.
You could use hashtags for TV shows, conferences, news stories, memes, and local events - whatever you think meets the criteria we mentioned above.
B2B or B2C? Both.
Social networks: Mainly Twitter, also Instagram and Facebook.
Drawbacks: It's difficult to plan social media content around real-time events and emerging hashtags. You'll need to create content almost entirely on the fly.
GIFs are enjoying a renaissance that shows no sign of abating. In particular, reaction GIFs are some of the most shared content on social media.
If you're not familiar with reaction GIFs, they're simple: a short sentence or phrase is paired with a relevant GIF (that's a looping animation without audio) for comical effect.
Here are a couple of examples:
When you're inside and bored so you start eating the hurricane supplies before the storm hits... pic.twitter.com/bUBYE2cTSK
— Dan Daley (@DanDaley) October 6, 2016
Making GIFs from scratch is a skill that'll take some time to learn, but many social networks now offer built-in GIF searches to help you find the perfect reaction GIF for your post. Also, check out sites like Giphy which have endless GIFs to choose from and share for free.
Reaction GIFs do best if they're a clip from a well-known source (but think of copyright issues!) such as popular films or TV shows. The text you post alongside is almost as important as the GIF itself. Try to think of a situation (and reaction) that many people can relate to and tie it to current events or a hashtag if you can.
The right reaction GIF can be shared far beyond your usual circle of followers while giving your current followers some entertaining content and a reason to stick around!
B2B or B2C? Chiefly B2C, but B2B could work if your brand is young and fun!
Social networks: Usually Facebook and Twitter.
Drawbacks: Although it's unlikely you'll get in trouble for sharing GIFs from copyrighted work, this will always be a risk. We advise not to share GIFs of sporting events because these broadcast rights are defended extremely aggressively. Misjudging your followers' appetite for reaction GIFs can also damage your brand.
Join & Contribute to Groups
The role of groups in social media is to bring together like-minded individuals to discuss specific topics.
You're probably a member of several groups on your personal social media accounts - maybe to grab some bargains from your local buy and sell group, or catch up with your class from your uni days.
Joining groups is a great social media tactic for some businesses too. If you're a local trader, joining local Facebook groups is a smart move even if they don't allow promotional posts - a group member might be looking for a gardener/hairdresser/restaurant, and you can jump in and suggest your business.
You can also join groups of professionals to share business advice, get your name out there and even find new clients.
It's important to be aware of group rules before you post. If in doubt, don't talk about your business until you've become a regular contributor to the group.
B2B or B2C? Both.
Social networks: LinkedIn and Facebook.
Drawbacks: This approach can be very slow to get returns for businesses in some sectors.
You'd be surprised how interested your followers are in behind-the-scenes social media content.
Sharing photos and videos of your office and your team humanises your brand and reminds your followers that there's a real person, not a robot, on the other side of the screen.
Team events and activities as well as seasonal snaps make perfect behind-the-scenes content.
Don't forget to sneak in some mentions and hashtags for extra impressions!
B2B or B2C? Both.
Social networks: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Drawbacks: Grumpy customers won't be impressed if they see a photo of your support team having a pint at the pub! Always be aware of context and don't overload your feed(s) with this type of content.
Business Social Media Hours
A relatively recent development on social media is the 'business hour'. This is where businesses from a certain region post under a business hour hashtag. The aim is to promote local businesses and get the hashtag trending locally, generating publicity from a wider audience.
For example, Yorkshire Hour takes places on Twitter every Wednesday from 8-9 pm under the hashtag #YorkshireHour. Have a search for your local social media hour and see if your product would be a good fit for the hashtag!
When taking part in a social media hour, show off your business with striking photos and other visual content to get noticed.
— The Wedding Affair (@WeddingAffair) October 5, 2016
B2B or B2C? Both.
Social networks: Twitter.
Drawbacks: Some business hours may lose traction and fail to trend locally. Additionally, your local competitors may also be tweeting during the business hour - so make sure your product seems more appealing than the competition!
Social media contests are potentially a marketer's goldmine, as they give you a chance to boost brand recognition, gain social media followers and even secure email sign-ups.
They've been used by brands for years, but as social networks change, so must the contests you host on them.
Facebook now doesn't allow pages to require a post share in return for a competition entry - this is to reduce news feed spam. Be sure to check that your contest abides by Facebook's rules before launching it.
You can also carry out contests through Twitter or Instagram. Having some kind of social media tool to track followers, shares and likes will make it easier to see which accounts meet the entry requirements.
Alternatively use social media to promote a contest page on your website that uses Rafflecopter or a similar sweepstake tool.
— Tiger Gin (@TheTigerGin) October 12, 2016
B2B or B2C? Perhaps more effective in B2C, but could still work in B2B.
Social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Drawbacks: Aside from the cost of the rewards (and delivering them), also consider that your competition could easily get 'hijacked' by social media users who trawl hashtags such as #win or #contest. While these users might still have to share your tweets to enter, bear in mind that it's less likely that they and their followers are in your target market - and probably won't care about your brand or product after the contest concludes.
Does your target market have a good reason to follow your social channels?
Let's be honest: the majority of business social media posts are seen as spam by the average user.
Hyping your product or sharing a dry article that only a handful of people care about is a sure-fire way to lose followers.
What do followers really gain from following you?
Offering sneak peeks and product teasers can be one way to bring value to your social media offering.
Followers feel part of an exclusive club. It's likely they'll share the sneak peek with their friends and followers if they're excited about it.
Consider using looping videos instead of just photos to tease products.
B2B or B2C? B2C - but B2B might work if you have a particularly enthusiastic following.
Social networks: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Vine, Snapchat...
Drawbacks: Visuals are key. If you can't produce high-quality video or photos, this tactic will be ineffective.
Featured customers and takeovers
These two strategies fulfil a similar purpose: showcase one of your top customers or partners to generate buzz for both your business and theirs.
By having a 'customer of the month/week', you can tell their story - and the part your product has played in it.
Essentially, featuring customers adds context to a case study and increases the chances that the customer will share your social posts about them.
You could go one step further and arrange social media takeovers. This is where you temporarily hand over the keys to your social media account to a celebrity, key influencer or important customer and let them curate content and talk about their experiences with your brand.
In some cases, you grant the influencer temporary access to the account through tools such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, but in others, the influencer just sends across content they'd like to post via email - they don't actually gain even partial control of the account.
B2B or B2C? Again, this tactic works best for B2C but some B2B companies could find a way to make it work.
Social networks: Instagram and Twitter.
Drawbacks: Potential security issues may arise with customer takeovers. Also, this strategy only works if the customer or influencer can see the benefit for them. Therefore, you might have to set your sights on influencers and customers with similar follower numbers to your own. Contacting influencers to arrange takeovers can also be time-consuming.
In the early days of social media, there was a rule: 80% of the content you post should be curated from elsewhere, and 20% should be created by you. Experts are now split on if this guideline still applies, but pretty much every social media guru you speak to will tell you there's definitely value to be gained from sharing content originally posted on third-party websites.
Curating social media content has many benefits: it gets your brand noticed, it helps you build relationships with potential customers, it's far less time consuming than creating content yourself, and it presents your followers with valuable insights from a wide range of experts.
Alternatively, simply create a list of influencers, businesses and potential partners on Twitter. Don't include your competitors, but do include companies in related fields, because they're likely to share content that your followers care about, too.
Check this Twitter list on a regular basis and share high-quality content from it if you think your followers will be interested in it. It doesn't hurt to comment on Tweets when you share them - this will definitely help you build relationships.
B2B or B2C? Chiefly B2B, but B2C businesses may also benefit from this approach.
Social networks: Twitter. Sometimes LinkedIn and Facebook.
Drawbacks: Content may be off-brand or overlaps with your own blog content. It gives traffic to other sites instead of your own. Choosing good content to share can be incredibly time-consuming, with little gain.
This social media tip extends into your blogging strategy.
Create blog content that mentions (and praises) influencers and brands in your sector - excluding direct competitors, of course.
When you share the article on social media, mention the influencers and brands in your Tweets. Tweet each influencer separately to increase the chance of a share.
We all love being praised - so the influencers you mention are likely to share your link and thank you for featuring them.
The share increases your visibility on social media and contributes to SEO, too.
— Sam Hurley 😎💻😎 (@Sam___Hurley) October 12, 2016
Effective types of sharebait include lists such as 'Top 10 recruitment experts' or 'Five time management tools worth checking out'. You could also target shares from specific areas by creating content that pits locations against each other, such as 'We ranked UK counties by emoji use on Twitter. Is your county in the top five?'.
Often these types of content take a little bit of work to produce - but you could also sprinkle in memes, jokes, and puns to further rack up shares.
B2B or B2C? Either.
Social networks: Almost exclusively Twitter.
Drawbacks: As we mentioned above, you'll need to produce content worthy of a share.
If you're unable to dedicate many man-hours to social media, don't be afraid to schedule posts in advance to maintain a regular flow of content on your chosen social networks.
Ensure scheduled posts aren't time-sensitive, double-check your time-zones if you're posting across borders, and vary your content.
If a real life tragedy occurs after posts are scheduled, be sure to check through the scheduled content to ensure that they can't be taken the wrong way. See Dorothy Perkins and the NRA for some classic examples of scheduled tweeting gone horribly wrong.
B2B or B2C? Both.
Social networks: Twitter and Facebook both have inbuilt scheduling features and you can use third party tools to schedule posts on other platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram.
Drawbacks: Can come across as a little robotic if you're not careful.
Social media isn't a piece of cake.
Sure, it's free to have a Facebook account and it only takes 10 minutes to set up your Twitter profile and start following a few accounts, but social media is all about, well... being social.
That means you need to work hard over a long period of time to build connections, strengthen them, and grow your follower count.
There isn't a social media strategy that works for everyone. With so many variables involved, it can take some trial and error (as well as diving into analytics!) to find an approach that works for your brand.
We've shared our ideas for a low-cost social media strategy for small businesses on a budget. Now it's your turn.
Which affordable social media tactics have you found to be most effective?