5 Ways to Use Social Media to Boost Sales

Among today's most potent solutions for creating conversation and building brand awareness, social media can be one of the most powerful tools available for promoting and marketing your startup or small business. But as many professionals have also discovered, making the most of social networks isn't simply about driving more likes or page views — it's about finding better ways to engage audiences and convert their enthusiasm into tangible sales. Following are five ways to catch a crowd's attention and convert it into a measurable return on investment.

1. Focus on Audience Engagement

Unlike traditional advertising activities, which focus on promoting products or services, social media outreach is more akin to a relationship or loyalty-building exercise. Experts suggest directing roughly 60% of your social media efforts toward informing others and nurturing relationships. Become a trusted resource for customers by routinely helping them solve pressing problems. Continually offer hints, tips, solutions and insights that can help buyers save time, money or effort with a simple click. Then, allot 20% of your time to highlighting in-house deals, discounts and solutions. The remaining 20% should go to curating content and pointing your business' fans and followers to it. The more your business functions as a reliable source and screening mechanism for breaking news, insights and solutions, the more customers will stay in touch and keep coming back.

2. Strike Where Competitors Aren't

Can't compete with larger businesses on pricing, volume or scale, let alone go toe-to-toe with rivals' advertising budgets and ability to connect with shoppers? No sweat. Use social media to do an end-run around larger, less nimble competitors, and pick a smaller, more passionate and loyal niche to serve more effectively instead.

Social networks provide the perfect outlet to build a following with key influencers by providing unique, highly differentiated value offerings. For instance, your business might use social networks to promote live event experiences (in-store album release parties or VIP fashion line previews), limited-time offers (free ice cream from 9–11 p.m.) and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (the first 50 visitors get a free signed book from a visiting author).

Once you've built these relationships — and, even better, gotten permission to send them email newsletters and direct communications — you can use them to drive ongoing enthusiasm and awareness. You can even monetize fewer customers to achieve better returns than larger rivals with a more general focus.

3. Design to Sell

Social media isn't a sales strategy unto itself — it should be just one tentpole of a larger marketing effort. When designing a social media roadmap, don't just spend time producing content that's short, sweet and easily shareable. Also create materials that help reinforce key messages, prompt customers to take meaningful action and keep conversation and awareness levels consistently high. They should support a larger overall business strategy.

Start plotting your campaign by defining measurable objectives, such as increasing sales figures, generating more leads and boosting daily website traffic. Then create content and promotional activities that help achieve those objectives by directly tying actions to results. Countless types of content — articles, photos, videos, infographics, catchy co-promotions, etc. — can help pique fans' and followers' attention and should be designed for easy sharing. Plan ahead to figure out how surrounding assets and activities can be most effectively implemented to help you achieve your goals.

4. Leverage Your Expertise

Want to take your small business from virtual anonymity to national awareness seemingly overnight? Publish content regularly and often, and leverage social media to become one of the most visible and recognized authorities in your field. Numerous blogging and content management systems make it easy to share your expertise online, while many print-on-demand publishing services make it simple to literally write the book (or inside training guide) on any professional topic. Likewise, starting a video or radio show is as simple as using your smartphone camera or USB microphone to start recording. Many online video/audio aggregators are waiting to help you promote your subject matter expertise.

A quick way to get into the habit: Start by writing one article a day (say, 400–600 words each) or filming a video each morning for two weeks. Then compile them into a guide, series, webinar, tip sheet, book or booklet. Alternately, if you've got large pieces of content that you've already created, get more bang for your buck by "atomizing" them, or breaking them down into a running series of search engine optimized (SEO)-friendly posts that are ready for sharing via social media sites, newsletters and more. Once you've got a media platform to campaign on, services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO), which matches reporters with experts to comment for stories, can help you score even more street cred and visibility.

5. Stand Out at a Glance

With tens of millions of pieces of content shared on social networks daily, the single biggest sales challenge on these platforms is simply breaking through the noise. The solution: Immediately capture viewers' attention by being outspoken and one of a kind. Use arresting themes, descriptions and even seemingly contrarian statements ("Get our new eBook: 5 Reasons Your Business Doesn't Need Accounting Advice!" for example) to grab and hold your audience's interest. The key isn't to be absurd with your marketing and sales promotions — it's to increase visibility and differentiate your business at a glance.

Note that all supporting creative assets, such as articles, slideshows and videos, should instantly stand out, take a unique stance, and make a bold statement in the first couple sentences or, in the case of video, the first 5–10 seconds. The more uniquely you position yourself and your products or solutions, the more visible, memorable and original you become, and the likelier you are to stand out from faceless competitors. Also worth keeping in mind: The brand voice you use on social media channels should be equally creative and arresting as well. Don't be afraid to inject some personality, take a stance and invite interactive dialogue with customers. People naturally want to do business with those they like and trust — in other words, those they identify with.