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If you own a small business, chances are you’ve considered including social media in your marketing mix. In fact, research shows that 82 percent of small business owners are using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and other sites to help get the word out.

Social media platforms have become essential marketing tools for large corporations and local shops to reach prospects, customers, and business partners. If you are trying to decide if it’s worth investing the time and resources, here are four ways creating and executing a social strategy can benefit your small business.

Increase Brand Awareness

Increasing brand awareness is one of the most obvious benefits of social media. Creating a strong brand identity is a major factor in building trust with current customers, prospects, and business partners. Social networks offer multiple ways to reach millions of users with your message. Through the content you share, the way you interact with your audience, and your overall presence, you can showcase exactly what your brand is all about.

Customers expect businesses to be easily accessible and recognizable online, and social media helps boost your brand’s visibility. It’s important to establish a consistent look and feel across all of your social platforms. Using the same logo, photos, and color scheme that appears on your website and marketing materials will create a seamless brand experience for current and potential customers.

Social platforms also offer avenues for sharing your brand’s voice and content directly with your audience. Social media is a place for interaction and dialogue, where businesses can connect with customers proactively or reactively in real time. This can help increase customer satisfaction, which in turn can generate more business. The referral marketing platform Ambassador found that 71 percent of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others.

Network with Other Businesses

Social media allows small business owners to connect with their peers as well as their customers. Despite the love/hate relationship many professionals have with social media, it has become a valuable business asset that allows them to network and engage in broader ways than ever before.

LinkedIn is the platform of choice for making business connections, expanding referral networks, building strategic partnerships, and searching for everything from growth opportunities to talented employees. By joining the conversation surrounding your business, you can gain access to leaders in your industry and learn from their experiences.

Posting content with links back to your blog or website encourages connections to visit your site, which can have a positive effect on search ranking. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo consider a company’s social media presence as a factor in determining where that business will rank on a search results page. Social media has proven its power to give businesses an SEO boost, making it easier for people to find your business in relevant searches.

Generate More Sales at a Lower Cost

Social media can be a powerful sales tool for small businesses, allowing you to attract new leads and move people through your sales funnel. Business-to-business companies can use LinkedIn to target prospects and reach out directly to decision makers. Consumer-focused businesses can use Facebook or Instagram to keep followers informed about product launches and upcoming promotions and events. If your customers rely on social media for a quick response, you can use Twitter to answer questions and ultimately convert prospects.

The cost of traditional marketing tools like print or digital advertising and direct mail can be prohibitive for small businesses. Social media can help you stretch your marketing budget substantially and lower the costs associated with generating revenue. Posting multiple times a day on Facebook and paying a nominal fee to promote key posts is far less expensive than mailing multiple rounds of postcards. You can consistently reinforce connections with your best customers and help them spread the word to their friends and followers.

Improve Customer Service

Providing stellar customer service is an essential strategy for small business owners seeking a competitive advantage. According to a data compiled by Sprout Social, social media is people’s top choice for customer service. This should not come as surprise since the “social” aspect of these platforms allows businesses to engage in a two-way conversation with their target audience. This offers you the unique opportunity to provide instant gratification to your customers and showcase how much you care about meeting their needs.

The key to using this social strategy effectively is to monitor your online sites regularly for customer feedback. Make sure no customer comment goes unnoticed, and respond to inquiries, requests, and complaints as quickly as possible. Building trust with your customers is crucial to long-term business growth. Studies have shown that people who connect with brands via social media are more loyal to those brands, and businesses that provide them with a positive customer service experience earn 20% to 40% more revenue per customer.

Small businesses can reap big benefits by having an active social media presence. If you’re ready to launch a social media marketing strategy, be sure to connect with Summit Financial Resources on LinkedIn.

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Summit Financial Resources specializes in working capital financing for small to medium-sized businesses that need increased cash flow. We provide working capital financing through invoice factoring, asset-based lending, inventory lending, and equipment financing.