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Engage at all costs: insider tips from a social media expert

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About 12 years ago social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter ushered in a new era for the internet as a two-way medium.

Good businesses flourished and bad businesses had nowhere to hide, and the capital cost of establishing new businesses dropped to nearly zero, accelerating global competition in almost every niche.

Over the past 10 years of doing and teaching social media marketing to small business owners, I've seen the common pitfalls as well as the opportunities to make a splash with these five low-cost or no-cost techniques to drive new business through your door.

1. Don't be so serious

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You're probably on social media to increase inquiries, grow your online reach, educate the public about what your business does and ultimately, to sell. But Joe Public is there for entirely different reasons.

First and foremost: be entertaining! People are on Facebook because they're procrastinating, so be funny, irreverent, helpful and human.

Engage with people, flirt and joke, be entertaining, and then invite them back to your website, when they're ready.

Your business blog is where you provide substantial, thoughtful, opinionated pieces, to build your professional reputation. Your social media is a vehicle to push your blog out there.

2. Be regular

When running courses around the country, I've seen two major mistakes by business owners with their social media marketing: being obsessive and addicted to one channel at the neglect of other marketing; or sporadic "drive-by social media", often accompanied by deep cynicism and scepticism about its value.

There is a middle path: where your social media marketing is regular, organised, and scheduled in advance, and just one piece of the bigger marketing puzzle.

Sit down once a week and schedule at least one week in advance - you can do this through the Facebook interface, or use a scheduling tool such as Buffer.

Remember, you're starting conversations with people, so it would be rude to neglect or ignore them when they respond.

3. Think visual

The two main social media channels right now for small business are Facebook and Instagram. Both are highly visual. So every post should incorporate an image or video.

This doesn't need to be original content - in fact, recognising your lack of talent in photography can be a good thing.

Purchase stock photography, organise a photo shoot for your business, and use other business's images.

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4. Reuse, reduce, recycle

Think of social media marketing as networking.

Share other business's content, give credit where it's due, and don't worry about sending your community away.

If you're good, they'll return, and you'll gain a reputation as a curator and someone "in the know".

5. Engage at all costs

Those who are naturally social understand social media's golden rule: engage with people.

Higher engagement will increase your reach and visibility while lower engagement will decrease it until you're essentially marketing to yourself. Don't overthink every post or worry about being "on brand".

Reach out, be real, helpful, generous and (ideally) funny.

And enjoy yourself - that's the most effective marketing strategy around.

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