Branding with Intent: Social Media 101 for Small Brands & Businesses

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10 years ago Mashable wrote an article about 12 things newspapers should do to say relevant in the “new age” of social media. While at the time social media really wasn’t new, it was being lauded as the new playing field for businesses. Now ten years later, businesses are asking themselves the same question:

How can my business stay relevant with how social media has evolved? 

For entrepreneurs who have a small business, but want to grow it to be a bigger small business, even those who are perfectly fine with keeping their business small, this is a very valid question. But before we can start talking about how to keep your business relevant on social media, we have to unearth some necessary truths when it comes to social media. First of which is:

Social media is the new newspaper. We know this. We talk about it all the time. Our timelines are where we are getting our current events and news. Its where we find out opinion pieces and hot takes. We are using it to find inspiration and keep motivated. Don’t forget this bit when creating a branding strategy!

Second truth is this: 

The effectiveness of social media marketing is dying. Especially for the small business. With algorithms that are based on large scale numbers and a mass quantity of people who are “following” you, the fundamental need for content to ‘go viral’ as a means to create sales or a following and the pay-to-play requirement of the social platform to be a middle man to generate those sales (sponsored posts);  it becomes easy for me, a small business owner, to see that this playing field was not intended for small businesses to thrive.  But hold that thought and don’t panic.

The third truth is this: 

It’s ok if you’re a small business owner who would rather stay small and grow slowly. And I say this because of what I know about businesses owned by businesses of culture that we don’t like to talk about online. We do not have the funding and access to resources that white small business owners/entrepreneurs do. Investment agencies and think-thank investor businesses owned by people of culture are slowly starting to make their appearance, most entrepreneurs I have spoken with are running what I call a “cash flow” business.  Meaning their business is not backed by a loan, investor or even a grant. Problematic yes, fixable yes with time, but currently this is the truth.  

Now that those truths are out of the way we can go about answering the original question. 

The answer is: know your INTENT. If you don’t know how you want to use social media, then you probably shouldn’t be using it.

Like newspapers, social media still has plenty of benefits, but have to know how to leverage those benefits into opportunities you will just end up spinning your wheels as you try to get your brand to reach your target audience.

After working with one of my clients on her social media strategy she said:

“I finally get it. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel you have just have to find the tread your wheel fits in.”


Remember how I said don’t panic? This is where you stop panicking.

This is exactly how small businesses and brands should approach social media. Like newspapers, social media is audience-focused, but the difference is that unlike newspapers social media is not one size fits all when it comes to how to engage your audience.

That being said here are a few practices to consider when creating your social media branding strategy as a small business:  Note, all examples are from brands that have 1,000 - 45,000 followers.

waCombing the Roots with Ally Henny

waCombing the Roots with Ally Henny

Learn how people like to consume your brand’s “news” aka content

This is something that can be driven by several factors and can vary by industry. Obviously imagery and video content are very popular, but it’s not the end all be all. I have noticed that there are several small brands, especially in the podcasting industry, that do very well with blog-like posts that are informative but story-like. A great example of this is Ally Henny, host of Combing the Roots. She is a writer and speaker on the topics of racial healing and racial conciliation.  Her factual, experienced-based writing style is focused on getting her followers to stop their own thoughts and LISTEN, which necessary when you are an agent of change. The engagement on her posts is through the roof. The frank, but relatable ways she breaks down racial injustice and discrimination packs a punch that gets people wanting to talk more and they do. Her comment sections are full of discussions as her followers interact with and hold each other accountable for unwrapping their racial biases.

Tomayia Colvin Education

Tomayia Colvin Education

Use the news to talk about topics your brand is interested and invested in.  

In the world where originality is necessary, so is supporting content. Yes, you should be building your brand off of content that you are creating (phases, blogs, images, videos), but don’t exhaust yourself if you don’t have to. Newspapers are always using articles from the Associated  Press to fill in gaps in their own columns. You can do the same.

Fill in your social media gaps with pieces from blogs you follow and or current news/hot topics from news sources that align well with your brand. Tomayia Colvin Education is an education platform for any by photographers of culture. Tomayia, with an education platform under her belt, is also the founder of The Photo Cookout and is a force to be reconned with. Her mix of opinion pieces on photography topics and industry-focused articles that feature black and brown photographers are part of my weekly reading. Her focus on celebrating the huge impact her people are having when they pick up their lens resonates deeply with her followers and encourages them to get out and create and capture the world as THEY experience it.

HWMR + Black Excellence

HWMR + Black Excellence

Your original content should help create a lifestyle.
This one may be a little confusing. I have noticed when the word “lifestyle” is used people are mostly thinking about a sleek and curated magazine spread or Instagram feed. And that is far from what this means. Quality content is not just about how your brand looks or feels. These are important, but if your content doesn’t talk about what it KNOWS it is hard to get behind. Make sure to create content about the W’s. Yep, the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY is STILL important when leveraging your brand online. A brand that embodies this is HWMR + Black Excellence, a fashion brand + community revitalization effort out of North Minneapolis. It doesn’t matter if you are scrolling their Instagram or FB pages, you can always find posts that leverage the CEO’s vision, history, and present events. Their laid back, urban-streets-meets-GQ-classy vibe is partnered with real ways they are breathing life into their community when it comes to education, business, politics, and community socializing.

Lastly…

It’s ok to outgrow your social media friends

While my other tips have specifically been about content, this one is for you the business owner. A few years ago I started curating my friend’s list. I know it sounds weird, but I felt innodated with a bunch of… well, nothing. I started muting and unfriending people because I realized my friend list didn’t represent who I was or people that I was interested in knowing. When someone had a business I was curious about I would go like their page AND send them a friend request. After six month the content I was seeing of my timeline vastly changed to content I wanted to engage with. I read their comments about their business or their personal lives and realized how much I was limiting myself. Comments here and there turned into meeting in person and networking over video chats. To this day I still believe “Your network is only as strong as you make it.” even if it’s getting to know other business owners online. 

That’s all I have for today. I hope these quick tips and examples help you understand how you can shape your brand’s identity online! If you are interested in joining my FB group that is focused on helping small brands and businesses taking action to grow their business click the button below!