Understanding how to use Social Media for Business

Last Updated: April 2, 2018

If social media is not working for your business, it’s important to understand what is truly meant by effective ‘use’ of the platforms. They are not just web browsers. It’s not enough to be ‘on’ them. Shane McCarthy looks at social media use and why the nature of it matters so much for your business profile online.

how to use social media for business
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Through the talks I give to students eyeing up a career in digital marketing, and to businesses hoping to learn more about it, I know there is a huge interest in the question of how to use social media. But there is a distinction that is overlooked, and which I must emphasise. It’s encapsulated in the headline of this post.

The thing point is to focus less on how to use social media and more on social media best practices. In other words, there is more to be learnt about social media than could be incorporated in a how to use social media presentation. And that’s because of this distinction between the nuts and bolts of how to use social media, and the social media best practices that will deliver a return on the time that you invest in using them.

Because there is a huge difference between merely using social media, and actively using social media—a demonstrably effective use of the platforms to achieve a goal. Fail to appreciate the difference and you could be in trouble, so please take this post as your starting point.


‘Merely’ Using Social Media

Sometimes, when I have asked people if they use social media, I get a response like: “Yeah, I’m on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc”

That sounds impressive… but only if you’re impressed by width rather than quality. When you mine down into a statement like this, you’ll find that the person is not really using social media in any effective way, that they are ‘merely’ using the platforms.

Penetrating even just beneath the surface of a person’s claim that they use social media, it often emerges that they are, for instance, chatting with friends on Facebook; browsing a blockbuster trailer on YouTube; looking up Instagram to find out what colour Conor McGregor’s fridge is, etc.

If that is your definition of social media use, I’m afraid I’ve some bad news. Okay… it’s not all bad, but this type of social media use has to be put in a separate category, and it has nothing to do with work. I’m not claiming to be above it, but it’s social media browsing, and I do that when I’m at home, taking a break from the hard work of blogging, strategising and creating content.


Why ‘Merely’ Using Social Media is Bad

Too many businesses adopt the tactic of handing over the running of their social media platforms to a person who may be ‘merely’ using social media, rather than ‘actually’ using social media. That’s because the businesses are not aware of the ‘merely’/‘actually’ distinction and so are not best placed to check.

When I hear about these things, I often ask: “Would you put someone in charge of the accounts solely because they have a calculator. So why the hell would you do it with your digital marketing?!”

Businesses who have done this really need to wake up, recognise what’s going on, and change their approach as soon as possible. And if you’re a student looking to break into the digital marketing sector, and you’re using social media only for browsing, then you need to change your approach too. You must immediately start thinking of yourself as a brand, and ask yourself: “How can I best promote myself online to potential employers.”

If you take your Snaps, Tweets and FB posts more seriously, you will be amazed at how effectively they can establish a pathway to crucial career doorways, and also help you to get your foot in those doors!

If you’re young, of college-going age, the pressure from your peers can be huge and can sometimes deter you from taking business-like action, such as joining groups and online conversations on social media and digital marketing. Nobody likes to be ridiculed and there is a fear among young people that they’ll be ridiculed if, for example, they post a picture to Instagram from a conference or other professional event that they attend.

More bad news… if this the main thing you are concerned about, you need to forget about it, pronto. Focus on things that matter. Focus on your content and your profile, and start reaching out to the best connected people.

Here’s a suggestion that I have given to students in the past, and it’s been an effective one for anyone who’s tried it. If you know someone who has a Facebook business page, why don’t you offer to help them with it? This is, in miniature, what you will be doing in a career in digital marketing.. and it is a really brilliant primer.


‘Actual’ Usage – the Payoffs of Understanding How to Use Social Media for Business

Social Media best practices and ‘actual’ usage. As far as your business goes, this is the category you want to be in. It’s the area of social media best practises, where you can say that:

  • You use Facebook business pages
  • You use Twitter to engage with a target audience and learning about the latest news
  • You use Instagram to promote business with content, and strategically test hashtag to see what engages and what does not.
  • You use SnapChat to create engaging, entertaining stories.
  • You promote subjects or organisations across platforms.
  • You appreciate the advertising side of online.
  • You have a process, which you always measure and adapt to make your future posts or campaigns work more satisfactorily.

Whether you’re a business or a student it’s crucial for you to be in the social media best practises category. If you’re in business, it will improve your bottom line. If you’re a student, and you’re doing the things listed above in a focused way, you will have real life experience to lay on an interview panel.

Good luck!