• Social media is quickly becoming an intrinsic part of any small business. (Getty Images)
Much has been said about the powers of social media - but the experts say a half-hearted effort can be more damaging than staying offline.
SBS Small Business Secrets
9 Oct 2016 - 5:35 PM  UPDATED 18 Mar 2018 - 1:10 PM

To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question.

Or to snap, scope, pin, post, tag, blog or gram?


You aren't alone.

In a year, the percentage of Australian small businesses to hop aboard the social media train has leapt from 30 to 50 percent, according to the 2016 Sensis Social Media Report.

90 percent of them are on Facebook, roughly a third on Instagram and around a quarter on Twitter, with slightly fewer on Linkedin - and those statistics don't account for a plethora of emerging platforms.

Digital marketing gurus say it's little wonder many among the tens of thousands of new business owners who set up shop in Australia last year are confused.

Max Doyle is the founder of social media strategy company Hello Social, which includes Microsoft among its clients.

Contrary to popular opinion, Doyle says not all companies can benefit from social media and that most should pick just one platform and stick with it - at least at the beginning.

"It's like a puppy. People think I want one, but they forget it takes quite a lot of energy and work to manage an account, you can't leave it. So you get one puppy at a time, don't get four!"

Hello Social also advises SMEs to start with a social media spend of around $100 a month and about two hours a week or fortnight - a fraction of the 5 percent of annual revenue most business spend on traditional advertising.

The company says the key is to schedule content at regular intervals; like a puppy, a platform should be fed at regular intervals, and not overstuffed then starved.

"That can actually be the danger, if you start on something then leave it. Think of when you see a company that has an account that hasn't posted in 12 months and has three followers, it gives you a poor impression of that brand," Doyle says.

Another tip is to consider your industry when you choose your pet medium: it's no coincidence Instagram is inundated with images of yogis, activewear labels and photogenic food - many of these images are curated by companies selling a lifestyle as part of their brand.

Case in point: savvy teenager Jonathan Massaad uses Instagram to advertise Sugar High Desserts' gourmet cakes, and even auctions off the cakes on the platform.

"A cake that gets posted with $250 as the price can be put up with a photo and people will put their bids under it and often it can go to more than $400 or something in a couple of hours," Mr Massaad told SBS.

Related Reading
Riding a sugar high
Jonathan Massaad may be young, but his ambition is boundless. Every week, the self-taught baker sells dozens of desserts while studying for his HSC.

His is not a unique story - many brands are attracting consumers who make purchase decisions based on what they see on the page.

"This can be a great platform if you have a luxury line of handbags or are selling a health product, those lifestyle-related, consumer-facing companies are going to benefit from being on Instagram," Doyle said.

Facebook is by far the most popular platform, which makes it broadly useful for businesses to cast a wide marketing net, and a particularly effective option for "consumer-facing businesses with a persona or specific audience, such as a magazine or popular cafes or bars" according to Doyle.

Pictures are said to "tell a thousand words" - on social media, they may also sell a thousand products - but experts stress quality over quantity.

Kiren, a seasoned photographer and model, has photographed the likes of Cate Blanchett and all manner of glitterati across the world.

In the past two years, his customer base has gone digital; shifting from professional models and actor headshots to social media profile pictures; for these customers, a smartphone selfie won't do.

"Head shots for social media made up 10 percent of my business [in 2014] now it is a third and growing, because people are increasingly going for a more professional shot, and you can tell by the clarity of the image," Kiren said.

LinkedIn highlights the importance of photos for businesses and professionals; of its 8 million users in Australia, those with profile pictures were 21 times more likely to be viewed than those without an image in 2015.

However, the site advises users to choose their image wisely - saying to have no picture is better than displaying the wrong one.

LinkedIn advises to avoid the common slip-ups in profile pictures: group photos, blurred images, inappropriate clothing or makeup, and holding pets or drinks - unless you're a vet or barista.

In addition to headshots for corporate networking sites like LinkedIn, Kiren says online daters are upping the ante, with many now spending in excess of $2000 for a professional photo shoot to use on dating apps like Tinder.

"People prioritise falling in love, so they will pay that money and see it as an investment... we are also meeting less face to face these days, so sometimes a photo online can be how you get to know someone in business or personally."

Wherever you direct your efforts, whether a personal or professional endeavour, remember: there is always the option to deactivate.

Want to find out the secret to small business success? Tune into #BizSecretsSBS at Sundays 5pm on SBS, stream on SBS Demand, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Related Reading
The businesses that Gotta Catch 'em All
In 2016, Pokemon made a sudden and dramatic return to public consciousness, well after its '90's heyday - and small businesses are cashing in.