Social media may have been thought of as a fad even up to 2-3 years ago, but it is apparent now that networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter can be major sales drivers for small businesses.
By targeting your messaging to your specific niche or local area, social media can be a great way to reach your market in a new way. Helping capture more exposure goes beyond local listings and your website, and social media is worth the effort of maintenance and, in some cases, even paid campaigns.
How to Drive Sales Through Social Media
Facebook became the fastest growing social network in its ten year history and is still now the most used social network, with the majority of the population that spends time online having an account.
There are over 1 billion users worldwide and over 180 million users in the United States alone— almost 60% of the population, according to  iStrategyLabs. Facebook has become a mainstay cultural and social way to communicate in our society, and there are many features Facebook offers that can help small businesses reach the large percentage of the population that uses this social platform.
Facebook offers a variety of different advertising options for businesses:
The page post engagement allows advertisers to boost posts they’ve already written on their Facebook page to increase engagement. The rest of the options are relatively self-explanatory, and advertisers only pay when a user actually clicks on the ad or completes the engagement action (such as liking the advertiser’s page when choosing the Page Likes option).
When building an ad, advertisers can choose the headline, ad text, and images. The Facebook page header and profile photo are already automatically pulled in, but new images can also be uploaded. Once the ad layout is chosen, the audience targeting section allows advertisers to choose the location, age, gender, language interests, and categories of the users they want to target.
This is perfect for small businesses, as they can target either a specific area if they are a local business, or specific interests and categories if their product is farther-reaching. The more specifically the audience is outlined, the more personalized the ad will be for that specific type of user, which will help increase click through rate and a higher conversion rate.
Giveaways can be a good way to get qualified leads from Facebook. Use a giveaway widget like Rafflecopter . It can be embedded into a tab on your Facebook page, and offer options for users on how to enter the contest for a relative prize (if you don’t want to give away any of your own products or services, technology like Kindles and iPads are always popular giveaway items as well).
Rafflecopter offers options like “Like us on Facebook” or “Join Our Mailing List” in order to enter. While this isn’t bringing in guaranteed sales, it can increase brand awareness and get consumers to connect with your business online. This kind of top-of-mind strategy can help generate more sales down the road, especially when promoted on other online mediums, like Twitter, Pinterest, your website or through email.
When it comes to many online giveaway services like Rafflecopter, once the contest is over, you can see the email addresses of everyone who enters. These leads may be more qualified than a cold calling list, as they have already engaged with your product. If you do plan to contact these leads, be sure to make it known above the contest form that they are consenting when they enter.
Finally, Facebook has a lot of terms and conditions, so it is important to follow these in order to stay in accordance  with the policies.
Regular Facebook Updates and Engagement
Besides paying for advertising and giveaway items, regular Facebook updates and engagement on your company’s page can also help drive sales. By posting a healthy mixture of relative information, photos, and trivia that your target audience would find interesting and promoting your own products, many businesses have found that Facebook can be a good driver of leads to their own website.
In addition, many users see a regularly updated Facebook page as a sign of a reputable business (especially when it is a local storefront business that has the correct location, hours, and services listed) and are more likely to visit or make a purchase.
Facebook can also be used as a customer service tool, as many users take to the social platform (and others) to ask questions and get help with products. Answering these questions and comments can help increase page engagement and brand trust.
To learn more about how businesses of all sizes have used Facebook, here’s a great list  of case studies.
LinkedIn is another social network that was built for businesses and professionals to promote their products and services. With over 277 million users around the world  and 93 million of them in the United States, LinkedIn is a great way to reach potential customers through multiple sections on the site, including groups, personal profile networks, and company pages.
The majority of LinkedIn users have joined at least one group (with many in more than one), so groups are a great way to look for potential leads, build brand awareness, and participate in local or industry discussions  that could directly influence your business and its sales.
Look for groups to join in the Groups Directory, and also take advantage of the “Groups You May Be Interested In” option that is based on your past group history and personal profile. Join groups that have an active discussion section and consider joining LinkedIn groups  that are company-sponsored, especially if they are a target client or cater to similar audiences.
Participate in the group in a regular basis by answering questions and offering your own products and services when it is directly applicable. Being too salesy can turn people off of what you have to say, so make messages genuine and offer your own business only when it would really help.
LinkedIn Personal Profile Optimization
Personalized messaging on groups is also part of maintaining a personal profile , which can help you and your employees find new leads on a regular basis. By updating regularly and sending out connection requests to new people you’ve met in your network, you and your employees’ profiles will be more visible to potential and current customers, which can help keep your business top-of-mind and make it easy for them to contact you.
Be sure all profile information is filled out, including website, email, and phone numbers. By offering multiple methods of contact or finding out more information, potential customers are more likely to connect with you.
Finding LinkedIn Leads
Waiting for customers to find your small business via personal profiles can be fruitful, but so is actively reaching out to potential customers in a helpful, not disingenuous, way. If you’ve met a potential client through a networking event, at your office, or otherwise, it can strengthen the relationship to then add them on LinkedIn with a personal note that reminds them how you two met or know one another.
While it’s not advisable to add people you don’t know, building up a good network of people you do can help you find connections in common that can make for a useful introduction.
While LinkedIn is all about connecting with people that you do know, Twitter is mainly about connecting with people that you don’t. Due to its fast-paced nature, Twitter is a great way to reach customers in a quick way that can create instant results. Twitter currently has  about 232 million users that are active on at least a monthly basis.
While this social platform can be useful for local businesses (especially when it comes to using coupons or exclusive specials), Twitter is great for small businesses who want to connect with people around the United States and the world.
By sharing relevant industry content (such as links to interesting news and blog articles or infographics), tidbits of information (like statistics and quotes), and self-promotion, Twitter can help a business establish credibility, share their own content and information, and connect with their existing and potential user base, either in a customer service or regular engagement role.
Twitter Ad Campaigns
Like Facebook, Twitter also has its own ad campaign that allows advertisers to showcase sponsored tweets or to gain more followers. Once they run a campaign, advertisers are able to see impression, spend and click data in their ad dashboard:
Promoted tweets can be new tweets you haven’t sent before or ones you have. For small businesses, it can be useful to promote tweets that give exclusive coupons (which is discussed in more detail later) or insight on new products and services.
Additionally, gaining more followers can help increase your online presence and get your message out to more users. This can help drive more traffic to your website, which can increase conversions.
Twitter Hashtags to Drive Engagement
Organic tweets with hashtags can help drive your content to the additional followers gained from a paid follower campaign. Tweets with hashtags get two times more engagement than those who don’t, according to a syndicated Buffer article  on the Huffington Post. This is because many people search by hashtags (since it makes a word clickable), thus opening up the possibility that more people are going to see your tweet than just your followers.
Hashtag keywords in your tweet and don’t use more than two in one tweet—people who did that saw a 17% drop in engagement.
To see the type of activity that is happening on a particular hashtag, search for it at Search.Twitter.com . This can also be a good way to participate in conversations with users that you aren’t following yet. By reaching out to participate in conversation, they will be more likely to check out your profile, leading to more followers and traffic to your website (which is linked in your Twitter bio).
Twitter Custom Coupons and Promotions
Coupons and promotions can be a great way to drive sales and conversions on any type of social media, not just Twitter. Create a sense of urgency by making the coupon or promo code only good for a limited amount of time. Tracking is easy when you use an exclusive coupon or code for each type of social network as well.
When customers know that your Twitter account (or other social media profile) regularly shares exclusive deals, they will be much more likely to engage with it, following the account and telling their friends.
Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all viable options for small businesses to generate leads and sales online. Businesses that have social media profiles are much more likely to be found than those who don’t have any at all, and maintaining an active presence on these networks further increases your odds of greater sales and conversions.
By experimenting with a mixture of organic content, giveaways, coupons and advertising campaigns, you can find the best strategy that works for your small business.
Social Media  Photo via Shutterstock