Social media can have a big impact on small businesses. Unfortunately, it’s not just about publishing a few posts and nice graphics. To really stand-out on a small business budget, your business has to understand its target customer, build great content and take a bit of a guerilla marketing approach to build experiences and programs that foster community and credibility.

Here is what I have seen work in my own business and also via the research I do monitoring social media and mobile marketing trends. Below is a high-level summary of my recent Business Bites 2.0: Marketing On A Shoestring session. The session was put together by the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Rhode Island Avenue Main Street to help DC small businesses to leverage social media to grow their businesses.

STEP ONE: Get to know your industry space before you market

Instagram Search

Define your target customers, the competition and what’s working well in your space. Craft stories that exemplify why your target audience should choose you and your business. This will drive the content and marketing actions you’ll invest time in.

Top Tips:

Your target: Take a highly targeted approach to understanding who your customer is and refine your message and marketing efforts to maximize communication.

  • What motivates your customer?
  • What are the use cases for your product?
  • Who influences your customer the most?
  • Why should they care about what you do?

The competition: Understand the competition so you can stand out and be noticed.

  • What social accounts and tactics do your competition use? Which are working?
  • Are there gaps in what your competition is doing?
  • Is the competition building community, who is paying attention to them?
  • Whose social efforts stand out in your space? Are there indirect competitors who are doing a great job in your topic area that you can learn from?

The conversation: Identify the conversations, communities and influencers so your efforts add value and build credibility.

  • What, who and why users are sharing content about a topic related to your business? What words, hashtags and content are they using?
  • Who is driving the conversation? Why are they standing out?
  • What themes do you notice?

Tools that can help:

  • Topsy: Search what people are posting on topics relevant to your business, your brand and your top competition (e.g. top local ice cream parlors). Check-out who is influential and what is working content-wise in your specific space.
  • Google search: Do a keyword search on businesses to identify the words customers are using to find businesses like yours. See who is ranking high and take a close look at what they are doing.
  • Instagram/Twitter search: Search by location and topic to see the conversations and communities interested in your space.

STEP TWO: Create great content: Creating value-added content for your community is the best way to ensure that your content will be shared.

Here are top strategies being used by local DC businesses that work:

  1. Showcase your expertise: Auron Sauders of Clearly Innovative hosts events to share his knowledge about building mobile apps. He consistently produces high-quality slideshares showcasing his expertise. It’s a great example of what works in the B2B space.

Clearly Innovative Slideshare


  1. Highlight the stories and people behind your business: Union Market does a great job of showcasing the stories behind their business on their Instagram feed. They regular showcase their vendors and the local DC food startup culture.

Union Market Instagram


  1. Share your customers’ images and post: More powerful than what you share is what your customers share about your business. Monitoring who is talking about your business and re-posting is a top priority for any business owner. Barcelona Wine and Bar Grill does a great job of re-sharing their customers post in fun ways.

Barcelona Instagram Post

  1. Make your social followers insiders: offer insider details and deals to make being a follower a rewarding experience. Georgetown Cupcakes offer a daily secret cupcake flavor across its social pages to offer insiders a free cupcake if they know the flavor.

Georgetown cupcake


  1. Build community: Fleet Feet founded in DC and now with over 100 retail locations is not just a running shoe business, it’s a community hub for local runners. By making it a priority to give back to the runner community, they have built a powerful group of advocates.

Fleet Feet Instagram Post


Here are some free and easy-to-use tools that can help businesses build great content:

For additional tips on how to use social media to grow your business, see the online session slides below.


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