Social Media Success: What Small Business Can Learn From Big Brands

Do You Manage Social Media for Small Business?

If you manage social media for small business, you know that social media and the Web continue to be important for small organizations, freelancers, and entrepreneurs; in fact, more so than ever. Your website and online presence can make or break you as they are many potential customers’ first impression of you and your business.

We can learn a lot from large brands, most of whom have large-scale marketing operations or teams. If you’re like me, you’re a team of one, with too much to do and too little time.

I like to study others who do use social media for small business and see how I and others like me can adapt their strategies. Here are three brands — one small local shop and two national companies — I think do online very well and some lessons we can learn and adapt.

Three Small Business Social Media Case Studies: Brands Who Do The Internet Well

 Muddy’s Bake Shop, Memphis, Tennessee

This is a local Memphis business and they are beloved in the city and beyond. They are down to earth and friendly, and have a great sense of humor. And the baked goods are … just amazing.

social media for small business
Muddy’s posts photos of seriously delicious treats without being overly promotional and salesy. Fun captions and great photos engage the audience.
social media for small business

Muddy’s understands how to use social media for small business. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving Day, Muddy’s solicited user-generated content with the hashtag #ThanksFromMuddys, prompting visitors to the store to post for photos and share things they are thankful for. Content was shared on social profiles and in their email marketing.

Takeaways For Us Small Guys

  • Though they do share photos of what they sell, the captions are fun and lighthearted, not hard sell.
  • Muddy’s is involved with the community and is a positive voice.
  • Their blog features new offerings or specials, often with stories about the recipes.
  • Check out their website; it sets the tone with a sense of fun and whimsy.
  • Branding is consistent across channels and they have wisely chosen which networks work for them.
  • Use holidays and special occasions to your advantage; note that the Thanks From Muddy’s posts are not about Muddy’s; they are about the customers.
  • Bios on each social platform are slightly different, but all engaging and warm.

Find Muddy’s Online: FacebookTwitterInstagram Pinterest

 Whole Foods

This large brand’s online presence is clearly the result of a team. Let’s start with their website. Notice how reader focused the navigation is. The Show Me links: Food, People, Planet. Then in the center: I want to: Learn, Do. And on the right: Our Stories, Your Stories. These links draw the reader in — who doesn’t want to learn?

Always list benefits for your reader rather than features of your product; it’s much more personal and engaging. Use language your reader would use rather than jargon or corporatespeak.

social media for small business

Whole Foods, like Muddy’s, is using hashtags well this holiday season. With #MyHolidayTradish, they encourage readers to share their holiday traditions on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag. Here’s the result from their Instagram hashtag search. They’ve also got a special holiday microsite at Tradish.WholeFoodsMarket.com.

social media for small business

Takeaways for Us Small Guys

  • You may not have the resources for a microsite like Whole Foods’ but what about a special page or section on your site to highlight a seasonal aspect of your business? Or a community event you can get involved in?
  • Their content across six social networks (listed below) is varied in its format; video, images, recipes and more.
  • Repurpose content across platforms. A blog post on your website can be complemented by a short video demonstrating a recipe, and a pin with mouth-watering photos and directions.
  • Try a hashtag user-generated content campaign — this is easy to do and gives you more content to share as well.
  • Think of ways your website can be more user focused. Can you replace some of your “About Me” language with calls to action?

Find Whole Foods Online: Facebook Twitter PinterestInstagramYouTubeSnapchat 

 National Geographic

We all love looking at beautiful photographs of places we may never get to see on our own. Spectacular photos of space, unfriendly terrain and wild animals that drop jaws and make us gasp in wonder. Not surprisingly, their website is gorgeous.

social media for small business

As do our other case study examples, National Geographic makes use of user-generated content with their Your Shot blog. The blog features reader-submitted photographs that are curated by NatGeo photo editors, who also offer expert photography tips. The top submissions appear on the site and in the magazine.

social media for small business

The menu, at the right of the image, directs the reader to specific interest areas on the site. Each section is full of stunning, high quality images that capture the eye and the mind.

Even their email signup box is well done. Let us take your breath away. What a great call to action.

social media for small business

The Photo of the Day feature is now exclusively reader-generated content.

social media for small business

Takeaways for Us Small Guys:

  • NatGeo’s visual content is perhaps their most obvious draw, but the articles are excellent as well. If your business is visually oriented, use great images to draw readers in for your written and video content.
  • Their Instagram account features numerous closeup photos of people and animals to grab attention. NatGeo has obviously dedicated a lot of thought to the content that works best for each platform.
  • They generate enough content to post unique images on each social platform; most of us aren’t that fortunate. However, we can repurpose, use a different angle of each photo.
  • The Your Shot blog is one of the most popular features on National Geographic’s website. The blog features trending topics along with the beautiful photography. Take advantage of trends and use them to your advantage where it fits your mission and purpose.
  • Design is at the forefront. The website features minimal text; most of which is black, white or gray, and a clean sans-serif font is used throughout. When your content is beautiful, don’t overwhelm it with overly decorative text or graphics; let the images speak for themselves.

Find NatGeo Online: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Common Threads

As I’ve studied these three brands and considered their overall online presence, some common threads emerge that any organization can learn from.

  • Thoughtful consideration of how design can complement a brand makes all the difference in the world. Muddy’s Bakeshop’s lighthearted, colorful look; NatGeo’s spare design that makes the images pop; and Whole Foods’ colorful layouts, all boost the brands and don’t overwhelm. Although very different, all fit their audience and company mission. Your design should perpetuate the business goals of your site and social presence and not distract.
  • Consistency between website and social profiles. These brands’ social profiles complement their websites and clearly identify the brand. If you removed the name from each profile, you’d probably still be able to recognize them just by the graphic elements and the tone of their posts.
  • Careful consideration of and choosing the optimal social profiles. Each of these brands has chosen social networks that work best for their needs rather than trying to be everywhere. They spend the most energy and save the best content for those platforms. It’s OK to skip a network that just doesn’t fit you or requires an inordinate amount of effort to make it work. This is why I’m not on Pinterest.

Study these and other brands you admire and see what principles you can adapt for your own situation. There’s always something to learn.

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  1. Shari Eberts

    Great tips. Thanks for showing us how we can learn from the big guys.

    • beth g sanders

      Thanks, Shari! Glad you enjoyed. It was fun to write.

  2. Beth @GrannyBeth3

    All these tips sound so simple, but as a beginning blogger they are hard to do. I strive for the community feel of Muddy’s and that Whole Foods user focuse but…?

    • beth g sanders

      You’re right, Beth (great name, BTW!), it’s not easy. It takes time and learning about your audience, their needs, preferences, and what sort of content they respond to. Lots of trial and error. Sometimes surveys can give you an idea of what’s important to your readers.

      Hang in there – keep trying and always be willing to adapt to what your audience does/does not respond to. In fact, I’m sitting here on my 30th wedding anniversary fixing a landing page that seems to have bombed. I feel ya!

  3. Jeannine

    Great tips and observations. I think it’s a little bit art, a little bit science and a whole lot of client love.

    • beth g sanders

      Jeannine, that’s a great way to put it! Very true.


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