Fact: social media sites drive over 31% of all referral traffic on the Internet.
That is a huge amount.
It’s on a similar level with search referral traffic:
So, if you pay attention to SEO, doesn’t it make sense to pay the same attention to social media as well?
You might have already known that.
But where should you focus your attention? That’s the big question.
People use the same two or three search engines for all of their needs, but they use different social networks to cover different aspects of their lives.
The same person may use LinkedIn for their professional life, Facebook to keep up with friends, Twitter to get the latest news, and Instagram and Pinterest to share pictures.
But there are other social networks, smaller ones, that have other uses as well.
And although they are “smaller,” they still have tens or hundreds of thousands of users. If a large percentage of these users is in your target audience, that should justify being active on that network.
Here’s the big benefit of smaller networks: barely any other business uses them!
Think about it. The biggest businesses need a huge audience, so they stick to the biggest social networks.
The small and medium sized businesses typically just copy the big businesses (or most of them do).
That’s how just about everyone ends up on Facebook or Twitter.
They’re good networks, for sure, and can benefit most businesses. But imagine if you could’ve been the first business in your niche on Facebook?
With absolutely no competition, you could have quickly amassed followers and driven large amounts of traffic to your website in no time.
That’s essentially your opportunity with smaller networks.
You can be the biggest (or only) fish in the pond.
That means faster results, better results, and more profit.
But that leads to one problem:
All the social media strategy guides and tools are designed for the “big” social networks. How are you supposed to know what to do?
Although I can’t get you a specific guide for every network out there (there are thousands), I can walk you through the process of creating a strategy that you can use with any social network, step by step.
This process will work on just about every social network out there.
Finding smaller social networks
One of the reasons why very few businesses take advantage of the smaller networks is because they are harder to find than the ones that everyone talks about.
Expect to have to dig around for 30-60 minutes to find the best one for your business.
Keep in mind that you don’t need a network to have millions of users to make it a good target for your marketing.
And there are hundreds of social networks that fit this criteria, so it’s just a matter of finding the right one(s) for your business.
A good starting place is this Wikipedia list, which has about 100 different networks. Each network has a description to help you determine whether it might be right for you.
An important note: don’t expect every network to look and act like Facebook and Twitter.
At first, you might not be sure if you can find a way to turn users into customers, but in most cases there’s a way if you’re willing to be creative (more on that later).
Right now, just worry about finding a few networks that are likely to have your target audience.
Here’s another list of 91 social networks for even more ideas.
What networks are based around: All networks have their own purpose—their own sort of niche(s).
Ideally, you’re looking for networks that align with your business’ niche(s).
Most networks are based on certain types of interactions, interests, or locations. Most are a combination of the three.
For example, Badoo is a social network with 20 million active users, but it’s mainly popular in Latin America and certain European countries such as Italy and Spain.
Or consider Meetup, which allows people in certain cities to create groups around interests. This is a great network for local businesses because you can engage people in your area in person.
Finally, Classmates is a network dedicated to reconnecting with high school friends. It’s essentially one specific part of Facebook.
There are many networks that are location independent. They focus on specific interests. They can get really specific.
For example, Ravelry is a social network for people who love knitting. If you owned a business related to knitting, you couldn’t find a better place to interact with your audience.
For now, write down all the networks you think might have your target audience. Throughout the rest of this post, I’ll show you how to verify whether it’s a good network to spend your time on or not.
Step 1: Spy on your target users
Once you’ve chosen a few networks to check out, you can start learning about them.
When you first see a specific social network in action, it can be a bit overwhelming. You won’t “get” it.
But if you spend a bit of time there, you’ll understand how the site works and how users interact with each other, which is where the opportunity is.
The plan is always to find ways to connect with your target audience and then get them back to your website whenever possible.
I recommend spending at least a few days learning about a network before you do any further testing.
And since it can be overwhelming, here’s how I would break it down into smaller steps.
Component #1 – Establish the basics: Before you can understand the deeper motivations of users, you need to understand the basic mechanics of the site.
For a network such as Facebook, this would include understanding what certain things are or mean, like:
- status updates
Although these smaller networks don’t often have marketing guides written about them, most will have some sort of tutorial you can read to help you out.
For example, if you Google:
how tumblr works or how to use tumblr
you will find several guides and videos, offering explanations of the main functions of the site.
The same goes for most networks. Here are the results for Meetup:
At the very minimum, every successful site has some sort of help documentation where you can look up the functions of certain buttons or definitions of site’s terms.
Component #2 – Learn how users interact: Learning what the major parts of the network are will tell you the main purpose of the network from the user’s point of view.
But you want to dig beyond “people use Meetup to meet people with common interests.”
It’s important to know not only what they do but also why and how they do it.
Eventually, you will be interacting with users, and you want to be able to do it just like any other experienced member of the site.
For example, on Ravelry (the knitting network), I would’ve first learned that all users have their own project boards. This is where they post pictures for knitting project ideas:
This is one of the first places where I spotted user interaction. As you can see, below each thumbnail, there are comments.
If you click a project picture, you can see those comments:
Just from a few comments, it’s clear that users talk very casually, using things like emoticons. At the same time, they use proper grammar like commas, periods, and capitalization.
During this phase of your research, you just want to notice which topics come up the most and how most users express themselves about those topics.
You need to keep reading and studying the interactions until you are able to reply just like any other user of the network.
Component #3 – Learn how businesses use it to drive traffic: This component is a bit trickier.
It can be hard to figure out the best way to get users of a site over to your website.
To make it easier, you can look for businesses already on the network. Study them to find out how they connect their social profiles and activities with their website.
For example, Pinterest has a search function, where you can type a keyword related to your niche:
This brings up a selection of “pins,”—the images that users share.
Looking through the posts, I found that a brand “Social Media Examiner” had an account.
By examining their activity on the site, I could see that they primarily used the network to drive followers to their blog by posting pins that linked back to their blog posts:
If I was going to give Pinterest a go, I could employ this tactic.
But what if you can’t find any businesses?
That’s a difficult situation.
On the one hand, it could just be because no one in your niche had the thought to try out that particular network.
Or it could be because they tried but couldn’t make it work.
Either way, you’re starting from scratch.
What you want to do is pinpoint as many types of interaction on the network as possible where users can click a link.
Eventually, you will need them to follow a link to go back to your website.
Back to Ravelry as an example: there’s a private and very active forum for users:
Within the forum, I saw several links pointing to external sites, which means that there would be opportunities to post links back to blog posts or straight to products:
As long as you can find at least one realistic path of getting users back to your website, the network has potential, and you have the foundations of a strategy.
Step 2: Test the waters
At this point, you should have a basic understanding of how the social network actually works.
Don’t worry if you’re not a master of it—you can always learn from your own mistakes.
The final 5 steps in this post are to get your strategy in gear. I’ve broken it up to make it simpler and less intimidating to follow.
For this step, you’re going to create your account and start establishing your presence on the network(s) of your choice.
Although I don’t recommend using too many social networks at the end of this process, it’s fine to try out three or four for now and narrow down your choice later.
Phase #1 – Create an account: Every single social network will have a signup link somewhere on the homepage. Fill in your standard information like email and password.
Somewhere in this process, you will be asked to pick a username. This is where your research comes into play.
Did you see obvious brands on your social network? If so, feel free to sign up with a name that reflects your brand, e.g., “Quick Sprout.”
However, if you’ve never seen a brand name account, it’s likely because users don’t like it. So, create a personal profile instead, either with your own name or a made up username.
Phase #2 – Seed it with basic content: Once you’ve done that, your next step is to customize your profile. You want to make it as appealing to your target audience as possible. Usually, this will entail making it look as natural as possible.
When someone views your profile, they should enjoy it. Don’t stick to a plain avatar and no description. Take 20 minutes to create a good-looking detailed profile.
On tumblr, as an example, you can customize your blog:
You can change blog settings as well, but for now you would be considered with the theme:
Give your page a title that represents your profile, similarly to how all the most popular users you’ve studied have done it.
Do the same with the description and avatar picture:
Most social networks have some element of public posting. Now would be a good time to make a few quick blog posts or status updates to make your account look legitimate.
Phase #3 – Connect with anyone you know: I’ve said it before: social media is all about connecting with people. That’s why users use the site.
So, if you belong to any social network but you have zero connections there, it’ll be hard to get a benefit from your efforts.
If it’s a general network like Tagged or Uplike, try to connect with anyone that you actually know on the network to start.
Obviously, these are smaller networks, and you might not know very many people there. That’s okay.
The best way to make new connections is to “follow,” “friend,” or use whatever connection mechanism the site has, to connect with people with a certain interest.
For example, if you were looking to get active on Meetup, you have to join groups to interact with people in them.
If you were selling SEO services, you’d probably want to join groups dedicated to local small business or entrepreneurs. If you’re connecting with someone because of a common interest, it’s clear to them why you want to connect, and most will be happy to.
Finally, you could also send an email to your email list. Since you’ve already identified that your target audience might like this network, you could invite them to join it and connect with you.
Just send them an email like this:
Subject: I just discovered something amazing…
After years of looking for a great (niche) community, I finally found one.
I stumbled upon a social network called (name of site) a little while ago. So far, it’s impressing me.
(Describe a positive aspect of the network that your subscriber would be interested in).
If you’re interested in joining (it’s free, of course), here’s the signup link: (URL).
Create an account, and then send me a friend invite (my username is (username)).
See you there,
Your goal here is to start building some connections and followers. You don’t need hundreds or thousands—just try to get a few dozen for now.
Step 3: Time to answer a HUGE question
Here’s what you need at this point: an account plus a plan to get users to your website.
If you need help with a plan, review this social media strategy, and then modify it to suit your network.
The huge question that you need to answer right now is:
Do you want to commit to this network for several months?
The reason why this is so important is because your results on almost any social network will be slow at first. It’s only after consistently being active and executing your strategy that you will be able to drive significant traffic.
So, if you don’t think you could do it for longer than 5-6 months, you might as well not start.
That’s the mentality you need to possess to succeed with your plan.
Let me illustrate this for you…
If you go to my Facebook page right now (just search “Neil Patel” on Facebook), you’ll see that even in the worst-case scenario, I still get over 100 likes and several shares. Note that only a small percentage of traffic actually “likes” the share, so it drives considerably more:
That seems good, right?
I think so. And you’d probably love to be able to drive thousands of visitors to your website every month through social media. But it wasn’t always like this.
Unless you’re willing to invest in advertising to get followers on a network, it takes a lot of time to gain traction.
I started the page at the end of 2009. You can still see those posts with only a handful of likes and shares:
A few years later, I started getting a few dozen likes on each post. At this point, I could drive a decent amount of traffic.
By the end of 2014, I could finally get around 100 likes for each post:
Keep in mind, though, I didn’t grow my page as fast as I could have. It wasn’t my main focus.
So, if you commit to a good strategy and follow it, you’ll get there a lot faster, but it will still take time.
You need to be patient and be willing to keep working for months even without seeing much in the way of results. They start slow but grow faster and faster over time (like a snowball).
Step 4: The most important key to social media success
Do you get it?
How you execute your strategy on a consistent basis will either make you or break you. That’s why I devoted an entire section to it.
Besides having the right mindset, you’ll also need other things, namely content.
Not all social media sites are built on content, but most are.
And when I say content, I’m talking about articles and guides that you can share with the network community through your profile…just like you would by posting on Facebook or tumblr.
Part #1 – Decide what kind of content you need: You probably already know this because of your earlier research.
Figure out what role content plays in the way users interact.
On the knitting network, users shared tutorials and tips on the forum. Sharing good content there could help you build up your reputation and make more connections.
On tumblr, you share content by posting it to your blog. You can even repost entire blog posts there as long as you credit the author.
On networks more similar to Facebook and Twitter, you need short messages to share. Some will be short descriptions with a link to a blog post, but some will be interesting messages like inspirational quotes.
Once you know what type of content you’ll need, move on to the next part.
Part #2 – Find proven content that attracts shares: The first goal of sharing content is to share something that your followers and community actually value.
When you do that consistently, it does many good things. It:
- first creates, then deepens your relationship with your followers
- helps you become more respected in the community
- allows you to drive traffic to great resources
- optional: allows you to build relationships with the authors of the content you share (extra bonus!)
The reason the last point is optional is because you could, in theory, create all the content that you share yourself.
I don’t recommend it.
It can actually hurt your standing in the network because it will look like you’re only sharing content to drive users back to your site, not to benefit them.
Additionally, it would take a ton of time.
By sharing great content that others have created, you get all the benefits of sharing content without having to spend time making it yourself.
So yes, you should share your own content, but you should also share a lot of content from others, providing credit as needed.
Where do you find content?
You can find it in many places, but here are three sources that will work for any niche.
First is Feedly, an RSS reader.
You can use Feedly to stay on top of all the latest blog posts in your industry:
To use it, create an account, and search for your niche in the search bar:
You will also be given the option of choosing from a “starter kit.” Either will work.
Start adding all the sites that you know produce awesome content on a regular basis. Just click the plus button beside the site’s name:
With Feedly, you can review all the latest content quickly and then share the best posts.
Source #2 is Reddit. More specifically, you can find great content in subreddits (which are Reddit’s categories).
If you’re not familiar with Reddit, read my beginner’s guide to marketing on Reddit.
Then, find a subreddit (or more) that your target audience would belong to. For example, if you run a home improvement site, your target audience is probably interested in do it yourself (DIY) projects.
By visiting the DIY subreddit, you can see all the posts that users have voted on. If a piece of content gets a lot of upvotes, that means it is liked by most of the community. This makes it perfect for sharing on other networks:
Finally, you can also use Topsy, which is basically a Twitter search engine.
Enter your keyword, and look through the results. You will see how many other people have tweeted a specific link. More tweets mean that it’s more popular, which makes it—most likely—a good piece of content to share.
You can use any one or combination of these tools to find great content that your target audience will appreciate.
Part #4 – Determine with what frequency you need to participate to achieve your goals:
Every network is different when it comes to posting frequency.
You don’t want to post so much that you annoy your followers, but you need to post enough so that you get the benefits of posting: a potentially bigger audience and more followers.
To figure out how often you should post, you’ll have to test different frequencies.
To start with, look at the most popular users (say 10-20), and record the number of posts per week they make.
Find an average of those numbers, and start with this frequency.
Step 5: If you’re serious about success, you need to find a way to do this
What’s the key to social media success?
Consistency (just reminding you).
So, now that you know what content and how much of it you need to post, you need to come up with a system that will help keep you on track.
The two components of such a system are: its efficiency and ease of implementation.
Having to log in and make a post every X hours is not easy or efficient. You’ll likely miss some posts that you’d like to make, which will slow down your results.
Luckily, there are some ways to design a system that’s better, mostly through automation.
Determine what can and should be automated: It would be great if everything could be automated because it would take no time on your part, but it can’t be.
Some things can’t or shouldn’t be automated:
- Curating content – don’t just share any content. Take the time to read posts so that you can share the best ones.
- Interacting with users – you can’t automate authentic conversation. If you’re ever commenting or messaging a user, do it yourself.
What can be automated, however, is the actual posting of the content. You can do all the curating beforehand and then have it posted automatically.
Streamline manual processes: Just because something has to be done manually doesn’t mean it has to be inefficient.
Instead of having to remember to do something on a regular basis and then doing all the steps, you can do the steps in batches.
Batching is a productivity technique, where you do the same task many times in one sitting.
This reduces time spent switching between tasks and helps you get “in the zone” while working.
When it comes to your social media strategy, pick a day once every week or two to curate content. Find as many posts as you’ll need for those weeks so that you can just schedule them to be posted.
You can either schedule these with a tool right away (more on that in a second) or do what Buffer does—create a schedule in a spreadsheet that you can later upload into a tool for bulk-scheduling your posts:
And as for interaction, don’t constantly check your account for new notifications.
Instead, set a time or two, like first thing in the morning and last part of the working day, to check your account and reply to your followers.
Automation option #1 – Use a tool: To get your content posted automatically, you’ll need some sort of a tool.
Ideally, you would use an existing tool.
The problem is that the major tools, such as Buffer, Hootsuite, etc., only support the biggest social networks.
In other words, they aren’t very useful here.
You can search for:
schedule (network) posts
to see if anyone else has a solution, but you may have to move on to the next option.
Automation option #2 – Create your own tool: Most social networks allow you to post via an API, which makes it fairly easy for a programmer to create a simple tool.
Since you don’t need anything pretty, you can get a simple scheduler made for less than a few hundred dollars.
Considering that this tool will save you hours every week, it’s worth it.
If you see that other people are also looking for a tool for your network of choice, you could also opt to make a more polished tool and potentially sell it. Note that this will raise the cost by quite a bit.
Step 6: Your strategy needs to be refined
It took me years of trial and error to figure out how to create a solid system for the big social media sites. And it’s still not perfect.
Your strategy is likely good if you followed all the research steps, but it could always be improved.
And just a few small improvements can lead to a much faster growth rate in the long run.
So, how do you refine a system?
As you use the network more, you might notice that some things you’re doing aren’t as effective as they should be.
However, the best way to refine a system is by using data. Data doesn’t lie.
Here’s what you should do:
- Pick important metrics to track
- Follow your strategy for 30 days
- Evaluate results based on metrics
- Test changes and repeat #2-4
To start with, you’ll need to pick a few metrics to track. I recommend two to four.
When I say important, I mean pick those that influence the amount of traffic you can drive to your site. Even if you’re not driving much traffic now, it will make a big difference in the future.
Using Facebook as an example, I can tell you that the important metrics are:
- Page likes – the more page likes, the bigger the audience that I can share my content with (and that can click through)
- Status likes – friends of followers who like a post also see it, potentially growing my audience
- Status shares – the more shares, the wider my reach
- Comments – more interaction will add social proof to my content
Metrics are pretty similar across different networks, but make sure you’re focusing on those that can influence your traffic later on.
Now, you just need to collect data by running your initial strategy. Thirty days is a good test period.
At the end, check your metrics. See how many shares and likes you’re getting. If it’s not as much as you’d like, come up with an idea to improve your system.
It may be to post more, post different content, connect with different types of people, and so on.
Then, do another cycle of 30 days. If the results improve, integrate the change into your system, and come up with a new idea.
Always keep trying to refine and improve your system.
Social media sites are one of the best sources of traffic.
But just because a network isn’t named Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean it can’t help your business.
Smaller social networks often have far fewer marketers on them than larger ones do, which makes any type of marketing on them much more effective.
If you follow the steps I laid out for you in this post, you can find golden opportunities to establish yourself as a big fish in a small pond.
Even small networks can drive thousands of visitors per month to your website if you do some work.
If you have any experience with marketing on small social media sites or you have a question, let me know in a comment below.