Person standing in front of a neon purple background smiling down at a phone.
Business owners explain how their use of various social media tools, like Facebook Messenger and Instagram Live, have helped increase and improve community engagement. — Getty Images/Deagreez

Why it matters:

  • Facebook and Instagram are so ubiquitous that they have become default communications channels for many consumers.
  • More than two-thirds of consumers — 69% — said they are more confident in a brand when they can message them directly, according to Facebook and Instagram parent Meta.
  • Social media tools such as Facebook groups, Instagram Live sessions and chat apps help businesses build community with their consumer base, crowdsource ideas and content and respond to customer-service needs in real time, SMBs say.

Small businesses are leveraging social media to create community, facilitate direct communication and improve customer service, according to panelists on a webinar about the use of Facebook and Instagram for businesses held by Meta, parent of Facebook, and attended by CO—.

Three business owners discussed how they use Facebook Messenger and other social media tools to help run their businesses during the panel discussion, “Messenger: Small Business, Big Influence.”

“If there’s one thing a business can control, it’s the way they communicate with each person who decides to engage with their business,” said Anayo Awuzie, product marketing and communications manager at Meta, the recently renamed parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Panelists agreed that Facebook and Instagram are so commonly used by their customers that it just makes sense to leverage those platforms for communication, often in lieu of email or phone.

Here are three tips for small business owners to leverage these social media platforms’ communications tools successfully:

Create community via Facebook groups and Instagram Live sessions

At Sistah Scifi, an online bookstore specializing in science fiction and other genres written by Black and Native American women, interaction among customers and content creators is at the heart of the brand, said Isis Asare, founder and CEO.

From virtual book clubs to livestreamed conversations with authors, the company is in a constant state of relationship-building.

“I ask myself all the time: What can I do to make it easier for my community to connect with me, to connect with each other, and ultimately, to connect?” said Asare.

Similarly, Elnaz Sarraf, founder and CEO of Roybi, a maker of educational robots for children that uses artificial intelligence to personalize learning experiences, said the company uses Facebook and Instagram to stay close to its customers and foster community with tools such as a private Facebook group and Instagram Live sessions.

During the pandemic, the company conducted several Instagram Live sessions featuring experts on education and on artificial intelligence, for example.

At Walton’s Jewelry, third-generation co-owner Julie Walton Garland said the company seeks to bring customers together by soliciting comments about pieces of jewelry that they inherited that might be similar to the antique and estate pieces that the brick-and-mortar store specializes in.

[Read: Pandemic-Weary Consumers Explore Live Virtual Platforms Aimed to Replicate the Magic of In-Store Shopping]

I love it being a two-way conversation. I go through the comments myself. Our customers give us a lot of ideas we didn’t event even think of.

Elnaz Sarraf, founder and CEO, Roybi

Crowdsource ideas and content from brand fans and followers

Panelists also turn to their fans and followers to generate content that helps promote their companies’ brands, and often provides important feedback.

Asare said Sistah Scifi includes hand-written notes with all physical orders that it ships, and requests that customers post pictures on the social networks, such as when they order a T-shirt, or reviews, if they buy books or other content.

“I love it being a two-way conversation,” she said.

Sarraf said she finds inspiration from the comments that Roybi receives from customers on social media.

“I go through the comments myself,” she said. “Our customers give us a lot of ideas we didn’t event even think of. They send us stories of things they did with their kids — learning and playing with Roybi — really inspirational stories.”

[Read: Social Commerce Drives Sales for Brands Across Consumer Sectors]

Maximize automated responses

Automated responses can be a helpful tool for businesses to disseminate basic information about store hours, for example, so that business owners and workers can focus on more complicated customer communications.

Roybi uses ManyChat, a third-party Facebook Messenger app that helps route customers to responses to the more routine questions that they pose through Messenger. At the same time, the chatbot provides marketing messages based on where the customer might be in their path to purchase, for example.

Walton’s Jewelry, meanwhile, uses automated responses in Messenger after hours for customers who contact the company when no one is monitoring the live chat.

“It acknowledges that yes, we received your message, and we are so excited to connect with you when we come back into the office,” Garland said.

People often respond directly to a specific story or post with all the information the company needs to provide a detailed response when a live employee is available, she said.

Another tool that Walton’s uses to streamline communications is tagging Facebook and Instagram posts with basic information that answers commonly asked questions, such as the price.

“That way, when they reach us, we can spend more time on quality information,” Garland said.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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