The Internet can be a great equalizer for small businesses.

Sure big companies that have huge marketing budgets can afford to bid extravagantly on even marginally relevant keywords, and to plaster the web with banner ads; and they can also throw gobs of money at social media campaigns, and can get their company followed and their message shared by the masses. But, a smart small business can overcome, and even stand out, from this big business noise by creating quality content, nurturing key influencer relationships, and strategically publishing and promoting across the many important social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Social Media Sharing Research

A 2014 study conducted by content marketing company BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million articles to determine the factors that result in the highest social media share rates. While the popularity and following of the person who posts an article is certainly a key factor in how widely and quickly it is disseminated, the study identified key elements that anyone can use to increase audience views and shares. These include:

  • Use images. The study found that including even one image in a post resulted in more than twice the number of shares than a post without any images. This was true across all social media platforms, including Twitter.
  • Create long-form in-depth content that includes important facts and interesting insights. The study found that short content (fewer than 1000 words) outnumbered long content (greater than 2000 words) 16-1. But, the longer the post, the more often it got shared. The 3,000-10,000 word post was the sweet spot. So, as it appears that the big business world is flooding social media with short, shallow posts—taking the time and effort to create longer more comprehensive and informative posts can be a real difference maker for small businesses (as long as the posts are relevant, of course).
  • Content that appears trustworthy is more frequently shared. (Though this does not always hold true on Facebook.) To help your small business posts look trustworthy, include a byline and author bio, and ensure that both your website and your blog have a professional look, feel, and design.
  • The most popular posts include infographics, lists, and quizzes that evoke feelings of awe, laughter or amusement.
  • Tuesday is the best day for posting and promoting content. And, it is helpful to re-promote content a week after it has been published.

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An Algorithm for the Perfect Tweet

A group of Cornell University researchers used the large universe of re-promoted content on Twitter to generate an algorithm that can, with a high degree of probability, identify which of two Tweets is more likely to be retweeted. In their 2014 research paper, The effect of wording on message propagation: Topic- and author-controlled natural experiments on Twitter, they analyzed 1.77 million tweet pairs, each from the same person on the same topic. By controlling for the popularity/following of the author and the subject matter, they were able to identify particular structural and linguistic characteristics of the most frequently re-tweeted Tweets.

Not surprisingly, simply asking people to spread the word resulted in them doing so. Words like, “RT, Retweet, spread, please” were found to be good predictors of highly shared posts. How posts are framed is important too. Using third-person singular (he, she, it, one) and indefinite articles (a, an) is effective. Referring to relevant things in the present and future (breaking, official, and officially are top-rated words to use) is good, as is writing in the form of news headlines.

Tweet langue to avoid includes “icymi” (abbreviation for “in case you missed it”), “earlier” and “highlights,” as they indicate repetition of old information; and “thanks,” “sorry,” and “@” which may be interpreted as indicating personal messages not to be shared.

A Free Tool for Testing Tweets

After completing their research, the Cornell team put it to good use. They created the Retweeted More tool, based on the algorithm they developed, that will enable you to A/B test multiple versions of a Tweet to determine which has a better chance of being re-tweeted.

Simply enter two versions of a Tweet on the same topic (one in the A box and one in the B box) then click the “which is better” button. The tool will highlight the winner in green, and will give you the percentage by which it is expected to out-perform the loser.

For Example:

  • Tweet A: This research helps people create better social media content, generate more shares, and Tweet more effectively. If you like it, please RT.
  • Tweet B: Research studies reveal secrets to more successful social media content. Use these tools to Tweet more effectively and track your shares.

Which do you think will perform better? According to the tool, Tweet A has an 87% chance of outperforming Tweet B.

Give Retweeted More a try before your next Tweet. And, don’t stop at one test. Once you get your first result, try it against several other options until you have truly optimized your message. And, if you have several almost equal winners, try them all (about a week apart) to generate even more activity.

Want to help improve the algorithm? After you have actually tweeted, go back to the tool and enter the A/B test again and provide feedback as to whether the prediction was correct. You can also try your luck on some more comparisons to help improve the algorithm (and to hone your “Tweetuition”) by taking the Retweeted More Quiz.

For the Quiz, You will be shown two Tweets by the same person on the same subject. Click the button for the one you think was most retweeted, optionally indicate whether you think it was close and why you think your choice was better, then click the “Submit Label” button. You will be shown your overall score at the top of the page, along with the number of pairs you have rated. These results will also help to improve and refine the algorithm.

Free Tools for Tracking Shares and Engaging Influencers

Once you’ve created and published your long-form interesting, informative, authoritative content, and posted and Tweeted it across all your social media platforms, your work is only half done. Now you need to figure out if people are actually reading it, liking it, and sharing it.

If it is hosted on your own website, you can look at your log file reports to see how many page views the post gets. (If you don’t have this at your fingertips, ask your hosting provider for access to a “cPanel;” it will typically include log analysis reports. You can also put tracking code on the page so that views can be tracked by a service like the free Google Analytics Standard, or less elegantly a page view counter like the free StatCounter.)

Most blog applications also include counters for Social Media shares, like the ones in the left sidebar of this post for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. But, these are very basic. The following two online services (both offering a free version as well as more robust paid versions) can help you learn more about exactly who is sharing your content, and can help you identify key media contacts who are interested in the type of content you are writing.

Muck Rack

Muck Rack offers a free “Who Shared My Link” tool (also available as a browser bookmark bar button) that you can use to see basic metrics on the number of social media shares any web page you enter has received. You will also see the number of journalists, if any, who have shared your post. With a paid subscription you will see the names and contact information for all these journalists, and you will also be able to view and export detailed reports on the shares.
NOTE: After a couple of searches you will be prompted to enter a code in a CAPTCHA box to prove that you are not a robot taking advantage of the free tool.

Other useful free features at Muck Rack are the Browse Beats and Browse Media Outlets pages. On the Beats page you can browse journalists by the topics they cover (such as technology or business and finance) or location (such as Canada or Metro Denver). The Outlets page contains a listing of media companies along with full lists of their team members. Click any name for a profile and listing of the journalist’s posts and articles. While the paid version allows you to use this information to build contact lists and send emails, you can manually do the same with the free version. It is a great way to not only find journalists who cover your marketspace, but it is also an invaluable resource for coming up with topics to write about. If you see influencers who can help your business, write the type of thing that interests them, then contact them personally to let them know about it.

BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo, the same company that sponsored the study on social media discussed at the beginning of this post, also offers a free social media tracking and content research tool.

On the Content Research tab, enter a topic (i.e. “electronic payments”) a domain (i.e. “paysimple.com”) or a sub-domain (i.e. paysimple.com/blog) and the search will return the most popular pages in order of most social media shares, and a break-down of shares by platform (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+). You can also view a list of those sharing your posts, and click to view their profile pages.

On the Influencers Tab, enter a topic (i.e. “electronic payments”) and a list of the top influencers on that topic is returned, along with a tag identifying the type of influencer they are (i.e. blogger, company, or journalist). This tool is useful in two ways: First it can help you determine widely followed topics so that you can join a vibrant conversation; and second it can help you know the influencers in your market with whom you should be cultivating relationships.

You can perform a few searches each day on BuzzSumo without registering. Providing an email address enables you to create a free account that provides unlimited access to the free features, which include truncated results sets. Paid accounts allow access to full results lists, additional reporting features, and additional functions such as content alerts, content analysis, and domain comparisons.

Putting it All Together for Optimized Small Business Social Media Marketing

Research, Test, Target, and Measure: These are the keys to ensuring small business success, be it in product development, operations, or marketing. In some cases, small businesses are at a disadvantage because they don’t have the budget to tackle all four steps as effectively as do big business, but luckily social media marketing doesn’t have to be one of them. Even a small business can have a big presence in social media, with a minimal expenditure, if it develops great content, nurtures key influencer relationships, and promotes effectively. The research and applications discussed above give you the tools to do just that.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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