Over the past few years, social media has evolved from a fun way to share cat photos and keep in touch with high school friends to an indispensable part of our daily lives. And if you’re responsible for marketing a business, it’s also become an invaluable tool.

Businesses across virtually every industry, both B2C and B2B, use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to grow their brand awareness and reach new customers. However, for companies with limited time and resources for marketing, social media is often put on the backburner.

Unfortunately, these businesses are often the ones that have the most to gain from a strong social presence. Keep reading to learn five ways social media marketing can help your small business grow.

1. It’s free to use

If you’re on a limited marketing budget, this alone should be reason enough to start using social media. Creating accounts costs nothing but a few minutes of your time, and the same goes for monitoring and updating them.

Even if you don’t update your pages that frequently, simply having them can go a long way in legitimizing your brand. 61% of young consumers use social media to find new places to go, and 52% of all consumers say that positive online reviews make them more likely to visit a local business. That means your customers need to be able to find you. Luckily for you, that doesn’t cost a thing.

Of course, if you do have room in your marketing budget, each platform has its own paid advertising options to help you reach more potential customers and grow your social presence. But before you work on growing your number of fans and followers, it’s important to understand how, exactly, social media can benefit your business.

2. It allows you to reach new customers

When you first create social media accounts and pages, attracting followers can be difficult. After all, even your loyal customers may not know they exist! However, inviting people to like and follow your business on social media should get you a solid following within a few weeks.

Then, f your updates are interesting and regular, some of your followers will begin to share them with their friends. This, in turn, will bring in even more followers – who might turn around and share them with their friends.

On Facebook, this often happens in the form of users tagging their friends in business pages’ posts. Take, for example, the comment this user left on Crave and Co.’s photo of a new item on their menu:

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Instead of simply liking the photo, the first commenter tagged a friend and suggested that they go to lunch. And if enough of your customers do the same, it could be huge in terms of both brand awareness and bringing in new customers.

3. It gives your business some personality

In addition to simply getting your name out there, social media also gives your business the opportunity to show customers an inside look at your day-to-day operations. Not everything you post needs to be polished, and showing some personality is a great way to connect with your followers.

Take, for example, this Instagram post from local coffee shop Little Amps, a local coffee shop:

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Instead of simply announcing that they were closing early, they shared a funny photo of their employees with a caption explaining what was going on. Posts like these are not only more interesting for your customers to see, but also tend to generate a much better response than standard “professional” posts.

4. It helps build relationships

As a small business owner, you have a lot of opportunity to engage with your customers. And thanks to social media, you can do the same even when your business is closed.

Happy customers can write reviews of their favorite businesses online, and simply thanking them can be a great way to build relationships with the people who support you. This doesn’t have to be a complicated process, and it can be as simple as this response from the coffee stand Elementary Coffee Co.:

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This shows visitors to the page two things about the business: They make great coffee, and they appreciate the support of their customers.

5.  It provides customer insight

As you build relationships with your customers, many of them will leave reviews and comments. However, not all of those comments will be 100% positive – some will be from people who see room improvement. But contrary to how they may seem, those comments can be just as useful to your business.

For example, take a look at this exchange that took place on the Facebook page of a local ice cream business, Urban Churn:

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Although the majority of their products contain dairy, Urban Churn did a great job of addressing this customer’s concern, providing a solution, and asking for input. So instead of shying away from honest feedback on social media, see it as an opportunity to provide great customer service – and possibly even get some new ideas in the process.

Start using social media for your small business!

If your small business isn’t active on social media, it’s time to get started. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be extremely useful for reaching new customers, showing personality, building relationships, and getting valuable feedback – all completely free of charge.

Has your social presence allowed your business to grow? Do you consider it an important part of your marketing strategy? Let me know in the comments below!