BUSSONE: Getting “Reelz’ on social media | Columnists

A funny thing happened to me this summer.

At the Illinois Small Business Development Center of McLean County at Illinois Wesleyan University (SBDC), we usually have a cadre of interns that come to us to earn valuable experience and at the same time pitch in with our efforts to provide assistance to scores of small local enterprises.

Most recently, our interns upgraded SBDC’s social media presence with the use of Instagram Reels, a short-form video sharing tool that the platform has undertaken to compete with Tiktok. The resulting growth in engagement has been spectacular: up to 18,000 impressions where previously an Instagram post of ours had reached 200 people. As a result of similar experience on a global scale, the head of Instagram recently stated that his company is no longer a “photo sharing” app. That’s impact.

I’m not going to try to teach you all about Reels in the little space I have left in this column. But I do want to point out a couple of implications inherent in the widespread popularity and usefulness of social media in reaching and engaging young customers.

Social media platforms are an essential tool to build a following and brand awareness. But it’s not a place to try to sell somebody a product. It’s rather a way to engage potential customers by demonstrating that you share their interests and values. You need to provide constant, informative, entertaining content that proves you are an expert in your area of business.

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I’m starting to think of social media as a modern version of the old, antiquated business cards we used to hand out. This is actually a better way to say, “This is who I am and how to reach me if you agree that I have something to offer you.”

What’s even better is that the Instagram algorithm, in this case, does the work of placing your Reels video “business card” in front of people who value (“like” or “share”) content such as yours.

When you have successfully attracted the Millennial or Gen Z-er to your location, make sure you take advantage of their predilection for sharing their own content by providing a fun backdrop or experience for them to “shoot” and distribute. This is all one gigantic positive feedback loop!

Can you see the value in all this to your business? Reach out to SBDC ( Let’s talk some more about the opportunities in this wide world of social media!

Buy local, my friends. Local small businesses are the economic engine of our community.

Karen Bussone is director of the Small Business Development Center, Illinois Wesleyan University. 

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