What is the goal of a company's Twitter feed or a Facebook page?
That depends on the company. Someone with formal training or experience in this area could probably give a better conceptual answer; since I have neither, I'll try to illustrate by presenting four examples.
For the first example, there's a shop in my area that supplies construction materials – metal pipe, sheet, bar and fasteners. They are open to the general public but most of their business comes from contractors. Professional networks and word of mouth probably drive most of their business; can they justify the expense of a full-featured website? What kind of online presence do they need?
It would certainly be convenient to have a searchable catalog and online ordering system – but is it necessary? There are big box supply stores that have more accessible locations, more attractive storefronts, a huge range of goods, lots of brand awareness – in the retail arena, this business isn't competitive and it's not suddenly going to become competitive. The advantage this small shop has is low prices, specific expertise, and depth of inventory. Most of their customers know what they want and would not find online ordering particularly convenient or comfortable; they're used to dealing with wholesalers, work a lot with their hands, prefer to make transactions in person or over the phone. (Note: These are stereotypes, and they're getting less true as time passes, even in the field of construction.)
Social media offers this company a no-cost internet presence, which is all they need; nothing interactive, just descriptive information and signposts pointing the potential customer to the storefront or phone line. In fact, the particular business I'm thinking of does have a decent web site – but they've also been in business for 40 years and their site, though professionally done, has very few features. "About Us" page, contact links to request a catalog or quote, some nice stock photos of different metals, a brief overview of products and services. The only feature it provides beyond a bare internet presence is an embedded map using the Google API. If they were just starting up today, all of that content could be managed on a social media platform like Facebook, Yelp or Google Plus, each of which has tons of users, at a much lower cost.
For the second example, consider a new bar or nightclub in a big city. There are a lot of bars and nightclubs already so this business needs an inexpensive, efficient means of "getting the word out" (one-to-many/broadcast communication) more than it needs a static internet presence that sits there waiting to be indexed by search engines. Without intending to get too cute, "word of mouth" advertising has evolved into "word of tweet/share/like" advertising, even among businesses that don't cater to a particularly young customer base. What's not to like about a ubiquitous, zero-cost platform that your customers carry in their pockets?
For the third example, consider a major corporation like Chevron. They have a Twitter account; who follows it? I would expect mostly competitors, media/press, job seekers, and special interest groups. Interacting directly with their customers is not the main purpose of their Twitter account; they're managing public relations. You wouldn't read their tweets to decide whether you need to fill up your tank, but you might notice when someone retweets their press release about renewable energy. If that memory resurfaces when you're in traffic and have a split-second to decide whether to turn into their station or a competitor's, that makes a difference, even though they're not communicating directly with you.
And finally, consider a local restaurant that does a lot of take-out and delivery business. They definitely want a web site - or at least a portal that captures hungry people searching for whatever specific type of food they serve. Many restaurants have web sites where they list their menu items and contact information. That can be done on Facebook for free, with the added bonus that you can offer deals to people who "Like" your page, and broadcast special events or menu items to an opt-in audience; no need to maintain a mailing list! In addition, hungry people sometimes just need a little push in the direction of your product. Send out an update with a picture of a pizza around dinner time on the weekend, and you might find yourself getting a few extra orders from people who were just going to eat leftovers. That wouldn't work so well for an auto body shop - you're not going to drum up a bunch of work just by sending out a picture of a rebuilt transmission!
What does a small company put on such a social account to expand their following?
You have to sit down and really analyze your company and your customers. Ask questions like:
- Who are your customers?
- Do they already want/need your product or service?
- Are you converting them from competitors?
- Are they looking for you online, and if so, where are they finding you?
- What sort of communication do they want from you?
Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their values; e.g, an environmentally-conscious plant nursery or a gluten-free restaurant. In that case a social media account might be used to manage that image, to share relevant articles, to show that these values are authentic and reinforce the business's membership in an ideological community.
Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their prices; e.g., a thrift shop or a discount electronics store. In that case, a social media account might be used to send out coupons, announce sales, advertise changes in inventory, and so on. Here, the goal is to keep your brand in their thoughts. They want to save money, and buying from you saves them money.
Some businesses attract and retain customers based on their reputation; e.g., a consultant, engineer or lawyer. They might use their social media accounts to advertise completed projects, court victories, company milestones. They might put more effort into speaking to potential employees than other companies, for example by sharing articles about the workplace. They might have a blog, and use social media to drive traffic to their blog.
There are too many possibilities to enumerate here. This definitely calls for introspection. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need to use social media like that business uses social media, because they do so well. Carefully consider your similarities and differences; even if your business is almost identical (if so, hopefully in a different market), maybe you can do it better than they can.