What is social selling, and how does it work for small businesses?

by | Sep 9, 2021

Social selling can help you business make sales through relationships.
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Let’s start with what social selling isn’t.

It’s not social media advertising. That’s an umbrella term used to describe all the ways you can leverage social media to sell or promote your brand, product, or service. Social selling is more focused and particular than that.

It’s also not social media marketing. That’s when you attempt to maximize your advertising spend in social media to achieve hard, quantitative business results. It’s a good thing to do, but it’s not social selling.

And social selling is absolutely not about annoying people you don’t know with unsolicited tweets and direct messages (DMs). That’s called spamming, and not only does it put people off, it could get you banned from social networks.

What social selling is: a definition

Social selling focuses on selling through building relationships to grow your small business. This approach to selling helps you focus on the most appropriate prospects in your extended online networks and achieve rapport as you sell through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others.

It’s a welcome replacement for the dreaded cold call, because you engage with prospects naturally before bringing up the sales pitch. Thanks to online research, you can learn a lot about them, and you may even be connected through the six-degrees-of-separation paradigm.

Social selling also simultaneously provides value to your prospects in the form of informative social posts or tweets with helpful facts, links, thought leadership blogs or articles, and other credible content. In return you get fully engaged prospects at the top of the funnel.

If your business has a LinkedIn page, a Facebook Business page, or a Twitter or Instagram profile, you’ve already got a foundation for social selling. Now it’s time to build on that.

Depending on your customers, one social media platform might work better than another.

Why is social selling important?

Buying has always been a social activity. It’s common for people to seek out advice when making a purchase. But that advice was formerly given in face-to-face encounters at grocery stores or office water coolers.

Social media changed that. Online reviews on forums and social media networks have replaced traditional ways of researching purchases. Asking for help is done digitally now. Peer reviews count as much as—if not more than—professional ones.

Social media is important to people across all generations. 35 percent of Baby Boomers use social media to discover new brands, and 48% use social media to interact with brands online. And we don’t have to tell you that social media is a core component of Millennial and Gen Z lives. 72 percent of Millennials and 66 percent of Zoomers say that social media is an essential part of their lives. Research also shows that Millennials and Zoomers are more than four times more likely to say that user-generated content—that is, product reviews, photos, or testimonials from other customers—is important when they’re considering a purchase.

Social selling delivers the goods

And social selling works. More than three fourths (78%) of social sellers) outsell salespersons who don’t use social media.

Perhaps most importantly, your competitors are already doing it. According to Statista, in 2020, an estimated 40% of e-commerce enterprises were either already or planning to sell their goods on social media. And according to Optinmonster, 90% of top salespeople use social selling tools.

Clearly, it’s time to get into social selling.

Choosing a social platform for social selling

You can social sell on any one of the numerous platforms out there, but each one requires a slightly different approach. Each has a particular demographic mix of users, and some might be more appropriate than others depending on your target market. if you’re selling B2B products or services,  LinkedIn is probably more aligned with your desired audience than TikTok, for example. Your choice should depend on your target audience and your preferred way of interacting with them.

Let’s explore the most popular platforms for social selling and go over some tips on how to use them.


With more than 756 million members, LinkedIn probably hosts accounts for almost all your current and would-be customers. This is the most formal, business-focused platform, and is ideal for B2B firms trying to reach the people capable of saying “yes” to business deals. The millions of LinkedIn Groups are a treasure trove of leads, as is browsing through the feeds of relevant hashtags. People can find you based on your own hashtags, and see your posts in their feeds. When you identify a person or company that you think is a good prospect, you can comment on their posts and send them DMs. These are great conversation starters that can grow deeper over time. And LinkedIn’s professional social selling too, Sales Navigator, can help you target the right customers while enabling you to identify how to sell more smartly using drill-down analytics.


For both consumer and B2B businesses, Twitter is a very popular platform for social selling. There are currently 199 million “monetizable” daily active users on Twitter. Hashtags are the heart of Twitter, of course. They can help you find people who might be interested in your products or services. On the flip side, hashtags also help people find your brand online. You can also DM people and develop relationships that way. Social selling on Twitter is a little more difficult than on LinkedIn, because you have to be very proactive at adding value to the Twitter community. You need to tweet several times a day, at the least, and the tweets have to be of high value, not empty marketing jargon. You also have to find the leaders (called influencers) in your area, and reply intelligently to their tweets so their followers will start to pay attention to you, too. Twitter is also a terrific network for “social listening.” You can create Twitter Lists to monitor content from groups with specific interests. Then leverage those lists to monitor what your customers are doing—or saying about you—and watch for chances to respond to their tweets.


Like Twitter, Instagram is a terrific way to interact spontaneously with customers. It’s casual, so conversations build organically. Today, there are roughly one billion active users on Instagram, according to Statista. You can get personal while still projecting a professional brand But be aware that Instagram is quite a different experience than the other social media platforms. Your feed is visual: images, photos, or videos with minimal text captions. Although you can’t share links to external content, you can in your bio, and post fresh and interesting content about issues facing your customers and prospects. Use lots of hashtags so people will find your posts. If you regularly create high-quality content, and tag it with the right hashtags, people will find you.


With 2.89 billion monthly active users as of the second quarter of 2021, Facebook is the largest social network on the planet. Although some experts caution that Facebook is too personal for social selling, many businesses have succeeded by using the platform. Like LinkedIn, you’ll find most of your customers (presenting themselves as individuals, not business professionals) have accounts. You can also find people with similar interests by using Facebook Groups.

Social selling can be challenging, so to build credibility, offer value.

Overcoming the challenges of social selling

According to Internet Live Stats, every second produces 9,610 new tweets and 1,094 new Instagram photos. Then there’s the other dozen or so trending social platforms, each adding thousands of posts as each second ticks away. The numbers are dizzying. Everyone, it seems, is doing social selling.

Which brings up the question: how do you cut through the noise? As a small business, your voice will be, well, small. Your customers and prospects are being constantly bombarded by pitches and content from larger, more established—and savvier—organizations. You probably don’t have the marketing dollars to do much paid promotion. Then, underneath it all are the mysterious algorithms used by search firms and social platforms that determine which content gets surfaced, and which gets buried. Try to dig into these algorithms and best SEO practices to outsmart them, and you’re likely to go down a deep rabbit hole.

Instead, here’s some advice: Be authentic and show your expertise. Speak directly to the specific challenges your target customers face and that will lead them just as directly to your solution. But keep away from overtly salesy talk.

And focus. Rather than spraying the internet randomly with general content, focus on a particular channel, or at most, two. Find out where your target customers are, and establish yourself there. Most importantly of all, provide value. Write blogs, publish thought-leadership articles, and share interesting facts that will be truly useful, so people will want more.

Conclusion: To build credibility, offer value

Accenture’s State of B2B Procurement Study found that 94% of B2B buyers do research online before making a business purchase, with 55% of them doing online research for at least 50% of their purchases.

So, make use of this. Through social selling, establish your authority on your chosen platform(s). Write articles. Link to other articles. Write case studies about how you’ve helped customers achieve their goals, with their permission of course. Ask customers to write recommendations. Creating thoughtful, valuable, and shareable content can help increase your brand’s reach.

You should also be active in commenting and linking to other people’s posts. Focus on thought leaders and influencers in your industry. If people like what you’re saying, you’ll attract followers. That will extend the reach of what you have to say.

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