May 30, 2013

SMBs: Getting Social With Your Media

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In our connected world, it seems like everyone is constantly updating Facebook, posting on Twitter, or interacting on some other social network. It makes sense, therefore, that companies have focused a significant portion of their marketing strategies on social media. Small business, however, are unsure. While many of them are making the effort (there are over 9 million small businesses on Facebook, the most popular social media site), many of them are just not seeing it pay off. According to a study by Manta, a small business social networking site, 61% of small business report seeing no return on investment for their social media activities. Nonetheless, 49% have increased the amount of time spent on social media. There is clear value in social media marketing, though. Of those that did see a ROI, that ROI was over $2,000 for 30% of them. What is going on? What can small businesses do to reap the benefits?

What are small businesses currently doing? Small businesses are using social media networking for various reasons, the top three being acquiring and engaging new customers (the main goal for 36% of businesses), gaining leads and referrals (for 19%), and boosting awareness (for 17%). There tend to be few people dedicated to social media activities. 53% of business have one person, 21% have two to five, and 20% have nobody. In terms of having someone exclusively for handling social media marketing, a survey by Zoomerang tells us that 74% of businesses employ nobody.

What should small businesses be doing? As a small business, you can’t expect to see hoards of new customers just because you’ve been updating your Facebook and Twitter accounts. These should not be your only forms of marketing, but they should be in the mix. Among other benefits, social media buzz impacts SEO. Search engine optimization will decrease without social media support for a business’s claims. Here is some guidance on how to add social media to your marketing strategy and do so most effectively to create value for your small business.

1.  Rethink the tactics you are using to reach customers. 51% of small business owners see wall posts as the most effective use of Facebook to reach customers, followed by 20% for direct messages and 10% for special offers and discounts. On the other hand, 37% of customers find special offers and discounts most effective, followed by 18% for both direct messages and wall posts. There is clearly a disconnect here, and if small business can revamp their efforts, tailoring them more towards what customers want to see, they are likely to see improvement.

2.  Designate responsibility clearly. If nobody is specifically responsible for making sure that social networking stays consistent, it may accidentally fall to the wayside. Make sure that somebody is accountable in order to ensure that your business does not lose momentum.

3.  Interact. Effective social media strategy for small business marketing is interactive.  Do not just post information about your business. Social media posts should entertain and engage the audience. One important aspect of this interaction is responding to questions and complaints. With the adoption of social media, there will be people who use that space to air their criticisms. This may seem damaging; however, if you respond appropriately to the comment, you will be handling the situation effectively and staying accountable in a public space, which users will likely appreciate. Instead of focusing on measures such as fan counts, prioritize building relationships with consumers and gaining visibility in your target market.

4.  Use social media to promote your brand. By adding social networking as a branch of your marketing strategy, you have added a new tool to promote your brand. This includes amplifying marketing initiatives and campaigns, educating customers, responding to feedback, and promoting contests and specials. For example, the “Make your Mom a Smithfield’s Mom” campaign included a Facebook photo contest and a Twitter contest utilizing hashtags. Anything like this that can grab people’s attention helps to strengthen a brand.

5.  Make it visual. Images are the type of content most interacted with online. This is followed by the video and then the written word. It is important that you include images in your content and, if it works for your business, join networks like Pinterest or Instagram.

6.  Customize your efforts to your target market. As with any form of marketing, understanding your audience is a critical aspect of using social media in marketing. Customize the message you are sending out, and figure out which social media platforms your target market is using so that you can gain comfort with the rules and subculture of that platform and interact accordingly.

7.  Choose the right platforms. Figure out what your goals are and utilize the best social media to advance those goals. Blogs, such as WordPress, are a great way to share information and gain credibility in an industry. Twitter is great for delivering information and promoting content rapidly as well as interacting by commenting and sharing other posts. Facebook provides a huge potential network that can be made personal and versatile. Most importantly, choose the platform that your target market is using.

8.  Create a flexible plan. Rather than seeking out the next exciting online tool, create a solid plan that your will be able to adapt as needed. Technology and the internet are constantly changing, and it is important that you can modify your activities as you continuously evaluate the effectiveness of your social media strategy.

Because of the limitations in time and money small businesses have, it is important that they do not entirely prioritize social networks over other tried and true methods; however, they should use social media, and they must use it correctly in order to maximize value and get higher returns on their investment.