Don't Be a Social Media Marketing Skeptic – Learn Where and How to Start
There's no doubt that social media marketing is a proven and established platform for connecting with customers, building a community, and generating business. Yet, despite the evidence of its effectiveness as a marketing tool, surveys and studies say few small businesses are making active use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to promote products and services.
A report by eMarketer found that just 24 percent of small businesses have integrated social media in a structured way in their businesses. The report also references findings from Constant Contact that only 49 percent of small businesses consider social media marketing effective.
Why the skepticism? Here are a few reasons and excuses I've heard:
- "I don't know where to start"
- "I'm too busy"
- "I don't know which social media site is right for my business"
- "I tried it but it didn't work"
- "I'm struggling to build engagement"
- "I don't have enough updates to keep my site looking active"
Knowing where to start is perhaps the number one obstacle holding many small business owners back. Knowing what to do when you get there is next. For example, should you use social media to generate leads? For branding? Customer service? Marketing?
There are numerous blogs on the SBA.gov Community offering tips for getting started in social media marketing. One consistent piece of advice runs through them all: find out where your customers are, start small, and, as you learn, grow out from there.
Last year, I wrote a blog where I summarized some of the great recommendations from a social media panel at the 2012 National Small Business Week Conference in Washington, D.C. The panel featured experts from Twitter, Constant Contact, Yelp, Google, and others. Here's a summary of their recommendations, a great baseline for getting started:
- Which Platform is the Right One? Erica Ayotte, social media manager with Constant Contact, recommends businesses start with one channel to test and nurture it. Then try to diversify: "Spend a little time each week exploring new platforms and figure out if they might be for you". GrowBizMedia's Rieva Lesonsky recommends: "...find out where your customers can be found, go there first, and then spread out from there… if you run a restaurant, yes, you probably should be on Twitter, but you should really be on Yelp first".
- How do You Find the Right People to Engage With? Use search tools to identify and follow people who are influencers in your industry. For example, if you are in the restaurant business, identify food bloggers in your region, give them a follow, and slowly you'll start to build and grow your followers and influence. The panel also stressed connecting your social media activity to your loyal email subscriber list. Send them an email to let them know about your social media presence and generate new follows from those who are already engaged.
- What's the Best Way to Engage with Followers? This is the one area that takes time. Start with interesting information. Google's Jeff Aguero recommends starting with quality content – something you do really well – then amplify it with social media. Web chats, contests and surveys are great ways to engage, but the panel cautioned small business owners to resist this form of heavy interaction until their new social efforts have had time to grow. "Once you've established awareness and trust, then look to step up your approach", suggested Constant Contact's Ayotte. "Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress", she explained. "It can take some time to figure out what content is going to resonate with an audience… Try something new if no one responds to your Facebook posts. It's OK. Tweak your posts until you find your sweet spot".
Don't Forget to Integrate Your Email and Social Media Marketing
Email is still the preferred method of communication among consumers, and Constant Contact predicts that in 2013 it will remain their preferred marketing channel as well. Email is also a key element in driving social media success, "…using both together to support one another can boost a campaign and bring greater collective benefits, as opposed to using just one or the other", advises Constant Contact.
Learn from the Experts
There are myriad webinars, ebooks, blogs, and other tools that can help you learn the tricks of the trade. Small business organizations like SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, and others also offer advice and seminars on this topic.
Source: Caron Beesley
This work is in the Public Domain.