As a small business, should I invest in Social Media Marketing?

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This month we have been busy working with two customers to help them develop their plans for social media marketing.
Obviously they have decided that social media is right for them, but having been so actively involved, I wanted to research this topic further particularly around the three questions below.

* Does it work for all small businesses?
* Which types of business benefit most?
* Which social media platforms work best for which purposes?

One customer is a charity, who has an existing Facebook presence & wanted to add Twitter and a monthly newsletter (using MailChimp). They also wanted to refresh their website content and integrate the four into a cohesive strategy.
The other customer is a management consultant new to social media as a business tool, who wanted to set up a Facebook page, Twitter & regular blog.

Researching this topic was an eye opener and I learnt a lot about this constantly changing area of marketing. Therefore I thought it would be good to share this with you in this month’s blog. So here it is, hopefully some thoughts which will enable you to answer the following:

As a small business, should I invest in Social Media?

Most businesses these days have some kind of social media presence, whether it be a token, or fuller coverage. The question seems to be ‘can you afford not to?’
The Social Media Marketing Examiner 2014 Report and the Social Media Marketing Examiner 2015 Report. put forward some compelling benefits in their 5 findings & an overview of social media trends in the past 2 years.

Interestingly, I decided to look first at several articles citing the objections & reasons not to use social media: Why it doesn’t work for small businesses!
This gave me a starting point to research what the potential drawbacks are & where problems might lie.

Claim 1) It takes too much time & you end up having to recruit a member of staff!
An interesting statement. True social media can be quite addictive and you could end up spending a lot of time focusing on the content and on various social media platforms.
Well as in most things in life:
If you set off on a journey without a plan/map you might end up becoming lost or taking a longer route than you’d intended!

Work out a social media strategy; decide which platforms best suit your needs; allocate time and then measure the effectiveness. Start off with a small pilot and see if it works. This will give you an accurate idea of how much time will be involved & whether it has the desired Return On Investment.

Claim 2) Outsource the work and it’ll cost you way more that you’ll get back in return!
Well this objection follows on from the one above. If you have a strategy, which you have piloted & evaluated, you should be able to understand whether or not you can afford to outsource & still get a ROI.

Claim 3) No-one is interested in what we say!

Really… this seems a little defeatist?
OK not all businesses are suited to a social media presence or for some it may be more challenging to present regular & interesting content.
However all three of these objections seem to circle back to the same answer. Before you invest in social media, create a social media marketing plan! Then decide whether the benefits put forward a viable case.

How do I develop a social media marketing strategy?

1) Be clear about your objectives
* So what is it you are aiming to achieve through social media?
* Who is your target audience?
* What social media do your target audience use? (& therefore you could use)
* What message do you want to send to your audience via social media?

Once you are clear on what you want to achieve, you will be better able to know whether social media is the answer. For example, it can help with a number of goals such as:

* Directing customers to your website
* Engaging your audience in two-way communication such as questions, debates, votes, competitions or feedback
* Creating a brand identity and reinforcing that positively
* Raising your brand awareness to a wider audience in a timely manner

So what are your goals? Have you weighted them in terms of importance and impact? If so, you will be able to measure whether social media is an effective mechanism to achieve the goals and therefore the ROI.

2) A plan
Now you can put together a plan
For each of your objectives:
* What actions are needed to achieve them?
* What sort of content do I need to focus on?
* What will interest my audience?
* Should I do some market research to identify this?
* Is there a logical order? For example should I start with Facebook or Twitter and then other platforms?
* Should I pilot with one platform or a specific area first to see whether to invest further?
* What time frame is involved? How much time will each action take & how much in total?

3) How well do you understand social media?
So you have had a stab at points 1 & 2 above, and I guess now is the time to ask yourself if your expertise is sufficient to get the most from your strategy. We may use social media for friends etc, but do we understand enough to make it an effective business tool?
* Do I understand how to use the social media platforms well enough to answer the two points above?
* Who can I ask to get a better understanding?
* Will I be able to conduct the work myself?

4) Content is the key
Not only do we need to be aware of how to use the social media platforms we intend to use & how to format content on each, but we also need to have a fundamental understanding of marketing. You may be comfortable with this if you have been running your business for a while, conversely there are differences with marketing online & particularly through social media.

Content needs to be interesting & valuable, whilst using variety: with images, videos & infographics in addition to classic marketing.

Does my content build my brand?

One of the most powerful ways to use social media is as a brand building tool. Decide what your online brand needs to say about you; what you want people to know about you; what your values & reputation says about you; and then focus your content accordingly.

Am I reinforcing customer exposure with my content?

If you have ever been on a marketing course you will have been told that it is necessary to repeat a product message 6-10 times before it makes an impact and a customer decides to buy. Using social media enables you to get your message out there repeatedly, reminding them & hopefully shortening the lead time to a sale.

Am I helping to build an online community through my content?

We all know how quickly social media can build a community and how quickly a message can get out to a wide audience. For example on Facebook, we see messages everyday asking us to ‘please share to see how far we can send this message’.
Creating ongoing dialog & feedback mechanisms can be far more effective than conventional market research for example.

5) Building credibility, authority and influence for you & your business

Depending on your type of business, social media can be very powerful. For example if you are a service based business (ie a coach, consultant or speaker) it could help you develop credibility & authority in your field. If you haven’t thought about this already in your objectives, revisit them. Opening up conversation with your audience could enable you to do this & share the message to others.

6) Generating Website Traffic

When you share videos, dialog, blogs etc it will give your audience a reason to ‘click through’ to your website (as long as you have included clear links).
For example a blog around ‘The rise in stress related illnesses impacting business productivity in the UK’ could link nicely back to a life coach’s services?
Why not use social media to invite people to join your mailing list, donate to a worthy cause or call for a free consultation, all of which can be done via your website.
Conversely, for your loyal audience who visit your website regularly, make sure you link back your social media presence.

7) Measuring the effectiveness & ROI

Ensure you install a traffic monitoring service such as Google Analytics if you want to see clearly that social media is bringing traffic to your website & follow on sales.
If you are seriously into measuring your social media, here is an excellent article by: Inc.com listing 8 powerful tools.

Ensure you link your social media presence; for example did you know that you can link your business Facebook page directly to your Twitter feed therefore reducing the need to update both with the same information? You may also able to embed a live Facebook and Twitter feed into your website or blog.

Keep it updated

Like it or not potential customers will often search for social media presence for your business. If you started to use social media, but it is now not up to date, this sends a negative message. If you decide to go ahead, it needs an investment of time & dedication, even if it is not your priority.

Be patient – it takes time to create a following.

Track your Competitors

Because social media is out in the open, it is a great tool to understand what your competitors are doing and how they are using it. Take a look at what presence they have, how they are using it, what customers are saying, what is creating an interest and what it says about them.

What Social Media Platforms to use

This blog article does not outline the social media platforms which are currently available, but here are two interesting articles detailing the most popular by: Business News Daily

and another by Forbes titled: ‘7 Social Media Platforms which could explode before 2016

So as a small business, should you invest in social media?
I hope that you have found that this article has helped you make that decision or at least got you thinking.
I have certainly enjoyed researching it along side the work we have conducted this month for two of our customers.

Please feel free to add your views on this subject.

If you require some administrative help with your social media marketing then please give us a call on 01273 930011 or email us at remora.info@gmail.com
Take a look at our website for further information.

Blog written by Dawn

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