An Introduction to Social Media Marketing: A Guide for Small Businesses
It wasn't so long ago that social media was a completely new thing. Four years ago, when we started Advice Interactive Group, many people didn’t know what social media was let alone the effect it would have on all of our lives. It was an exciting interactive medium which suddenly took the world by storm to such an extent that it became something that no business, small or large, local or global, could afford to ignore. Today, there are more than 1.28 billion active users on Facebook alone, currently the world's most popular social network. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and various other social media sites have hundreds of millions of active users as well.
Social media is effectively a platform for conversation and sharing, powered by services such as the ones mentioned above. While one of the major uses of social media is keeping in touch with friends and relatives around the world, it is also a platform for customers, investors and employees to communicate with one another, and this is where the enormous and ever-growing industry of social media marketing comes in. From this point forth, we will refer to social media marketing by its popular abbreviation, SMM.
Succeeding With Social Media
SMM is all about being present and engaging your target audience directly, but at the same time, the medium is largely unorganized and uncontrolled. In order to succeed, you will need a strategy which helps you to reach out to the right audience and join in with the global conversation that is social media. If you have yet to be convinced of the enormous potential that social media offers to small businesses, consider the following facts:
- According to the Social Media Examiner online magazine, 86% of marketers in 2013 considered social media to be essential for their business with 49% of marketers choosing Facebook as their primary social media platform.
- According to the marketing firm WebDAM Solutions, 43% of marketers found customers through LinkedIn, while 52% of marketers found customers through Facebook in 2013.
- According to Pew Research, approximately 73% of all Internet users used social media services on a regular basis in 2013, with the most popular being Facebook.
Now that you have an idea of the prevalence of social media and its rapidly growing influence, let's take a look at some of the key ways in which social media can help you connect with your target audience:
- Generate awareness of your company and its products or services by tapping into one of the largest audiences in the world.
- Generate leads through your social networking connections, speeding up the process by creating events and promotions.
- Draw in visitors to your website and other online portals by using your social media resources to promote new content.
- Maintain direct relationships with your customers and potential customers in order to improve your product and get to better know your audience.
- Provide customer service and advice directly to your audience and get useful feedback from your followers to help track your success.
- Facilitate sharing of your online content through the use of social media sharing buttons, effectively letting your audience advertise for you.
The above cites some of the key reasons to get involved in SMM, but there are many more depending on the type of business you are operating. Local businesses can also make extensive use of social media platforms targeted specifically towards traditional high-street businesses. Sites like Google Places, Bing Places, Yelp and Foursquare, among others, help you to show up in local search results and online or mobile maps. What's more is that all of the above is absolutely free to use, and while there are also paid SMM methods, the free ones are far too valuable to neglect.
1 - Understanding the Social Media Marketing Process
Small business marketers often find the prospect of online marketing a daunting one, not least because it can be difficult to know which areas to focus on. SMM is an extensive subject with a complex hierarchy which you will need to familiarize yourself with in order to plan your strategy. As is the case with many forms of online marketing, SMM typically starts with your website:
- The foundation of your social marketing campaign is your website, particularly a blog, which provides a regular stream of content to keep your audience interested, increase subscribers and social media followers and raise awareness to your business and its online presence.
- RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds allow you to aggregate and sort your content in such a way that you can provide more personalized content to different segments of your audience. People can subscribe to your blog to receive regular updates by way of RSS feeds.
- Social search tools, such as Google Places, Bing Places, Foursquare, Yelp and other online directories may be used to get listed in local search results and draw more attention to your business and its online presence. Social search is heavily intertwined with SMM for small businesses.
- Social sharing and bookmarking refers to tagging and sharing content on social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ or social bookmarking websites like Delicious, Digg or StumbleUpon. For sharing to happen, you need to have enough high quality and useful content.
- Microblogging, typically using the Twitter platform, can help to raise awareness and promote your content, thus drawing in more visitors to your website or blog. However, for microblogging to become successful, you need plenty of content worth promoting and sharing.
SMM starts with extensive planning, followed by research into your target audience. You will then need to move your focus to engaging your audience while publishing content (content marketing) and promoting it on your various social networks while also encouraging your audience to do the same.
2 - Social Media Networks to Use
While just about everyone has heard of the largest social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, there are many others worth a mention to. This chapter takes a look at the world's most popular social media platforms and how they can help small businesses with their social marketing campaigns.
With 1.28 billion active user accounts in March, 2014, Facebook is by far the largest social media platform in the world providing both paid and free marketing opportunities for businesses small and large.
- Facebook business pages offer a platform for businesses to provide regular updates, build up subscribers and engage audiences directly.
- Facebook Ads provides a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising system which businesses can use to provide targeted ads to relevant audiences.
- Your target audience can share your content on their own Facebook accounts and increase awareness by 'Liking' certain posts.
The social networking and microblogging platform Twitter has 200 million active accounts, and it is particularly popular for businesses, entrepreneurs and celebrities to provide short, regular updates.
- Twitter users can post short 'Tweets' with a 140-character limit, making the platform compatible with SMS as well.
- Create a Twitter page specifically for your business and use it to attract followers and reach out to your target audience.
- Twitter Promoted Tweets provides businesses with a paid advertising platform helping them to reach out to a wider audience.
Google+ has 540 million active accounts, making it the second-largest social media site in the world. Most importantly, Google+ integrates with Google's other important services for both businesses and individuals.
- Your Google+ profile is directly connected with your listing on Google Places, a tool for local businesses to show up on maps and local searches.
- Google+ offers a professionally orientated platform for businesses, allowing them to carry out direct relationships with things like live video conferencing.
- Google+ integrates with other important Google services, such as Google Authorship, Google Places and of course, the world's largest search engine.
LinkedIn has 277 million users, and unlike Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, it is specifically aimed towards a professional market consisting of both individuals and businesses.
- Creating a Company Page with LinkedIn provides you with a platform to showcase your business and connect with potential customers and leads.
- LinkedIn is the number one social media resource for professional connections, such as those in business-to-business (B2B) marketing.
- Search for employees and valuable business leads by browsing through professional profiles on LinkedIn.
Thanks to its unique, visual approach towards social media, Pinterest already has well over 70 million active users and counting. Both individuals and businesses can use Pinterest for sharing visual bookmarks known as 'Pins.'
- Pinterest is most suitable for businesses which rely heavily on visual media, such as those in the fashion, photography, design and jewelry industries.
- Pinterest offers business accounts including useful additional features such as the ability to promote Pins and analyze results.
- You can link your Pinterest business profile with other social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.
Another primarily image- and video-based social media website, Instagram has more than 150 million active monthly users making it one of the most popular services of its kind.
- Being visually orientated, Instagram is ideal for businesses in the fashion, food, travel, design and technology industries.
- You can post creative snapshots and other illustrations showcasing your company's products, host photo contests and integrate promotional codes.
- You can only link to your business's website through your Instagram bio page, though you can refer to it in post comments to help generate traffic.
Though not primarily a social networking website, the world's third most visited website and the most popular video sharing resource, YouTube also integrates important social features making it too important to ignore.
- YouTube provides a free platform which businesses can use to publish video content such as tutorials, product overviews and more.
- YouTube provides its own paid advertising program, allowing businesses to have their ads appear in other people's videos.
- YouTube's social features include video commenting, integration with Google+ and ratings by way of likes and dislikes.
The above social networks largely revolve around building up relations and sharing content, but the list certainly doesn't end here. Another important type of social media is social bookmarking, a type of service which allows users to add, annotate and share content from elsewhere on the Web. Though the most of the above sites also facilitate social bookmarking, there are a number of other websites which deal primarily with this area of social media. Some of the most popular include Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and Delicious. These sites provide you with a useful platform for promoting your content.
Many other countries and geographical areas also have their own social media networks, some of which have hundreds of millions of users. For example, VKontakte, often dubbed the 'Russian Facebook' has around 250 million users mostly in Russia and the former Soviet republics, while China has its Qzone social network with almost half a billion users.
3 - Dos and Don'ts of Social Media Marketing
While incorporating SMM into your business's marketing strategy is of utmost importance in today's increasingly online world, the process is not always an easy one, and many businesses fall victim to some of the common SMM mistakes. The following takes a look at some of the most important dos and don'ts of SMM:
- Do start with a solid plan. Your social media strategy needs to work together with your other online marketing processes, such as search engine and content marketing. You'll need to start with realistic goals and a thorough knowledge of your target audience.
- Do not be tempted to go overboard by setting up profiles on as many social media platforms as you can. While the largest platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, can be useful for almost any business, many smaller networks are targeted towards a more specific industry or demographic.
- Do stay committed to your SMM campaign. Social media is all about posting regular updates and engaging your audience on a regular, preferably daily, basis. You need to stay involved for the longer term, and it should become a part of your business's daily routine.
- Do not use social media as a platform for hard selling. Your social networking profiles are not all about generating sales - they are a stepping stone between your potential customers and them getting to know your business. Sales pitches do not belong in things like Tweets and Facebook posts.
- Do find the right compromise between professionalism and casualness, depending on the particular social network you are using, but regardless of the tone you use, be sure that you always use impeccable spelling and grammar and have something to back up your statements.
- Do not expect an immediate return on your efforts, or in the case of paid advertising, your investment. As is the case with almost any form of online marketing (particularly the free ones), it will take time for your efforts to come to fruition.
- Do listen to your audience. Social media is as much about listening as it is about speaking. As previously stated, social media is all about conversation rather than a platform for sales pitches. Be sure to partake in debates and answer any queries that your audience may have as soon as possible.
- Do provide a regular, interesting and engaging stream of content that provides something of value to your audience. Your social marketing efforts should start with your blog or website and the content you publish on the Internet. SMM provides you with something to show off and share your knowledge.
- Do track your results. Find out which social networks and any paid social advertising programs you have are delivering the most traffic to your website. Always track your results using the wealth of information generated by such activities, and tweak and customize your campaign to keep it on the up.
As the above notes point out, SMM differs immensely to traditional advertising. These days, consumers are far more likely to respond to things like recommendations based on shares and likes on social networks, and getting involved in the discussion is critical for small businesses to stay competitive in a constantly evolving marketplace.
4 - Taking a Local Approach with Your Social Media Marketing Efforts
As a small business with a physical location, it is essential to take a more localized approach when building up your online presence. While most of the world's largest global companies also have a strong presence in the world of social networking, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't be using social media to market a traditional bricks-and-mortar business as well.
The first place to start is to claim your profiles on the most important resources for local listings. It costs nothing to claim your local profiles, and you should have them all up and running within a few days once you have verified that you are the real owner of your business. Some of the most important social resources for claiming your local profiles include the following:
- Google Places. Claiming your Google Places profile will allow your business to show up in local searches and on Google Maps.
- Bing Places. Claiming your Bing Places profile will allow your business to show up in local searches with Microsoft Bing and on Bing Maps.
- Foursquare. Creating a listing on the Foursquare location-based social networking website allows customers to find and 'check in' to venues.
You should also be sure to optimize your other social media platforms for a local audience. For example, you can create a Facebook Page for a local business or place and use Facebook Places, and most other social networks also allow you to specify your location and company address so that people can more easily find you when carrying out local searches.
Once you have defined your community and established your presence on social media, you will need to keep your online social activities at a high professional standard in the long term. To more effectively manage your SMM campaign, you'll need to continue to research your audience to determine when is the best time to post and engage. You will also need to track your performance through tools such as Google Analytics and by listening closely to customer feedback and keeping in touch with current trends. Above all, approach your audience in the right way, using the tips included in this guide, and over time you will be able to strengthen your relationship with your customers and reach out to new ones.
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