Is Social Media Marketing Worth It for Small Businesses?

A survey released by Manta shows that nearly 50% of businesses have increased their time on social media channels in the last year, according to Michael Fertik at Forbes. Another 55% of businesses surveyed are actively using social media marketing for lead generation and customer engagement. 

Yet, 60% of small businesses reported no return on investment for their social media marketing.

That may seem dire, but it does mean that 40% of small businesses are seeing some ROI. What are they doing differently?

“I do think a defined digital presence—coupled with realistic expectations—can be a source of significant support for most, assuming a thoughtful approach is taken,” writes Fertik. “Too often, however, it’s easy to make some rookie mistakes.”

The mistakes? The first big one is joining every social media network without considering where your customers are. Spending your resources on Pinterest when you are an auto mechanic may not serve your best interest. There are no barriers to entry to social media networks, so a lot of business join all of them without considering the significant time and effort, and yes, even money, that will be necessary to mounting an effective social media campaign. Go where your customers are and spend your resources there.

“It’s much better to slow down and look at the data before you invest too much in one channel or spread yourself across too many,” writes Fertik. “What type of customer is purchasing your products?  What social channels do they frequent?  What kind of content gets shared, liked or retweeted?  If the data say that your average customer is a city-dwelling mother in her early 40s who likes Facebook, then there is no reason to spend your time and energy on Twitter, at least initially.”

Another rookie mistake is not publishing enough. Or rather, more common, publishing a lot at first and then losing steam. Come up with a schedule that it actually something you can fit into your work time. If that’s just one post a week, then go with that.

Social media is not dissimilar to a hungry baby—it requires feeding on a very regular basis,” writes Fertik. “Don’t set a rhythm you can’t maintain.  It’s a one-way ratchet; you can always turn it up but it’s hard to back off without appearing ungraceful.”

As for what kind of content you should create, first ask yourself: What kind of content catches your attention? What content has value to you? Then ask yourself what kind of content will have value to your customers. What can you teach? What can you do to entertain? Are you funny? (If you are funny, go with that. People respond very well to humor.)

Spend a little time experimenting on social media. Put up a post that tells a story. Then put up a post that asks a question. See which does better with your audience. Offer a prize. Post a picture. Which post gets more engagement? This is how you refine your social media strategy: Trial and error.

It’s also really important to have specific goals for your social media marketing. “The first step in making social media work is to define your goals, and determine your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs),” writes Troy Frink for Tentacle Inboud. “Do you want to get hundreds of page likes, or do you want to drive traffic to your website and generate leads? Deciding on your goals should center around the actions that actually help your business grow. You want to generate revenue, so how do you measure that definitively on your website?”

Once you’ve established your goals and you're putting out regular content, work to connect with your online community. “Small businesses should identify strong social influencers—bloggers that your customers read, individuals with robust followers—and start engaging with them,” writes Fertik. “Follow them on their social channels to spark a return follow. Share their content. Comment thoughtfully, respectfully and without self-promotion on posts multiple times a week.” 

Carefully and thoughtfully engaging with other people who share your concerns online will grow your community, which will in turn give your content greater reach.

Frink points out a cool example of using real-time social conversations to connect with customers on Twitter. Heather Physioc was running a social media campaign on Twitter for a cosmetology education website.

“To achieve real-time social media success, she created the following Boolean query in TweetDeck: cosmetology OR ‘beauty school’ AND think OR thinking OR want OR wanting OR consider OR considering. Instantly, the firehose of tweets was narrowed down to individuals who were expressing real intent and desire to attend beauty school,” writes Frink. “This allowed her to focus her limited time only on the people most likely to convert to student leads. She then reached out directly to each of these individuals to offer personal help finding schools near them, and answer all their questions about cosmetology education and careers. Also, when she sent links to content on the brand’s website, she included tracking parameters to be able to measure the success of these campaigns and continually hone them.”

Expect a little bit of negative response to your social media. Every business will get some. It is actually a sign that your social media messaging has some legs if it reaches someone who wants to air a grievance. Use a complaint to improve your messaging. (Or even your product or service.) Respond to criticism with what Fertik calls “prompt courteousness and pleasant professionalism.”

At it’s best, social media marketing can increase your small businesses visibility, give you a bigger reach and engage your current and future customers. Get in the game. 

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