Social media for many small businesses is a cost-effective marketing tool that can help grow one's brand name recognition, online presence and customer loyalty. However, it isn't a slam dunk or quick-fix and the mindset with which we approach it will impact our success or failure.
Where social media is approached in the same vein as traditional media, think newspaper and magazine ads, billboards and the like, it is pretty much doomed to failure. Traditional media has its place in our overall marketing strategy, but it isn't the approach we should take when sharing on social media.
Social media requires a paradigm shift in the way we think about reaching our target audience. Rather than telling and selling, its helping and providing value - and it's all about our target audience.
Building On A Solid Foundation
Using social media to help develop and grow one's brand and online presence requires an understanding of these steps to building a solid foundation:
- The role social media can play in your overall marketing and brand building plan. (part of an overall strategy, not the whole)
- The importance of having a complete profile on any social networks you are active on. (creating a good first, and ongoing, impression)
- The target audience you hope to reach and where they are online. (social network(s) suited to your business)
- The content your audience will find interesting, helpful and/or valuable on the specific networks you choose to be on. (appropriate, relevant content for your audience)
- The frequency with which you need to share content. (volume and regularity of content sharing, to appear in the newsfeed of your target audience)
- The ongoing investment required to get started, regularly reach and build your audience and brand long-term. (time, money, tools and manpower)
- The need to be actively involved, often daily, in sharing, monitoring and responding. (proactive, not 'set it and forget it' )
- The way to build fans, followers and connections from your target audience. (growing meaningful numbers)
- The ways you can help make it easier for your target audience to find you on social networks. (helping people find you online)
- The importance of your website and how to use social media to drive traffic there. (your website as the hub of your online presence)
- The truth about your brand, products, services and customer service, in the eyes of your customers and others. (how your brand reputation will support or undermine what you do on social media)
Our Obsession With Numbers
Laying a foundation for success with social media can be confusing and easily misunderstood. Our obsession with numbers can lead us to consider tactics to build our base of fans and followers that result in meaningless numbers. In the past this may have meant sneaky Facebook ads, completely unrelated to our business and rarely focused on our target audience, designed to get people to like our Facebook Page and boost our fan numbers. For Twitter it meant, and still means, schemes that have us buying Twitter followers, all to boost our numbers and give us an appearance of success.
Often these bought fan/follower numbers represent individuals in other parts of the world that have no interest whatsoever in our products and services, let alone the content we are posting online. But hey, it looks good. Over time and as social media continues to mature, most of us have recognized that these 'bought' fans and followers are virtually meaningless when it comes to seriously building our online brand and our business.
Social media requires consistent effort and a long-term commitment that is focused on the wants and needs of those we have reached and those we hope to reach. It can help build brand name recognition, strengthen our brand's reputation and foster customer loyalty for starters. It isn't a quick fix but it offers many opportunities to those who are willing to pay the price.
Don't Try To Do It All
When checking out the social networks that would work best for your business, remember the "less is more" concept. While some businesses have the resources (people, time, money) to manage several social networks, most smaller businesses do not. It's better to choose a couple of the more important networks for your business, and manage them well, than it is to try to be on lots of different ones, and manage them poorly.