Let’s face it – social media can be daunting for even the largest of companies. With constant changes and new social sites popping up all the time, it can feel overwhelming. For small and mid-sized business owners, that feeling can be almost paralyzing. How can social listening, research, and marketing be done effectively in such a large space and often times on a small budget?
There are some challenges that are unique to smaller businesses, but nothing that cannot be remedied with careful planning and understanding of the social environment. Below are some common concerns accompanied by manageable, actionable steps that can be implemented to make the most of social efforts.
As a small business, how do I even attempt to gain visibility online? I need a big following quickly to “prove” our value, but feel like I’m a needle in a very large haystack.
If there is one quote to remember, it’s this one: “I don’t want to reach the world…I just want to find my individual segment.”
Alexander Lowry, a Professor of Finance at Gordon College and the Director for the Master of Science in Financial Analysis program, shared this insight in a recent podcast on social marketing to a very specific consumer demographic, and it is solid advice to remember as a smaller business.
A business doesn’t need to “go viral” or have a following thousands of people deep. It’s not about the numbers anymore – it’s about reaching the right people and building an engaging community within your target consumer base.
Steps for success
- If you have a social page established, look at the insights to learn more about your followers. All of the major sites have insights and/or analytics that can be extremely useful in managing your social strategy.
- Use social listening to identify your customers or potential customers and reach out to them where the site allows once your social sites are established. This is much easier on Twitter and Instagram than it is with Facebook, but it can be done, whether manually or via a third party consultant or social media company. This is the group you need to focus on getting in front of, and the next steps will help achieve this goal.
There are too many social sites out there. I don’t know where to start & don’t have the time to manage them all.
The one thing to remember about social is that businesses need to be where their customers are. You may feel most comfortable with Facebook, for example, but if the majority of your customers are on Twitter, then you are wasting your valuable time & money.
If you have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend the book, “Online or Flatline: The Small Business Owner’s Guide to Digital Marketing” written by Nick Choat. It’s an easy read and gives some solid advice for those who are just starting out in social and to those who have started but feel stuck in the process.
He offers a very simple understanding of social media and some solid, first step suggestions that can be useful to business owners.
Steps for success
- Start with one social site. In his book, Mr. Choat recommends starting with Facebook if you’re a B2C company, and LinkedIn if you are a B2B company. I will add to this for B2C customers by suggesting that, while Facebook is a great start because it is less noisy and has fantastic, relatively inexpensive advertising opportunities, some social research needs to be done before deciding where to start.
Social research isn’t referring to a formal study; instead, it can be something that a third party vendor can do on your behalf or you can use in site search alongside effective Google searches to accomplish this. Here’s what social research will tell you:
- Where your customers (and potential customers) spend the majority of their time online, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
- Where they engage the most – it’s not only important to find out where they’re posting the most, but it’s important to find out where they are engaging (sharing, commenting and liking brand content) the most. The site to start with would be the one where your customer base is most likely to connect & engage with you.
This information will guide the starting point for establishing a social presence; to gain traction as quickly as possible, it’s important to be where your customers are. Using research as a first step will make the launch as effective as possible.
- Take a look at competitors for inspiration. Start with local competitors and also take a look at the bigger brands in your industry – what type of content do they post? What do customers tend to engage with most?
A unique trait for a smaller business is the opportunity to really let your business “personality” shine through. You don’t need fancy, highly edited images and video to make an impact. Candid, personable content will go a long way for local business. To get a feel for this, look at social sites for local businesses – a lot of the content that works best is that personal, not so touched up and professional content. This is a great opportunity for small business to really have fun with social marketing and engagement.
What should I post? I don’t have time to create content constantly & I don’t have the resources or staff available for this.
This is another area that causes paralysis when it comes to social media. If you spend time looking at images and videos created by big brands, it’s no wonder you’re overwhelmed and feel like it’s too much. Here are a few things to remember when it comes to social content:
- Small and midsize businesses have a unique opportunity to be genuine and authentic. Some bigger brands do very well with creating a social persona for their social sites; as a local business, there is a great opportunity to engage on social on a very personal level. Remember this when creating social content – it’s not always about the breathtaking, photoshopped images with deep inspirational quotes; because social is human, those candid, often times humorous images and content are the ones that resonate more with customers, especially if it ties into the company culture in some way.
- Three words to remember: User Generated Content. This is a goldmine if used correctly. Depending on the business, customers are posting images and reviews across social platforms, generating content for your business along the way. Some industries, such as retail and restaurants, probably have more user-generated content than niche industries, but that’s okay – no matter the industry, there is a way to identify and encourage user-generated content to help with your marketing efforts.
Steps for success
- Use social media listening/research to find user generated content. There are many ways to achieve this, both via third-party vendors, consulting/social media strategy firms, and even manual (free) options. By regularly listening for mentions of your company on social, you can identify customers, engage with their content related to your business, and even use it on your social sites (with permission of course).
The benefit of user-generated content? Imagine Joe and Jane Smith are enjoying a meal at your local restaurant and post a picture indicating they are celebrating a wedding anniversary. What happens when you, as the restaurant owner, likes the photo, wishes them a belated happy anniversary, and then shares that photo on your Facebook page?
You can bet Joe & Jane Smith are showing their friends and family, which drives people to your social sites and brings about brand awareness. It’s a win-win because you don’t have to continually create original content to post online and you are spreading brand awareness through your customers.
- You’ve got to ask & make it fun. Everyone likes to feel special. Start a simple campaign that encourages customers to post images while at your business, share stories, and tag your pages in the process. The campaign can be twofold – encourage customers to share online their visit to your business & ask that they tag you so that you can use their content in future promotions. Again, another win-win situation – you are promoting your customers while they are promoting your business.
I have a very limited/no budget. Isn’t social media marketing expensive?
Spend a bit of time researching social strategy and marketing. It will seem as though all options, whether it’s a DIY strategy that requires hiring social media staff and/or a significant ad spend or hiring a vendor to assist, will be cost prohibitive. It doesn’t have to be. There is a lot that can be done on a limited budget.
Steps for success
- Start with social ads. Google Ads can be costly and almost too wide reaching for local and smaller businesses. Instead, look at advertising options on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Each offers advertising options that are typically lower than Google Ads and can be more specific. Facebook offers targeting options that drill down into very specific attributes. And the spend is fairly small for the potential return. A small private school in our local area did very well in brand visibility by using Facebook ads with a spend that did not exceed $100.00. Twitter’s ad options are a bit less granular while LinkedIn will cost more in general. Decide which platform suits your customers the best and review advertising options. It’s not as expensive as one might think.
- You can do a lot with a little. Look for free resources or very low cost to assist with the pain points that are holding you back. Is posting daily content going to take too much of your time? Will it run the risk of being forgotten because of all the hats you wear on a daily basis? A scheduling site like Hootsuite or Buffer can ease this task for little to no cost. Want to make a promotional video or infographic but don’t have the time or knowledge? Take a look at sites like Canva or Animoto.
Outsourcing doesn’t have to be all or nothing
This can be scary, especially if there is consideration of outsourcing social media management. After all, no one knows your business like you do. Trusting a third party company, no matter how experienced or talented, is a big step. If this sounds like you, that’s okay, and it doesn’t mean outsourcing is not an option for you.
When you think outsourcing, think about what you need the most help with. Is social listening something that you feel will take too much time, or you’re not sure what to do with the information you find? It is developing a strategy to launch social marketing – once you have a plan, you’ll be able to take it from there? Whatever the case, make note of the areas you feel are holding you back most significantly and consider outsourcing those portions of the process.
Steps for success
- Once you decide what parts of the process you need the most assistance with, do some research to find companies to assist. Many marketing & consulting firms will offer assistance with simple brand assessment, where the legwork is done for you with regard to finding out where your customers “live” online and they will point you in the right direction. Take it one step further and the same vendor can also help develop a strategy for you to work with. In other words, they can give you the launching point and let you run with it.
- Decide where it’s best to spend, and where you can save. Is outsourcing less expensive than, say, hiring a social media manager? Possibly. Remember though – cheaper is not always better. Think of both short and long term goals and how the cost for all of your options play out in the long run.
While it may not always seem like it, smaller businesses have a wonderful opportunity to enhance the overall customer experience and get a jump on their marketing and brand visibility through social research & marketing. Taking some of the steps to success will go a long way when developing and executing a solid strategy.
Most importantly, this should be fun! Don’t get caught up in the details, in the changes to social sites, or the latest social trend popping up. Focus on YOUR business and your customers, and you’ll quickly learn what’s best for your brand. Promise.