Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Is your small business thinking about social media marketing?

social media and small business If you are someone who is either running a small business or thinking of starting one up, I’d be willing to bet (if I was a betting man that is) that you’ve already given some serious thought to how you might use social media as part of your marketing.

  • Why would you invest time and effort in social media?
Maybe you've been thinking about using it as a vehicle for your business to engage with your customers, or you're wanting to drive more traffic to your website, or perhaps wanting to expand your business network – or even simply as a way of keeping an eye on your competition. Whatever the reason you may have been considering how to leverage social media, the fact is that you can’t afford to ignore the way it has now become so deeply woven into the fabric of our society.

However, if you still haven't quite got your head around social media as a marketing tool for your small business, then don't worry, you're not alone!.
  •  Which social media platform might you use?
Whether it be through Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest or Instagram – you will need to consider the type of digital profile that you want to develop for your small business. Recently, I had the opportunity of having a very interesting chat with Laura Choong, a dynamic young entrepreneur who is a social media strategist and founder of Brisbane based consulting company called “The Brand Plan”.  
Here are some basic questions I asked Laura about social media marketing, together with her thoughts .....

1.   How did your interest in the use of social media by small business first commence?

The first business I ran was a small cake company called Sweet Fix – Designer Cupcakes & Cakes. Facebook was the only social media platform I used to promote it. I found Facebook to be a fantastic tool for generating brand awareness and brand recognition but what’s more, it provided me with a platform to share the story behind my brand. This aided in building a great rapport with my customers leading to not only loyalty but brand advocates who acted as my own walking advertisements.

This being said, I never posted regularly or took advantage of social media as much as I could or should have. I just didn’t have the time! I was the sole person managing every aspect of the business from quotes and making cakes to managing inventory and accounts. As small business owners, we have a heck of a lot on our plates. That is how the idea for The Brand Plan came about.

With a background in marketing before a life of cakes, I knew the huge potential social media holds for businesses when managed smartly. As a business owner, however, I was also aware of the extreme time constraints and the gap in required knowledge most people face. So I started a Social Media Management Agency called, The Brand Plan. We provide a service that enables businesses to leverage the power of social media through experts without having to incur the many expenses that come along with employing staff. You can find out more about what we do via The Brand Plan website and read more social media tips and tricks via our blog.

2.   Is social media just something for the larger corporates to be concerned about – organisations with big marketing budgets?

Definitely not! While no one should ever be misguided in thinking getting results from social media won’t cost you a cent, it is certainly a much cheaper marketing option for small businesses. But! You need to have a solid strategy. Would you ever run into battle without first figuring out a battle plan? No, you would probably end up losing a limb or two. In much the same way no business should ever sign up to a social media account and start swinging swords without first knowing at least 3 basic things:  
Firstly, what do you want to achieve by being on social media?
Secondly, what actions do you need to take to achieve your  goals?
Thirdly ,how will you measure the performance of your social media activities, to ensure it’s paying off?

3.   What are the best social media platforms available – and which ones would be most suitable for small business?

It varies from business to business and depends more on your target audiences than the size of your business. To figure that out, you first need to nut out a detailed audience profile. Google ‘how to profile your audience’ and a number of handy articles pop up.

Once you know your target audiences in detail you can find out what social media platforms they’re active on. Most businesses are on Facebook purely because it’s where the eyes are. In fact, there are 1.11-billion eyes there spending an average of 20min a day perusing their News Feeds. For almost any business, you’re bound to find a significant portion of your customers there.

For a business whose customers are other businesses you might want to look at managing a LinkedIn company profile and building your business network. For brands targeting a Gen Y market get yourselves on Instagram. The growth of that platform right now is jaw-dropping! In short, there is no one size fits all approach. It pays to do your research.

4.   What mistakes have you seen some small businesses make in their attempts to leverage social media?

I’ve written a blog post called, “3 Mistakes You’re Probably Making on Social Media”. I’d love people to read it and share with me their experiences!  

5.   Are there any other marketing tips or advice around “branding” that you would offer to someone who is new to small business?

My number one tip is to get your website right! If this means investing more money to get it up to scratch do it – now! Social media is great for building brand awareness and generating conversation but it is your website that is going to seal the deal for any purchase decision. All your time and money will be wasted on social media if the "fans and followers" who are potential customers are being driven to a lack lustre or unprofessional-looking website.

Remember, in today’s digital age your website is your “shop front”. A lot of time and thought she be put into how you want to portray your brand to consumers through it. If you can’t afford an expert, then hunt down a friend in design, PR and/or marketing and exchange a night of dinner and drinks for their help with a website overhaul. I guarantee you will see positive results.

In Closing - measure your return

Thanks Laura, for sharing some of your thoughts on social media marketing for small business.

Needless to say, it is a huge topic and we have only skimmed the surface here. It's all too easy to get seduced by social media and plunge into it just because it seems that everyone else is doing it. You can end up being quite active in social forums like LinkedIn, but unless you have some way to measure whether your business is gaining an actual return from your time investment, then you risk this having been simply "fluff" time

There have been small business owners that have invested considerable time and effort in creating competitions and rewards on their business Facebook pages as a means of attempting to enlist more fans and followers than their competition - but are failing to properly measure whether this is converting into a worthwhile increase in the their enquiries and sales.

One of the attractions of social media marketing for small business owners is that there are no material costs associated with setting up pages and profiles for your business on Facebook, Twittter and LinkedIn ..... But it is the cost of your time in maintaining them and keeping them fresh, relevant and enticing that needs to be monitored.

There is no doubt that increasing numbers of consumers are looking to their social media networks for guidance on the relative merits of a particular product, or restaurant, or service supplier. So you need to be able to leverage these influencing networks. But as with anything in your business, the key is to carefully plan, trial and then measure the results you are achieving. And if necessary, be willing to change or at least adjust your strategy.

 © 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of a small business called Performance Development, which is based in Melbourne Australia - specialising in management coaching and leadership skills training.