Social media has made it easier than ever for small businesses to connect with their customers. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest offer business owners an affordable way to interact with consumers, build brand recognition and loyalty, and ultimately expand beyond their local communities. There’s no doubt about it, social media has been a very real boon to entrepreneurs.
But it’s not enough to simply have a Facebook page and an Instagram account. As social media platforms grow, and both online and real world merchants take to the web to advertise their wares, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be heard over the din of your competitors. If you want your social media presence to deliver on its promise you are going to need a plan.
Which Social Media Platforms are Right for Your Business?
Creating a strong social media strategy begins with narrowing your focus to one or two specific platforms. It can be tempting to want to maintain a presence on all of the popular sites, but that can be a serious misstep. If your message is to produce the desired results it has to reach the right people. So you need to focus on those social media sites that appeal to, and attract, your target social media demographic.
To determine your target audience first consider your industry and the type of consumer you serve. Then, you have to figure out what social media sites are most likely to appeal to that audience. For example, if you are trying to reach out to men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 living in primarily urban settings you might want to concentrate your campaign on Instagram. If, on the other hand, you want to reach a predominately female market between the ages of 19 and 39 you might want to focus on Pinterest.
The point is you need to take your messaging where your target market spends their online time. Consider your customer base, including their age, gender and lifestyle. You might even conduct a couple of online or in-store surveys. Using the information you’ve gathered about your customers focus in on one or two of the most profitable social media outlets.
Setting the Right Social Media Goals
Once you’ve chosen the social media platforms you’re going to use, it’s time to decide on the purpose of your campaign. This is a critical step in developing your online marketing strategy. It’s not enough to simply state that you want to reach more customers and grow your brand. Every business owner wants to do that. No, you need to pick one or two actionable, and above all achievable, goals for your social media strategy to be successful.
In general, social media can be used to achieve most traditional marketing goals including:
- Increasing product sales
- Increasing leads and referrals
- Driving traffic to a website or brick-and-mortar retail outlet
- Developing and marketing new products
- Improving customer service and support
Again, you want to narrow your focus to one or two specific goals. If you try to spread yourself to thin you will undercut the value of your social media strategy. Choose a couple of complementary goals and concentrate on executing them to the fullest.
Also, as a quick aside, be wary of mistaking Facebook likes and Twitter retweets as a measure of social media success. A million likes on Facebook means very little if none of the engagements are resulting in a new lead or verifiable conversion.
Measuring the Success of Your Social Media Strategy
It’s not enough to just set a social media plan in motion; you also have to be able to accurately measure its success. Like any marketing campaign, social media success is measure by your return on investment (ROI). This is why it is so critical to set goals that are actionable, achievable, and measurable. You want to be able to see what you are getting in exchange for the time and money being spent.
In order to track the success of your social media campaigns you’ll need to have at least one active website for your business. Using Google Analytics you can then track and analyze specific website data, including:
- Customer engagement
- Audience growth
- Clicks to website
- Leads and conversions
When measuring the results of your social media campaigns don’t forget to compare and contrast results across your chosen platforms. You need to see which site is giving you the best ROI so you can adjust your strategies accordingly. If Facebook is driving all of your traffic but Pinterest is giving you nothing you may need to rethink your plan.
Setting a Budget for Your Social Media Campaign
Small business owners often make the mistake of thinking that social media marketing is free. While it may cost nothing to open a Twitter or Instagram account, managing those accounts and publishing content takes time and money. Even if you are managing those accounts yourself, or are delegating the responsibility to staff, there is a cost involved.
According to the Small Business Administration business owners should be spending between 7% and 8% of their gross revenues on marketing. Roughly 50% of that should be directed towards digital marketing campaigns, of which your social media strategy will be forming a large part. The remainder of your marketing budget should be directed towards traditional outlets. Digital marketing may be growing by leaps and bounds, but traditional outlets still have much to offer and should form a part of your larger strategy.
Who Should be In Charge of Your Social Media Presence?
If your first answer to this question is, “I’ll do it myself” then you might want to reconsider. Social media marketing isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds, and it is much more involved than it appears at first glance.
Every platform has its own identity and by extension its own learning curve. To be successful on site you need to understand that platform inside and out. Also, social media only really works if it is tended to on a regular basis. That means writing and posting to schedule, responding to platform users interactions, and following through with customer comments, questions and (yes) complaints. Do you, as a busy business owner, really have that much free time on your hands?
Best-case scenario there is someone on your staff who can be deputized to handle your social media presence. While you can keep a watchful eye on what goes on online they will be hands-on with the actual accounts. Keep in mind that this is an important and valuable position, and your employee should be compensated accordingly.
Barring the on-staff solution, you may choose to outsource the management of your social media presence. This is becoming an increasingly popular option for small businesses that lack a suitable on-staff social media expert. However, keep in mind the cost of outsourcing your company’s social media will increase your overall marketing costs. Moreover, you can’t always control the online voice of your company when you outsource your social media presence. If you do decide to hire a firm to manage your online presence choose carefully as your business will pay the price of their mistakes.
Social media can be a valuable tool for any small business looking to carve out a significant niche in their respective market. However, like any tool it must be used properly and with precision. Develop your social media strategy with care, and choose your sites with an eye toward actionable results. With care and forethought you can develop a social media plan that will deliver stellar results.