Despite the ubiquity of social media, its application in small business is still a subject where there is a hunger for basic understanding. People who understand social media tools, and have been using them for years, can use their knowledge to help small business owners get lift. Getting a small business off the ground is daunting enough. Keeping it aloft and making it thrive in tough economy is even more so. So when businesses are faced with the added challenge of incorporating social media into their marketing mix, they often see it as a chore, and ultimately a waste of resources.
Consequently, approaches like “we need to get a Twitter!” – with no set objectives, strategy, or means of measuring efforts – prove self fulfilling. Small businesses are generally too overwhelmed with operation to stop and take a breath. But when they see a whole new marketplace on social channels before their eyes, that lightbulb goes off, and new opportunities become clear. If you’re looking for a entry point into social media for small business, this post is designed to give you a roadmap. Where I fall short, I point you to other sources.
Simply Start and Start Simply
I’m a social media technician. By that I mean I’m able to use the tools in a way effective for me. I am by no means a social media expert, ninja, guru or rock star. This is not a post where people who grasp social media will come away with new learning. There will be PLENTY of underdeveloped thoughts in this post, so please add your knowledge in the comments section at the end! But, I do know enough to know that if I were a small business looking to social media as a marketing channel I would do this:
- Tell everyone on my team that we are a “social business“
- Plant my flags – set up accounts on the “big 4” first – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google
- Encourage (not mandate) everyone on the team involved in the process
- Leaders – lead here and get involved (talking to you CEO)
- Start by LISTENING and discovering markets and conversations
Listening can’t be overstated. Twitter is my “go-to” social platform and it has impressively robust search capability. You can very easily find real time conversations about products and services that are related to your markets, as well as find your potential customers using twitter. I like to tap the intelligence of my Twitter crowd when I write blog posts. So I asked the almighty Twitter about this post:
OK social media smart people, small biz still hungers for basic practical knowledge about how to engage. How would you tell them to start?
— Jim Long (@newmediajim) March 2, 2013
Over and over again peoples’ responses included the words “listen first” – and this from Nike’s Digital Community Lead, Victor Nguyen-Long:
Big companies like Nike, Dell, Ford, and Comcast have long recognized the value of engaging customers on social channels. The have the wherewithal to support an infrastructure devoted to monitoring and responding on social channels – setting up impressive listening posts devoted to that endeavor. A small business listening post doesn’t have to look like NASA mission control to be effective and there are web based tools that can help you get set up quickly. More on that below, but first it’s important to define what you want to accomplish with social media.
Nowadays people expect social media to be an immediate-response customer service platform. Time to start listening.
Set Clear Objectives
The “why” of social media is a more important question than the “how”. Specifically define what you want to achieve with social media, develop a strategic plan, select the right tools to implement the plan and measure the results of what you’ve implemented. A typical objective might be to drive people to your web site, and convert visitors into customers with compelling copy written in a human voice, along with clear and effective calls to action.
While that is a pretty clear objective, getting from A to B using social media is far more nuanced. It requires patience, persistence and a consistent, thoughtful campaign of discovering your communities and constituencies, listening to and connecting with them, celebrating their ideas, and sharing useful information with them that your team or others have created.
The creation of useful information, infographics, blogs, webinars, and whitepapers is known in web-marketing speak as content marketing. It’s simple in concept, but it’s not easy to execute well, and it requires complete buy-in and INVOLVEMENT from the top down. It is time and resource intensive to be sure.
Some Thoughts on Web Sites
We’re living in an increasingly mobile world that favors apps over browsers. But browser based websites are still alive and kicking, despite prognostications to the contrary. So think of your website as your hub – the center of your universe. Social channels are your spokes that hopefully drive people to your hub.
The problems with many small business websites are manifold. Frequently “updating” is left to a remote “web person”. Often, no one within the company has the keys to the site, or has training in open-source tools such as WordPress. Design and user experience are often a mish-mash of elusive navigation, stock photos, and corporate-speak gobbeldygook, with no clear calls to action.
In an era when web design and user experience have become high art – with elegant typography, breathtaking data visualization, engaging video content, seductively clever copy and calls to action – you don’t want your site to be the equivalent of a lackluster business conference table display. You can have all the terrific engaging social channels in the world, but if they all funnel to a website that doesn’t convert, you’ve wasted time and resources. This is important. Do it right. Smashing Magazine is a great resource for web site design an usability.
Develop a Tactical Plan
If you’re a small shop with a small staff, start with manageable objectives so that you can easily measure results. For instance, I have Google Analytics installed on my site. It is an incredibly powerful performance measurement tool. I only use it in the crudest fashion and I have much to learn about it. But I’m still able to gain insight into how people respond to my activity on social channels. I have an email marketing opt-in offer for “Five Simple Ways to Quickly Make Your Video Better”. In fact you can sign up for it here: (it’s really useful if you have to build video content from the ground up)
But my point is, once people sign up for the helpful content, they are directed to a “thank you” page. I’ve set this page as a “goal” in my Google Analytics. So I’m able to tell how many of these goals are reached through direct visits via organic search vs. referral traffic from Twitter or Facebook. Not at all sophisticated, but it is an example of a process that can be implemented an measured easily. It beats spray and pray keywords and vague traffic stats. And speaking of keywords, go here and here to learn the Tao of Search Engine Optimization
Approach each social media tool as a means to a measurable end. Consider what kind of messaging and engagement tactics you will use on the different platforms to encourage actions by your community. There are a wide array of social media tools at your disposal and many digital marketing pros preach the newest and shiniest, but the truth is you should start off with what you feel most comfortable with and build from there. Some of these tools, like Twitter and Blogging allow you to get up to speed and learn on the go (at least I think) reasonably well. Facbook, Google Plus and video marketing are more nuanced and require thoughtful researched approaches.
Select the Right Tools
I’m going to assume a couple of things here: 1) That you have heard of these platforms. 2) That you understand very basically how they operate.
Twitter’s beauty is in its simplicity. I started on Twitter in 2006 and have watched it transform into something very different than how it began. One thing remains the same though – you can very quickly generate and discover conversations around ideas and brands. Businesses can use Twitter’s advanced search tools to find chatter about their markets or their brand.
If you’re in charge of your business Twitter account, don’t feel like you have to follow everyone in your vertical. Consider adding like-minded people to Twitter lists. Develop a well rounded group of people to follow. Create your flagship business account and encourage team members to create accounts and identify themselves as part of your brand. Here is some more helpful advice:
How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Business (slide deck)
Blogging should be a heavily weighted component of an overall content marketing strategy. It can help establish your brand as expert in your field. If you consistently and persistently deliver well-crafted, informative posts, people will begin to rely on you as a source of information. A blog on your company website also has the added bonus of generating SEO infused content and inbound links to your site, both of which you higher in organic search results.
I’m a big fan of the free, open source blogging platform WordPress. Many hosting plans have one click install functions from their control panels so it’s easy to install. Blogger is another platform that is very popular and is part of the Google universe. There are others and you’ll want to consider which is the best to integrate into your site. Here’s more on why you or your brand should consider blogging:
While Google Plus may seem like a failed attempt by Google to replicate a Facebook experience, it is gradually adding members and features that are increasingly appealing to users, and becoming vital to search rank. Google has been described as a “social layer” across all of its products.
One of the more popular features of Google Plus is Hangouts and Hangouts On Air. The former allows you to have real-time web video chats with multiple people and is a very useful free web conferencing tool The latter – Hangouts on Air – allows you to live stream your video chat and automatically records it on your YouTube channel.
Google Plus is increasingly adding more features and all indicators are that incorporating the platform into your social web strategy is becoming more important. Recently, people have been voicing their disenchantment with how Facebook is ranking posts – promoted (paid) vs. organic. This combined with Google Plus’ new functionality may prove a boon to the platform. Here are some things you should read to get a better grasp on the significance of Google Plus:
Facebook is a social media juggernaut and brands have incorporated the platform into their communications strategy with remarkable success. Facebook offers a comprehensive guide to setting up a business page and step by step instructions to build your page, connect with people, engage your audience, and influence friends of your page’s fans. While the guide is very thorough, it rather shrewdly gives the reader the impression that Facebook marketing success is just a matter of following the instructions within.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Getting traction on Facebook is a strange process-meets-alchemy of reading the oracle of Facebook Insights, understanding EdgeRank, and determining the impact that Promoted Posts and Facebook Subscribe have on your post visibility. There are a lot of moving parts here, which is why your Facebook strategy should be just that, a strategy. Don’t leave this to the intern or “young person” in the shop. Doing this wrong will leave you with a neglected brand page and simply reinforce the “it’s not worth it” mindset.
Facebook is getting increasingly complicated to successfully use as a market engagement tool. More and more people are getting disillusioned with Facebook in terms of post reach and visibility. Know what you’re getting into and how best to use this social behemoth. Here is some good perspective on that:
Video? I’ve got this. I’m a 20 year veteran TV news cameraman. I live, eat, breathe video.
Video is a powerful medium that can trigger tremendous engagement and propagation – when it’s done well. I’ve written a lot about video in terms of how “quality” in video is defined. I’ve also argued that you need to take an honest look at your video skills before you start creating video for content marketing. Just because anyone can easily produce and publish video, doesn’t mean that you, as a brand should, should. There I said it.
Video is also an important search tool and incorporating a YouTube channel into your content marketing toolkit is a vital component of your overall search rank.
Many small businesses have a DIY approach to video marketing, and many content marketing strategists espouse that, saying video is “easy” to create and publish. That’s all well and fine until the quality of the video has no connection with the quality of your brand. If you are going to try to incorporate video into your content marketing mix, you’ll need to stay within your comfort zone in terms of project scope and difficulty level. Here are some typical ways brands use video on the web:
- Product “explainers”
- Testimonial videos
- First person video blogs
- Expert interviews
- Screencasts and how-to videos
- Google Hangouts On Air
- Live events
For those new to video, going from idea to execution isn’t something you should try without rehearsal, trial, and error BEFORE you publish. It may be best to consult with a professional before you embark on a DIY video marketing project. I can help with that. Take a look at the three video marketing consulting products I offer to see if one is a good fit for you. If not, I’d be happy to recommend other people in the field who I trust. If you’re determined to go it alone PLEASE sign up for this FREE copy of “Five Simple Ways to Quickly Make Your Video Better”
Here are some other resources that can help you with your video efforts:
Measure Your Results
It’s useful to think of your marketing activity on the web – content marketing, web strategy, whatever you wish to call it – in terms of a “hub and spoke” model. The hub is your business web site or blog, and the spokes connect to social nodes where you reach potential customers where they are. Your activity on those nodes, should lead to inbound traffic to your hub, and your web site should encourage people to discover your social platforms. What you need to be able to do is measure your efforts on social platforms and the inbound activity to your site.
Some analytics and metrics tools are built into social networks, such as Facebook Insights, some are free and require installation on a site like Google Analytics, yet others come at a premium and provide powerful, enterprise level analytics. Bottom line: you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Social media metrics and web analytics are bodies of knowledge that require considerable research, especially if you’re considering enterprise analytics suites such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud. If your just starting out on social though, a good place to start would be Google Analytics. Here’s more starting points for further research:
What I’ve Left Out
There is much I haven’t touched on. Why? Because at 3000+ words for this post already, you’d need a book to cover everything. Plus I talk about what I’m most familiar with. There is an entire universe of social web platforms, that like the physical universe, is constantly expanding. But I do want to leave you with two things that warrant further research on your part.
LinkedIn is a very useful platform for driving traffic, sales, and recruiting staff. A recent Wall Street Journal Poll indicated that respondents singled out LinkedIn as “…the social media tool with the greatest potential to help their firms.”
LinkedIn Corp. topped the survey, with 41% of respondents singling it out as potentially beneficial to their company. – Wall Street Journal Poll
I enjoy listening to audio podcasts and find them very informative, but I really don’t have any experience in creating or publishing them. Podcasting was one of the original disruptive digital media that quickly ascended to widespread popularity. If you think audio podcasting is right for your small business and you want your brand’s “voice” to be heard, this may be a good option. Here’s a quick, basic primer on audio podcasting for business:
Now It’s Your Turn – Please Help Me Finish
If you’re a social media pro and you have ideas that I missed please leave comments here. If you’re a marketer and have questions about some of this material, leave that in the comments and if I don’t have an answer. Sometimes I blog just to see if I can think an idea through. This was a pretty big topic and it drained the better part of my brain.
I know it’s incomplete, but completing a work on this topic is really a book not a blog post, but who knows, maybe with this post and your comments we can hobble an e-book together. If you’ve gotten this far, I thank you and I hope you participate in the comments below.