In order for small businesses to be successful these days, a strong online presence is vital. A website is an essential home base and a great start, but you need more than a website to cut through all the noise online. Social media marketing is the second most important for a small business. Why? Becuase it's the one medium that allows for a two-way conversation and you don't have to have a large budget to use it. Research shows that customers rely on business websites, and another 36 percent of people say that they might choose not to do business with companies that do not have a website. Participation in social media is equally important as having an online presence.
Get in the game
Any small business that hasn't yet gotten a start online and on social media should jump in. The competition is already there. Data gathered by LinkedIn shows that approximately 81 percent of small businesses use social media, and 94 percent of them do so for marketing purposes.
Business owners should recognize that, in the same way you start a business by having a strong plan, you should start engaging in social media with a plan. Not having one will be like shooting in the dark and your results will likely be unsuccessful.
Doing social and doing social right
Start by understanding your audience. Research is necessary, because your target may be someone you had not considered. Determine the following:
- Marital status
If by going online you think you are just talking to Millennials, think again. According to Nielsen, Generation X (ages 35-49) spends the most time on social media. One-quarter of that audience is women.
Once you know your target group, make a plan to start speaking directly to them. You don't want to go out and simply deliver a hard-sell message. You want to start a relationship with this user. Do this by understanding what key issues they have. What are their problems or concerns? Consider three marketing messages that address these issues.
How to engage
Not all social media channels are the same. When doing research to understand your audience, take time to learn which social networks they prefer. In addition to knowing where your efforts should be focused, you will also need to plan ahead and prepare to share information in the way that makes the most sense for each platform. For example, posting images on Instagram is a very different experience than creating the content that goes into a blog post.
In every case, have a clear message that attracts prospective customers and engages existing clients. Set yourself apart from your competition and keep a focus on your brand as you create original messages and unique content. Always use business pages, not personal pages, as the brand.
Be consistent with your message. This does not mean creating auto-posts that go up regularly. Instead, incorporate social media into your daily routine. Designate a chunk of the day to managing social media accounts and engaging your audience.
Don't forget the social in social media
Sean Casey, President of Nielsen Social, reminds us that "social media is one of the biggest opportunities that companies across industries have to connect directly to consumers." Participating in social media doesn't simply mean posting content. Business owners can engage with consumers by replying to comments and messages, putting up contests, quizzes, and videos and seeking a give-and-take relationship.
This creates loyalty and trust. Potential customers come to learn that your brand is not just about sales, but about being a helpful overall tool. In turn, you will get customers that stick with you and tell other people about you.
Never buy followers
When you establish yourself as a solid provider to your users, you gain real social media followers and their "likes." There is, however, the temptation that many businesses fall into when they begin their foray into social media: doing anything to build an audience.
The numbers game doesn't work equally here. Not all metrics are the same, and just because you decide to buy hundreds or thousands of followers, you will not be purchasing consumers who are interested in you. As you send out your message, those who are not interested in your content will consider it to be spam. You will lose your integrity and sour your reputation. Additionally, your engagement will dip because many of the people you paid for do not wish to have anything to do with you.
While having bigger numbers may seem like a dream situation, it really is not. Your metrics will be skewed. Make your goal about establishing real relationships with your target audience.
Whatever platform you use, keeping track of genuine metrics is vital. Keep track of what you post, when you post it and the results that are obtained. You will not know your true ROI unless you look at analytics. They will provide information on what is working, what is not, where followers are coming from and what they find important enough to share.
Social media can seem like a scary thing to a business owner who may only specialize in the business he or she knows best. Taking time to understand social media, or bringing on board someone who can assist in the effort, will add great benefits to the business overall. Today, it's not just about doing business - it's about engaging with customers and delivering on their expectations about your business. Social media provides a unique forum in which to accomplish this goal.