Social marketing provides a challenge like no other marketing strategy does... especially for small businesses with limited resources. In fact, the biggest gripe I often hear from small business owners is that social marketing is too expensive and time consuming to implement. Yes, I will agree. But, that doesn't mean it necessarily has to be.
It's no secret that I work with a lot of small businesses. I absolutely love doing so, too! I believe the reason I enjoy working with small businesses as much as I do is because of the unique challenges that each provides. Some internet marketers view working with a limited budget (and therefore limited resources) as being a headache. I, on the other hand, consider it to be a challenge. As a person who enjoys a good challenge, I view small business marketing as an excuse to go beyond traditional search and social marketing initiatives where one has to utilize creativity and an assortment of different types of strategies to be successful. In other words, a good challenge equals good fun.
Social marketing provides a challenge like no other marketing strategy does... especially for small businesses with limited resources. In fact, the biggest gripe I often hear from small business owners is that social marketing is too expensive and time consuming to implement. Yes, I will agree. Social media marketing can be both expensive and time consuming. However, that doesn't mean it necessarily has to be.
For the most part, social media is free to use. Sure, there are tools for sale that do make managing and tracking social media efforts much easier, but necessary, they are not. That alone is an obvious plus for small businesses. As far as time goes, well, there is no getting around it. Social marketing does and will continue to require diligent monitoring and participation. The trick is coming up with a strategy that not only fits your company's needs, but also helps to make social media efforts less daunting. Furthermore, social media marketing can be both expensive and time consuming to invest in social business.
With the start of a brand new year just days away, it's not uncommon for businesses to set new marketing goals and expectations. In fact, I know of several small businesses that have already committed to starting social media marketing campaigns immediately following the first of the year. With that, I thought it would be both fun and helpful to outline a list of tips, suggestions, and strategies for getting started in social media. I put together a small group of 12 Internet marketers (myself included) and have asked them to share something that would be helpful to the true, blue small business owner. Here are their responses:
Karl Ribas, VP of Search Marketing - All Web Promotion
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to first and foremost create a plan, and then execute it. Like most marketing strategies, social media marketing begins with a plan. Jumping into social media and simply posting everything everywhere is not a valid approach. In addition to first determining which social platforms to use, businesses must also decide on their voice, content, and posting timeline.
Voice: Your voice is the overall tone in which you will use when sharing your content. For example, will you address your followers as the company, or as an individual from within the company? Determining your voice beforehand will eliminate confusion and keep your profiles and updates consistent.
Content: I can't stress how important great content is to social media. Your content is what will set you apart from others in your space, and is the sole reason why your customers will be connecting with you in the first place. It is absolutely imperative that you spend adequate time determining not only the types of content you'll want to share, but the messaging too.
Timeline: A timeline is a detailed schedule for when and how often you will be posting your social media content. It is often suggested that businesses update their profiles daily. I, on the other hand, am a firm believer of posting as frequent as it makes sense to do so. Determine your publish rate and remain as consistent and routine as possible.
Tamar Weinberg, Social Media Strategist - Techipedia
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to work your ass off! Social media is NOT the new 'it' thing. It was in 2007, yes. In 2012, you are vying for attention among millions of other businesses. You can succeed if you work real hard toward it, but if you're going to just spend 5-10 minutes a day here and there, you will never see the benefits. Don't treat social media with a "set it and forget it" mindset. It's definitely something you need to work toward every. single. day.
Taylor Pratt, VP of Product Marketing - Raven Tools
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is if you only have time to do one thing social media related, make it to monitor mentions of your brand. The last thing you want is to miss out on reputation issues because you're out of the loop. You want to be able to answer any questions/problems customers have had to help ease the negative impact those reviews/mentions might have on future customers. A successful social media campaign requires lots of time, so if you don't have that available to you, this is the next best solution. It's also a great way to help promote those positive mentions that come in about your business.
Rob Snell, Owner - Gun Dog Supply
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to be VERY careful to not get distracted by Facebook and Twitter. You can't deny that social media is another killer app of the Internet, but it's important to remember that you don't make payroll by how many followers or friends you have. Allocate the proper amount of marketing time to these channels that they deserve based on REVENUE that they send to your site.
Also, do not forget about all the work left to do on your own website, specifically creating SEO-friendly unique content on product pages, writing reviews, and crafting buyers' guides. Create this conversion-friendly content on YOUR domain first, and then PROMOTE it via the proper social media channels!
Julie Joyce, Director of Operations - Link Fish Media
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to closely investigate how their competitors are using it in order to see not only the types of tweets and Facebook updates but also the general accepted tone. For example, a social work agency probably isn't going to use off-color humor, but someone selling cheeky t-shirts with rude slogans on them would probably do better if they did. You need to know what's unacceptable for your audience or you risk alienating your followers.
Chris Winfield, Chief Marketing Officer - BlueGlass
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to first find out where your customers (or potential customers) are actually spending the most time and concentrate your efforts there. Don't get caught up in the hype about the new 'social media site du jour'. If you customers aren't there, it doesn't matter how hot it is, it will be a waste of your time and money. Check your analytics to see where people are coming from and, even more important, simply talk to your customers and ask them. You'll be shocked at how effective this can be!
Catherine Seven, Founder - SEOwhat.com
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to use social media as a tool to reach, touch, and get into the trends of your customers. Don't simply try and sell them! Instead, interact with them as "friends" and make that social bond. Remember, they are on the social platform to get away so make it fun to be your friend. Give them Q&As, quizzes, and prizes, and in return you'll be building a brand that they'll love to be apart of.
Also, use social media as a way to explore new product offerings. For example, create a poll and let your fans and followers choose the color of your next product. In turn, these types of strategies will help your customers to feel valued, and not solicited! This will help you with getting the conversation right the first time.
Liana ‘Li' Evans, President and CEO - Da Li Social
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to look for opportunities and tools to integrate with your marketing efforts wherever possible. Small business owners shouldn't feel like they need to be on every social channel, that's why the integration and use of tools can be vitally important. Listening tools, such as Trackur, help companies find the most important channels to engage in and can also be extremely helpful in creating an integrated marketing strategy.
Remember, at the end of the day, it's about the value you give to your customers. If you can integrate that value across all your marketing channels, you'll be a lot more successful in your marketing efforts.
CK Chung, SEO Consultant - WEBOSIS
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to get involved in the conversation! They should find the channels where their audience is voicing their opinions and provide feedback. Whether it's a "thanks" to a positive comment or a "how can we help you" to a negative comment, there's a ton of opportunity out there to interact with customers very easily via social media. To take it even further, they can set up keyword searches to find prospects who may not be communicating directly with them. To add to that, small businesses can even monitor responses to competitors to offer their alternative solution. The possibilities are endless!
Dustin Woodard, President - SEO Naturale
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to remember that social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Stumble Upon, Google+, or other networks, is about increasing your online brand exposure and influence with real people - this means you need to be actively following and interacting with others in useful or entertaining ways. Unless you are a big brand, simply launching a presence isn't enough to build a following.
Lyndi Thompson, Marketing Buzz Bee - BizeeBee
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to not underestimate your current network. Before you run off and try to network with everyone under the sun reach out to your own network. From leads, feedback to even free labor you will find this network is eager to be supportive and spread the word about your business on and offline.
Additionally, I believe the following tips will also serve small businesses well:
Find Gold in Following Up: Social media is jammed pack with distracting information flying in and out every direction. If you reach out, expect to have to reach out several times in order to get a good response. Try different types of media from Twitter to Email marketing to keep in engaged with your community. Don't have high expectations that one touch is going to get you the results you want.
With Your Channels Combined: If you expected to build a house with just a hammer you will quickly realize it isn't going to happen. Social media is ONE tool at your disposal. Be sure to arm yourself with a variety of tools to get the job done and don't give up on social media because it hasn't been the tool that solves all your problems. Invest time into learning, investing and combing your resources and tools to create a strong marketing strategy for 2012.
Core Goals: It is easy to get excited and run off working on a fun project. However, review your core goals and maximize your time and effort to support your business goals. If you need more customers through the door then make sure you have a way to measure your efforts around that goal. Too tough to measure? Skip that idea until you can.
Keith Weigold, Chief Engagement Evangelist - Nutlug
My advice to small business owners looking to get started with social media marketing is to create a content calendar for your blog, tying it to your social media channels.
A simple way to go about it is to first brainstorm with all employees what your company would do if invited to a party: not about what you sell/make/distribute, etc.... but what you can specially do to HELP a customer. Think of things that are unique to your company - stories that are entertaining, informational, educational, and/or inspirational. That's Nutlug's "Old MacDonald's" method to delivering engaging content: E-I-E-I-O (the O is for objectives-based, meaning all content must address both the customers' and marketer's objectives).
Once you've got a great list of blog ideas, schedule them in a calendar by week for the year. Many find this daunting, so consider at least a quarterly calendar. Then add in all of the other events - sales, promotions, seasonal focus points, holidays, etc. - which will fill the content calendar. Understand the calendar is a fluid thing - if something external pops up (a social media trend, a hot topic, social/cultural/economical/weather events, whatever....be it local, national, or global), know that your content topics can be shifted to allow for reacting to these influences.
Finally, OBEY your calendar. Start working on posts a good two weeks out if you can, so you're not scrambling to catch up with your due date. Work on them when you can - doesn't have to be in the office/at work -- if inspiration and time strikes you at home, go with it!
Content should be created first, then considered for channel. If a post doesn't make sense sharing through LinkedIn, for instance, then don't share it there. Your readers/customers will appreciate that you've used relevant content for relevant channels, and you'll have plenty of other opportunities later to reach them through their channel of choice. I even use a column for each content element to see where it will 'live' (other than the blog itself). Remember that social media is about having a conversation with people/customers that have invited you to THEIR party. Don't be the boor in the corner shouting 'buy me, buy me,' but the engaging guest with a crowd developing around them because of the two-way, relevant stories you're sharing.
In closing, it is obvious that social media is far too important of an online marketing strategy for any business, big or small, to simply just ignore. Hopefully, this much is clear. Social marketing, when done correctly, can be very rewarding... especially for small businesses. I hope that my advice plus the advice of those Internet marketing experts mentioned above will in some way prove to be useful to those of you planning to implement social marketing campaigns this coming New Year.