Social Media is a big thing nowadays. People are constantly updating their statuses, “checking in” to places, Tweeting, Instagramming, Vining and even your Grandmother is probably on Facebook at this point.
But does it mean that every small business owner should invest their hard earned cash in a social media presence? With Facebook becoming a Pay to Play platform, would it make financial sense to go big into the medium, or would the investment not match the return? Should small business instead focus their efforts and budget towards other means of online marketing, such as PPC and SEO ?
Just because something like this can gain traction doesn’t mean your small business can.
We asked a panel of experts:
Should Small Businesses invest in Social Media?
and here is what they’ve said:
Derek Devlin is the lead Search Consultant and Head of Digital Marketing at Made by Crunch. He specialises in Google penalty recovery and technical onsite and offsite SEO audits for multi-national blue chip clients. Connect with him on Google+ or through his blog, DerekDevlin.com.
“My experience is that the vast majority of small businesses have still not embraced social as a credible channel for customer acquisition. Most just pay lip service to it, thinking that having a token Facebook page and Twitter profile constitutes ‘doing social’.
I get a lot of push back from business owners who just don’t see the benefit in engaging with social media because their perception is that it’s just a bunch people talking about what they had for breakfast or posting pictures of cats.
The fact of the matter is that social media is now woven into mainstream lifestyles. It is increasingly where people choose to spend their time and where there are people, there is opportunity.
The challenge for small businesses is how to leverage such high levels of engagement in order to get more customers.
My honest assessment is that if you are looking at social as a ‘free’ source of traffic, forget it. The point of this debate, that you alluded to in your question, is that social is an INVESTMENT, just like any other marketing channel – you need to invest money and time in order to make it work.
Businesses can and do build an ‘organic’ following on social media but this approach generally favours large well-known brands or companies that operate in some type of trendy, populist niche. My view is that the majority of small businesses don’t have the time, the money or the inclination to succeed with this approach.
What does work is laser-targeted campaign based paid advertising.
Done intelligently, small businesses can undoubtedly gain a benefit from this strategy, whether you’re a bricks and mortar beauty salon promoting a 20% discount voucher for new customers on Facebook or whether you’re just trying to get more candidates to apply for your latest job offering on Linkedin, in this day and age, you can reach just about any demographic via social media.
My tips on how small business can get the most of social media:
Focus on campaign based promotions, events, discounts, offers, and competitions.
Make sure you pick the right channel for your audience or risk looking stupid AND wasting your money.
Ensure you are tracking and measuring your return on investment – if it isn’t working change and refine your ideas.
Split test and be prepared to experiment with different ideas.
Use paid social as the means for gaining traction when trying to build an engaged audience, the benefit is if done right you can nurture and remarket to them in the future.
Finally and probably, most important:
Know your customer – know who your customers are and how to talk to them – targeting the wrong people with the wrong message is a fast track to failure.
And what about SEO? Where does search fit into all this?
Engaging in social will not at present directly help your business rank better in search engines. However, everyone would surely agree that the tide is pointing towards a search-based paradigm where the actions of users who interact with content is going to be more important in grading documents on the web. Investing in social is a prudent way of future proofing your site.
Where I do think social is playing an increasingly important role in search is one of “validation”. Social shares and the sentiment of people talking about your company on social networks provide Google and others with trust signals that I’m sure are being used in a number of ways to understand more about who your business is and the value that you bring to the market.”
Julliana Geller is a digital and creative strategist and consultant, and has been in the industry for 5 years. A Brazilian expat living in Birmingham; startup lover, foodie and traveller, she is relentlessly curious. Connect with Juliana on Linkedin and follow her on Twitter
“Being a digital strategist and having worked with small businesses and start-ups before, my instinctive answer to this question would usually be a big fat shiny massive YES.
But let’s be rational here… Truth is, before deciding if social media (or any other marketing strategy), is appropriate for your business, there are many things to be considered: your goals, your target market, your budget, your company’s culture, the resources available and so on. All of those influence how and where you approach your customer. So here are a few questions that might help you clarify that:
1 What is it that I want to get from social media?
Social media can be a great tool to achieve many goals, but so can other forms of media. What makes social media different is the fact it enables businesses to connect with its customers, changing the focus from push to pull, mainly by:
Building awareness of your brand, by creating a voice and identity that your target market can relate too,
Nurturing a relationship with your customers, obtaining insight and also using these channels as a customer service platform,
Identifying and even creating new opportunities, when listening to market needs and keeping track of the competition.
2 Is my target market on social media? If yes, on which platforms?
Even though there’s a massive diversity of demographics on social media, some customers are still more likely to respond to traditional marketing. For example, 20 to 30 year olds are four times more likely to seek information on social media before making a purchase than 51 to 60 year olds. Knowing in which platforms your audience is helps having a more effective and focused approach, concentrating your efforts where it matters.
3 Do I have resources and time to invest?
Yes, you’ve read it right! Social media is not free. It requires resources and time. A powerful social media strategy needs planning, and you must ponder how much time it will take to implement it, if your staff will have available time to do so and in case not, if you have enough resources to hire extra staff or an agency to do that. A poorly deployed social media strategy or abandoned social media accounts can damage your business’ reputation badly.
With social media, there’s not a ‘cake recipe’ solution that fits all businesses, but if you think carefully about those questions and decide social media is a good option for your brand, the benefits it can bring are endless.”
Tom Black is an seasoned inbound marketer, with experience in organic and paid search, as well as social media. He is currently the Head of Search at Bootcamp Media. In the unlikely event that he is offline, he can be found renovating boats, or winding his way around the south coast of England, as well as on the British Inland Waterways.
“Should Small Businesses invest in social? – it depends. You’ll need to ask yourself a couple of questions first.
Is social media the right channel for me ?
I think the most important thing one needs to understand here is if social media is right for their business, and if so, which one. The answer will differ greatly depending on your business – the solution for a music promoter will be completely different to the solution for a leatheroid washer manufacturer.
Do I have big enough budget ?
The other just as important question is budget. For most small businesses the marketing budget is limited, and more often than not investing in one channel will take money away from another. This is even more important today as social platforms embrace the “pay to play” model.
Long term vs short term goals
The majority of small business owners would rather see quick wins, in terms of improved sales/conversions and increased visibility/ranking in the search engines. Building brands and communities is often not a priority for them. The problem with taking a social media approach is that speed of investment return is usually slow, and may even never happen. Social media is primarily a place to build brands and communities, not necessarily a way to earn quick sales and conversions.
Social media as ranking factors.
Coming from the SEO background, I used to look at social as something that will “help SEO”. I was very sceptical of it as from my own experience I have never seen social have a direct impact on rankings. Fast forward to 2014 and we have more and more evidence to suggest that social media does NOT have a direct impact on rankings.
Matt Cutts on Facebook and Twitter as ranking signals.
This was also confirmed by Amit Singhnal senior VP and software engineer at Google. In addition to that, Matt Cutts debunked possible influence on Google +1 on rankings
So in conclusion, as with all other types of marketing, there is no one universal “right answer”. One small business could benefit greatly from social media, whereas a similar size business could find itself majorly out of pocket. From my own experience, it is much better to employ a strong SEO and PPC strategy first, and worry about social media at a later date.“
Rick Lomas built his first website in 1997 and has learnt SEO from the ground up. Rick has a great deal of knowledge about healthy link maintenance and link risk assessment. In these days of manual and algorithmic Google Penguin penalties it is more important than ever to monitor your backlink profile very carefully, this is where his expertise is invaluable. Rick has a 100% success rate in removing manual spam penalties and is available for hire. You can get in touch with Rick via Linkedin, Facebook or visit his website.
“The interesting thing about social media is that it really is quite social, friendly even! If we were to wind the clock back to 2005 we would find people like Michelle Macphearson making obscene amounts of money with MySpace by automatically adding friends and dropping links on their page to ClickBank products. I didn’t do that so much myself, but I did use MySpace as a source of backlinks by using automated software to spam MySpace to death.
After MySpace, everybody turned to Friendster and then that died a similar death. As popular as these networks were, they weren’t made from real friends.
Microblogging gets a step nearer and took off with Twitter in 2006. By 2007 Twitter was growing rapidly and now in 2014 it has survived and it is huge. Things that happen only once in a million times, now happen 500 times a day on Twitter! But the most significant one is Facebook. Nearly everybody uses Facebook, the few that don’t are usually just making some sort of statement to those who do.
So should your business be using social media? It depends, if you are a bank, a local corner shop or a funeral director, don’t expect to make too many friends online. If you are a rock star, night club or any sort of celebrity, it is a different matter entirely – social media can be one of your greatest assets. For everybody else you are going to fall somewhere in between. In my experience the bulk of my traffic comes from Google, not social media, but it depends what niche you are in.
My most successful Twitter campaign was to do with folding bikes, where Brompton Bicycle enthusiasts tweet all day long about their bikes and where they have been. The most success I had with Facebook was a fan page about Lemmy from Motorhead, where 14,000 people would just go on about how much they liked him. I soon got bored with Lemmy and sold the page. This brings me to the final point, using social media is all about getting your audience to engage, share and like. This social activity creates viral traffic which can be very profitable, but if you can’t get people engaged – who cares?“
“Social Media for business (whether small or large) is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s pretty easy to get disheartened early on when you’re getting very little engagement but stick with it and provide useful and interesting content about your industry and your business (including curated content) and it’s worth the effort provided that you’re realistic about what you’re going to get out of it.
Any small business is going to want to be absolutely convinced that the investment – whether financial or time – is going to be worthwhile and calculating the RoI with social media can be challenging. You need to set realistic expectations – don’t expect a flood of orders to come through the door just because you Tweet or have a Facebook page. Accept that it takes time to build a following, and that your followers will spread the word and that this will hopefully drive more traffic to your site which may in turn produce leads for your business.
Also understand that Social Media can help with business credibility – if someone is considering buying from you they may check-out your social feeds. If they find a regularly updated social network full on interesting content and which provides more information about your business and employees then they are going to take more comfort from that than if they find a barren waste ground with a few weeds from years back or even no social networks at all.
So, yes, small businesses should invest in social media but prepare for the long game and set your expectations realistically.”
So as you can see, nobody has a definitive answer. The vast spead of our experience has exposed us to a lot of different companies, all of which have seen different needs. For some, social media was the right answer, and lead to great returns on investment, but for others, it was an expensive and ineffective waste of money. Of course, similar things could be said about all the different online marketing strategies, as something as massive as the internet can’t be “cracked” with one solution. We at Bootcamp Media would stress that, no matter what your budget or plan, you should use common sense and consult with experts before diving into anything. Failure to do so may result in you unnecessarily spending your hard earned money!