“About 61% of small businesses don't see any return on investment on their social-media activities… Yet, almost 50% say they've increased their time spent on social media, and only 7% have decreased their time.”
A recent article from USA Today pointed out that many small businesses aren’t seeing the value in their social media marketing efforts, although most have increased or maintained the time they spend with social media. The most cited goals were to acquire and engage new customers, gain leads and referrals and boost awareness.
Social media’s been referred to as a made-for-small-business channel with its ability to establish and maintain relationships with passionate customers, something small businesses have in spades compared to large corporations.
So what’s missing? Where’s the gap? I’d argue that there’s a misunderstanding of what social media marketing involves and what it’s good at because for every small business out there that feels social media’s been a failure, there’s another using it successfully. Maybe we need to reset our expectations.
Social media is not a silver bullet. Social media will not solve every challenge. If ROI is your objective, a growth in Facebook ‘likes’ does not equal success. You need to build tactics around generating ROI. In some pockets of the marketing industry the hyperbolic stature given to social media has evened out, but that message has not gotten to everyone. It’s not the be-all-end-all marketing Mecca. It’s just another way for marketers to get close to their consumers, distribute messages and hopefully, encourage consumers to spread messages for them.
Until businesses understand what true social media marketing is and what it is not, expectations will continually be unmet.
Social Media Marketing is a Grind
Social media is a new way to think about marketing, but the approach is the same. It’s tough. Success requires investment, understanding, objectives, planning, time, learning and relearning:
Investment: Whether it’s time, money or both, social media requires capital to make the most out of a brand presence. Funds help by building awareness, amplification, and potentially, implementing custom development work, but most importantly, social media takes a lot of time. It doesn’t have a finite end point. It’s an ongoing dialogue with consumers, and that’s a conversation that requires constant feeding. The challenge for many businesses is that the investment comes upfront, while the sustainable payoff grows and comes over time.
Consumer and Channel Understanding: A brand’s social target may differ from whom they typically target. The segment a brand should serve in social channels should 1.) already be discussing the brand, 2.) have a propensity to discuss the brand and/or 3.) be willing to share the brand at some point. You want to reach consumers who are going to want to be reached. Touch customers who will touch you back. That’s easier said than done because once a brand identifies the customer, it has to understand how he/she/they use social channels. A brand should focus on how it can deliver value to the social experiences their customers are already having and will be having in the future.
Objectives: Why do you want to do social media in the first place? There should be a reason this makes sense for your business. That’s the only way you’ll know whether or not success is working. Too many brands use social media and don’t know if it is working because they didn’t understand what it was supposed to do in the first place. Know what you want to accomplish and based on your understanding of what you’re able to invest, your customer and belief in social media, determine if social media is the right approach. Marketers have many tools in their tool belts. Social media is just one. Marketers should apply a cost/benefit analysis to determine if social media is right for them.
Establish a Roadmap: Develop a holistic plan that includes paid (social media/digital advertising), earned (starting conversations and nurturing others to continue conversations) and owned (your website, email list, etc.) tactics working together. Each piece is more successful when the other two are involved. Social media marketing is not Facebook. It’s a holistic approach to driving online conversations about a brand across channels.
Cultivate, Build and Grow: Social media is not made for marketers. Marketers have to make social media work for them, and the biggest part of that is working for the audience. The best way to do that is through strong creative, content that improves people’s social media experiences and being consistent. That’s how you nurture a community, and as people find value, their social connections will discover the value as well.
Live in the Analytics: No business will get everything right the first time. Use analytics across all channels to understand how your ecosystem is working, what tactics aren’t working and where opportunities exist. Execute, tests, measure, optimize and repeat.
Social media is a grind. It wasn’t created to work for business. But the people are there, and many businesses, big and small, have found ways to make social media a big part of their success. They did that by understanding what social media could do and approaching it with discipline.