There’s been a lot of talk about social media and how it can propel a small business to the next level. And while it’s true that the social platform is the wave of the future as far as advertising, there’s also a lot of hype surrounding it that needs to be addressed. Yes, it’s true that Facebook’s population is larger than Brazil, Japan or Russia. And that 96 percent of Generation Y’ers have joined a social network.
But what does that mean for your small business?
Small business owners are adding this platform to their marketing efforts at a breakneck speed—in fact a recent poll by The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business shows that a full 24 percent of small business owners are using it, as opposed to only 12 percent the previous year. And of those people surveyed, 45 percent believe that their efforts will pay off in the form of profits in 12 months or less. And that’s where the disconnect takes place.
Just because a business owner builds a Facebook page, posts on Twitter and interacts on LinkedIn, that won’t necessarily create instant profits. We’ve all heard the social media success stories of brands like Dell and Starbucks, but they started with a name recognition that most of us can only dream about. But what about the local business who wants to use the platform to create a thriving community right where they are? What about the website owner who competes with major retailers for the same target audience? How should they use this rapidly growing platform? Let’s step out of the box for a few moments and forget everything we’ve heard about running a successful social media campaign, and concentrate instead on what will work for your small businesses.
Determine Who Your Audience Is
If you run a small dry-cleaning store in California, then you shouldn’t be trying to reach a global market in your social media efforts. That may sound simplistic, but the truth is that’s exactly what a lot of small business owners do. But just because you can reach a global audience, that doesn’t mean you should. Your first step in designing your campaign should be to decide who you’re trying to reach. Maybe it’s your local community—then you’ll need to concentrate on doing what the bigger guys can’t—offering content and specials that focus on just that community. Perhaps you’re in competition with big retailers, then you’ll have to determine what part of that target market you want to pursue—maybe it’s not the bargain shoppers, but those consumers who demand a lot of personal attention from their vendor—something they’re not likely to get from a larger company.
Determine Who You Are
People talk about the importance of branding a company, but what they’re really saying is that each company has a “personality” and that personality should pervade every communication that’s distributed by the company. Businesses run into trouble when they’re hip and fresh one day in their Tweets, and serious and straightforward the next. Your followers will want to know what to expect, and will generally decide who to follow based on the tone of the posts and other communications. You can’t be all things to all people, and when businesses try to do that, they typically end up being ignored. In short, don’t try and be someone you’re not—stay consistent with your voice, and you’ll find the audience who can relate to it and will be anxious to hear what you have to say.
Determine Your Schedule and Relevancy
Your followers have made a commitment to you, but with that commitment comes an expectation that they’ll get relevant and timely content from you on a consistent basis. If they log onto your blog but only find new content every once in a while, they’ll likely look for more consistent information elsewhere. But along with posting consistently, you must also provide interesting and useful content to your readers. If you feel that you can only do that once a week, then don’t post daily —no matter what the marketing gurus tell you. The reality is this: your readers don’t care what’s going on in your life unless it relates to your business. They want to know what you can do for them, when you can do it, and how. Period. Everything else may be nice, but it won’t advance your business. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Get an Expert
If there’s one common thread in the success stories that we hear about social media, it’s that all of the companies used a professional in their marketing efforts. Social media—despite its irreverent and hip atmosphere is no place for amateurs. It requires know-how, skill and ample time to make any campaign a success. Unless you’re an expert, you’ll likely be wasting your time if you try to do it yourself. Luckily, outsourcing on sites like freelancer.com has leveled the playing field for small businesses. While larger companies may be able to hire a full-time social media expert, not many small business owners can. But outsourcing will allow you to hire an expert and pay them on a per project basis—which will not only reduce your costs, but will ensure that you get a dedicated professional who is working in a results oriented manner for the success of your platform.
If you take away only one thing from this article, let it be this: Just like any other marketing campaign, social media must be approached in the unique way that will work for your business. Trying to follow the crowd in their marketing efforts will simply not achieve the type of results that you’re looking for. Take some time to determine what will work for your business, otherwise you’ll just be speaking into the ether.
Matt Barrie is CEO of Freelancer.com, the world's largest outsourcing marketplace.
Image credit: Matt Barrie