Carl B. Forkner, Ph.D.
Social Media has become a primary mechanism for sharing information, both in personal and professional circles. Over the last decade, the focus of many small businesses and entrepreneurs has shifted from a single-point website presence to a social media presence and marketing strategy that reaches potential customers, clients, and partners through popular social media applications. With the move of so many people to multi-purpose mobile devices, a focus on social media is an essential element of marketing and outreach.
With the popularity of social media among people of all ages across the globe, the need for business to take advantage of these cost-effective marketing platforms has become a virtual mandate for small and medium businesses (SMB) and entrepreneurs with limited budgets to invest in marketing campaigns. To acquire and maintain market share in the fast-paced, technology-enabled, mobile environment of the 21st Century, organizations of all sizes must understand how to integrate business-focused marketing into popular social media programs to take advantage of cost-effective ways to reach a greater, potentially targeted, customer/client base.
Why do SMBs need Social Media?
It is no secret that large companies and organizations established an Internet presence with websites early, racing to gain market share as consumers began a migration to online goods and services. For many SMBs and entrepreneurs, the ability to set up and maintain websites that rivaled large entities was typically cost-prohibitive, leaving most SMBs in a conceptual secondary marketplace. Even as the cost of website presence dropped, large companies and organizations maintained an edge over SMBs.
And then came Social Media…
…but again, the opportunity to reach customers, clients, and business partners did not go unnoticed by large enterprises:
52% of enterprise brands say that social media is the most important factor in client relationship and brand management building.
89% of businesses that use at least one social media platform in their marketing plan experience an increase in brand or company exposure.
That is good news for companies, but how does that match data from the consumer angle—do consumers find that social media is an important factor in their decision to consider or purchase goods or services from a company or organization?
82% of buyers say they have more trust in a company when the company leadership is active on social media platforms.
33% of consumers say that they use social media to find new products, brands, and services.
The message from the consumer perspective is that social media is leading potential customers and clients to new brands and marketplaces, but the real message is that consumers want to see management engaged with the company and their clients & customers.
The Nine Key Benefits of Social Media to SMBs:
Incorporating social media into the marketing plan provides key benefits to help entrepreneurs and SMBs compete for market share with large enterprise companies and organizations:
- Showcase your brand
- Business-client/customer relationship building
- Increased business exposure
- Strong online presence = increased trust by consumers
- Brand credibility
- Increased sales
- Timely analytics (customer feedback)
- Inexpensive traffic promotion & SEO boosting
- Decreased market costs over traditional marketing
Increased reach and engagement for less expense makes social media a must have for the successful SMB and entrepreneur.
All Social Media are not Created Equal
The difference between websites and social media may be reflected in an ice cream analogy. Web sites tend to be more like a box of Neapolitan ice cream—there are a few different flavors, but in the end, it still comes from the same box. Social Media, on the other hand, is more like a trip to the ice cream parlor, where one may choose among many different flavors from many different containers, depending on what one’s taste may be.
In the case of social media, the different flavors are demographics. These factors vary based on two primary variables—age and gender—and provide the target against which to match marketed products and services. For example, looking at the breakout of the five most popular social media platforms for business, the demographics breakout as follows:
Particularly for boutique or niche businesses and other SMBs with limited budgets, inventory, geographic service areas, or other constraints, being able to optimize assets by targeting the demographic group with the most potential for engagement is a primary consideration when selecting social media platforms.
Notably, some demographics may be reached through multiple media formats—in particular, those in the age range from 26-44. Depending on the type of product or service being offered by a niche or SMB, this group is a prime target for linking multiple social media formats together to reach the broadest possible audience. The ability to share messages between the social media formats illustrated above is a sales force multiplier.
It’s not just the Media: It’s the Message
Identifying the media outlet most likely to reach the target audience is only half the formula. As important as knowing how to reach your audience is understanding what they want to know. While reaching out to multiple demographics may present a product or service of interest to people across a wide range of lifestyles and stages of personal and professional development, one must recognize that a single manner of presentation may not appeal to such a diverse audience. In this case, carefully crafting the message within each social media format to meet the perceived preferred presentation of each demographic group is likely to increase marketing success.
Hot Topics and Your Topic
One of the key considerations when crafting social media messages is noting what topics are trending—or “hot”—on the chosen social media format. Tying your message to a trending topic will make it more likely to be noticed by media users. Some social media formats provide this information in the user profile, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
If you are a novice at using social media to promote your products or services, the other thing you need to know about tying your message to trending topics: the Hashtag (#). When you tie your message to a trending or popular topic, using the #hashtag to identify both the trending topic and the #keyword best describing your topic enhances search engine visibility.
A Long Reach for a Little Cash
Social media provides both free access to multiple audiences and paid advertising opportunities. With the exception of LinkedIn, which has relatively expensive advertising rates, the advertising rates on the most popular social media platforms—Facebook and Twitter—are extremely reasonable, starting as low as $1.00/day for targeted advertisements. Ads may be defined by various demographic factors, including country, state, city, age, and gender. Ads are customizable to run for various lengths of time, programmable start and stop dates/times, and choice of budget from $1.00/day up. For example, running an advertisement in the Phoenix East Valley area for four days, covering ages 18 and up, at $5.00/day, reached 8,900 Facebook users in a recent campaign.
Social Media Works! …but…
…social media can only take you so far. As your business grows, the presence you developed on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other sites will need to point potential customers, clients, and business partners to a landing site. The good news is that web pages have not only come down in price, even when built and managed externally. Web sites provide the “home base” for companies, complementing the quickly updatable social media presence. It may take hours or days to update information on a website, but with no in-depth technical training, it is possible to update information on social media in a matter of minutes, getting your message out to your audience quickly…
In short, Social Media helps SMBs level the playing field against competitors in today’s digital economy.
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