Stop Sweating Social Media, Part 1

by Patricia Fitzgerald

So here’s a question we get from our clients — a lot: “Does social media really work?” The answer: Well, that depends.

Sounds vague, we know, but the effectiveness of your social media efforts rely on a multitude of factors, among them your time (or lack thereof), your type of business, your customers, your approach, and your expectations. In this week’s C&D post, we’ll dive into Part One of our social medial recommendations for small businesses with limited time and resources.

These days, most small-business owners feel the pressure to have a social media presence. After all, everything they’ve read or been told by marketing experts says they should. If you’re not on Facebook, you’re nobody. As a result, people who are busy running businesses invest countless hours posting stuff, inventing convoluted hashtags, and editing arty photos for Instagram. Then they wait for the likes, retweets, and followers to come, only to be disappointed and puzzled when it doesn’t happen.

Here’s where we get geeky with some stats. After surveying 2,000 small-business owners, Constant Contact found that 81 percent of these owners use social media to promote their businesses. And according to a Manta survey, close to 50 percent of participating businesses said they’re spending more time on social media channels than ever before.

Fifty-five percent of those businesses claimed they use social media to capture leads and connect with customers. The survey also revealed, however, that more than 60 percent of businesses reported seeing zero return on their social media network. That’s a whole lot of tweeting, with not a whole lot to show for it.

What gives? Are we to conclude that social media simply doesn’t work? Not so fast. When our clients — mostly small businesses — ask us whether social media is worth the time and effort, here’s what we tell them. (By the way, for the sake of this post we’re focusing on the “free” variety of social media — not paid advertising, AdWords, Facebook boosts, or tactics of that ilk.)

Be Patient and Persistent

When venturing into social media, it’s important to adjust your expectations. Having a Facebook or LinkedIn page, a Twitter handle, or an Instagram account does not mean that new customers will start banging on your door. Social media is typically not an effective lead-generation tool. In fact, according to a recent Gallup poll, only five percent of those surveyed said social media had a "great deal of influence" on their purchasing decisions.

So what is social media good for, if not to drive sales? Well, it’s more of a community-, reputation-, and credibility-building tool. All of which are not exactly tangible metrics you can measure and track. The results you get from social media (when it’s done right) are often slow to see and not easy to recognize.

Maybe a potential customer goes to your Facebook page to see if you’re a legit business. Perhaps one of your followers shares one of your posts on their own Facebook timeline, thereby expanding your exposure. Or possibly someone sees your Instagram photo of a new product and thinks to themselves, “Hey, that would make a perfect gift for mom next month.” These are all examples of “results” generated from actions taken on social media. They don’t necessarily translate into immediate sales or new customers. But they do slowly start to build a loyal following and expand your reach beyond your immediate circle. Be patient. It takes time to grow your social media network — six months to a year of consistent, faithful activity on your part. Chance are, you won’t attract 1,000 or even 100 followers for a good long while. So just stick with it and keep at it.

Use Your Time Wisely

You’re busy. We get it; we’re a small business too. I’m writing this very post at 11pm at night because it’s the only time I can find to do it. Like you, our small-business clients don’t have hours to spend each day on social media efforts. So, as we tell those clients, don’t.

If you’re completely new to social media, start small and with something you probably already use: Facebook. Create a Facebook page for your business, invite your family, friends, and business contacts to follow it, then spend 30 minutes a day posting content. Miss a day or two? That’s okay. Just be as consistent as you can.

If you don’t have time to post every day, then post selectively. Think quality over quantity. Take an hour or two every week to write an insightful post with valuable information your customers will want to read. See our blog post about meaningful online content. If you have the on-hand resources, assign one of your more trusted and capable employees the task of posting to your business’s Facebook page.

We advise our clients to set a rhythm they can maintain — whether it’s 30 minutes a day or two hours a week. We find setting aside some time first thing in the morning to post on social media works best for us. Don’t start out devoting an entire week posting everything and anything, only to burn out and go silent. Slow and steady wins the social media race.

Consider Your Customer

Once you feel like you have the whole Facebook thing down pretty well, then venture out to other social media platforms. But for heaven’s sake, don’t feel like you’ve got to have a presence on all of them. Choose one or two additional channels that make the most sense for your business and your audience.

For example, Instagram and Pinterest might be a great platform if you run a café, own a gym, or sell hand-made jewelry. Those platforms are perfect for sharing gorgeous photos of your beautiful pastries, super-fit people exercising, or your latest masterpieces. If you sell accounting software or fumigation services, however, those platforms probably aren’t the best way to promote your business. You’ll likely have more luck with LinkedIn.

You’ll also want to keep your customers in mind. Women gravitate toward visual platforms like the aforementioned Pinterest and Instagram. Youngsters (under 25) tend to use mobile apps more so than Facebook. Business professionals populate LinkedIn. So if your typical customer is a 70-year-old male retiree, chances are they’re not using Snapchat. Consider which social media outlets your customers most likely frequent, and meet them there.

OK, Now What?

We’ve covered some of the basics to get you started on social media. But it’s not just about choosing your social media outlets and managing your time wisely. What you’re saying and sharing on those outlets is equally important. In our next installation, we’ll cover tips on crafting your content for your social channels, as well as expanding your social network organically. In the meantime, if you have any questions or want to pick our brains some more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re on Facebook and Twitter, but we’re also sitting by our phones.

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