Social media is here to stay: Basics small business owners need to know

Remember when you first drove the Information Superhighway? You sat in front of your desktop, plugged your modem into the phone line, and downloaded AOL from a disk?

In less than 20 years, that highway has morphed into a variety of freeways, highways, and scenic drives, available on demand at desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones and more. Billions of users access information, share conversations and interact with each other 24/07. Facebook has over a billion users; Google+ has a little over half that. 500 million people use Twitter. And, there are hundreds, if not thousands of social media networks you’ve probably never heard of, from A to Z.

Social media is a major marketing opportunity, when done right. The marketplace is huge; it’s immediate, and it’s open day and night. It’s also pretty much free to access and use.

Before You Start

Social media marketing requires:

• Strategic planning. Are you going to do it yourself, or hire someone to manage the process for you? Do you have a sufficient budget to build the network to best represent your product or service? Can you maintain the network? Must you out-source?

• A consistent, on-going time commitment. You can’t just build a Facebook page and open a Twitter account and expect the world to find you. You have to engage your potential audience, converse with them, respond to them, and build a relationship. This requires providing creative content and honest answers.

• A message and tone that complement your brand and your other marketing. If you’ve a sophisticated product or service, you can’t dumb down to fit what appears to be texting English or Twitterverse abbreviations. Class can exist in the social media world.

• Frequent monitoring and interaction. The social media world is 24/07. People expect their comments and conversations to be responded to…immediately. Small business owners who do it themselves, at their own pace and budget, can often succeed.

Know as much as you can before initiating a social media component to your marketing. You can learn about Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram (and the others) on their websites. There are plentiful seminars, workshops, and webinars available on social media via community colleges, chambers of commerce, continuing education programs and more.

If You Do It Yourself…

Gerry LeBlanc, an Internet technologist (www.gerryleblanc.com), helped The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, MA, build its first website, Gazettenet. Hw says, “I honestly believe that the best social media marketing is done first hand, not out-sourced…because the personality and voice of the brand can be lost when too much canned content is pushed into the social sphere. Ultimately, I tell my clients, “If you’re not going to truly participate in the social conversation, then it is better to wait until you are ready to do so. A lifeless or contrived presence is worse for your brand than respectfully abstaining.”

David Pakman, producer and host of “The David Pakman Show” (www.davidpakman.com), is a do-it-yourself social media marketer. His program, carried on over 150 traditional radio and TV outlets, has a huge YouTube audience, and reaches thousands of listeners and viewers on the major social media networks. He leveraged social media to expand audiences in ways traditional media are now just beginning to explore. David uses HootSuite. “because it lets you manage multiple accounts, and has a bulk scheduling feature (paid version) that some people may find useful. It is very easy to use and also lets you manage responses, etc.”

Ron Casalotti, a pioneer in social media marketing, got his start as a content provider for AOL. Since then, he’s been associated with some of the nation’s largest social media programs. His blog, “Bottom of The Food Chain”, is a must-read.

Casalotti (whose comments are his own, and not representative of his clients) also praises HootSuite. “This is largely a matter of budget, and for many small companies not much can be allocated to social media (at first). My absolute recommendation goes to HootSuite. It allows you to easily see tweets of people you follow, both directly and part of Twitter lists you may create; easily see when someone replies to you; easily see any direct messages you get and also allows for enduring search columns based upon keywords and/or hashtags. It incorporates a link shortener to make things fit, and can simultaneously post to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+ (or some subset) with a single click. Finally, it allows you to schedule your posts in advance — very useful for small-staff offices to reach different users at different days or times of day, even if the office is closed. It’s free for single-user, and reasonably priced for a small staff of coworkers.”

When You Can’t “Do It Yourself”…

Hire the best social media person you can.

Some advertising agencies and marketing companies offer social media services as part of the mix. If they’re already doing other marketing and public relations programs for you, they’re good choices, because they understand marketing first and foremost.

My company provides social media marketing and management to clients IF we’re also handling their public relations and/or marketing programs, because we believe that an integrated marketing and public relations campaign is most effective.

Michelle van Schouwen, president of the marketing, public relations and interactive firm van Schouwen Associates in Longmeadow, MA, offers social media management on their menu of services for clients. “We provide integrated social media marketing” says van Schouwen. “For our largely B2B client base, this tends to include some mix of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube, plus an array of content marketing opportunities.”

van Schouwen emphasizes, “Social media is both a rich extension of traditional public relations and what we at vSA consider an extraordinary new avenue to create a ‘circle of communication,’ in which a company can augment its communications by not only accepting but eliciting feedback and ideas; providing support to colleagues, customer and influentials; hearing and responding to industry needs; and in general talking with – not to – the people the company needs and wants to know.”

If you’re choosing to hire a social media marketing professional, choose carefully.

Ron Casalotti says, “I cannot stress enough the need to hire a bona fide social media professional to manage your online presence. Social media is both an art and a science. It is a new mixture of marketing, public relations, sales support, recruiting and brand building. Looking to hire a pro? First thing you do is put their name into a Google search and see what come back. You are looking for a verifiable social media footprint that points to his/her understanding of social media and how to use it as part of building their own personal online brand. If they don’t consistently use social media on a timely basis to support their own brand, how you rely on them to use it for yours? Important: social media is not something you give to a recent grad or intern simply because they are young and ‘get it.’ Hire a pro, someone with a proven track record of doing social for business — something I’ve written about in my own blog here: http://bottomofthefoodchain.net/2012/05/30/digital-native-digitally-naive/,”

David Pakman warns, “There are many, many people touting themselves as social media experts, many without any merit or accomplishments. I get pitched social media management on a weekly basis, and one of the first questions I ask is whether they can provide links to the biggest Twitter or Facebook pages they manage. This lets me do two things. First, if the biggest page they manage has too few followers, I know it is unlikely they are who I need. Once I was sent a link to a Twitter account with 1,200 followers. In very niche oriented businesses and local businesses, that number might make sense, but when I already have 30,000 followers, the idea of paying someone with no account bigger than 1,200 to manage makes no sense. Also, it lets you see exactly what type of thing they post and how they’ve structured the page, which is way more valuable than any pitch they give you.”

Some Resources

Social Media Today, a good starting point for all things social media with news and analysis on social media marketing, trends, and strategies: http://socialmediatoday.com/

Ron Casalotti’s blog article on digital natives who are digitally naive: http://bottomofthefoodchain.net/2012/05/30/digital-native-digitally-naive/

Ron Casalotti’s blog article on when to say no to social media “experts.” http://bottomofthefoodchain.net/2011/11/04/when-to-say-no-to-your-social-media-marketers/

HootSuite Information: https://hootsuite.com/

_________

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

5 comments

  1. Ron Casalotti says:

    Great article, and thank you, Mark, for including me. Your list of things to consider *before* embarking on a social media campaign (or, indeed, getting involved in social media for your SMB at all) are right on. Success takes planning

  2. Isaiah says:

    SEO can be difficult without a large budget. I find social media to be an easier outlet to reach , in some cases social media can be a lot cheaper than ppc…

  3. Tyler Alfie says:

    Sure, all business owner must know this 🙂

  4. Louise says:

    If content is king, engagement is the royal army. One frequent question from enterprise marketers is, “Why should I be on Facebook or Twitter?” The early answers revolved around the necessity of listening to your audience and responding to questions, opportunities or complaints. With effective content and a strong social media presence, startups can engage with the market before they’ve even launched. But engaging is key. Connect with your audience.

  5. Coolchatta says:

    Thanks for the article! Using Facebook or other social media platforms for customer service is a key for business! It's a great way to show your connected and open to communication good or bad. Seeing engaged businesses that welcome insights encourage trust between past, present and future clients.

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