Small Business and Social Marketing: Time for an Audit?

Marketing is simple: spend $100 advertising your product or service and earn back $110 for your efforts. This has long been the underlying challenge for businesses large and small:  how do you acquire new customers, convince them to buy more of whatever it is you are selling, get them to tell other’s about your offering, and achieve positive ROI the whole while. Problem is, for many companies, this kind of magical thinking is simply not grounded in any type of reality. Especially for small business, traditional print, radio, and television advertising is out of their reach financially. Online advertising such as keyword search, CPC/PPC, and display ad placement  is, quite simply, a waste of money. And for many businesses trying to reach an increasingly distracted, overwhelmed, and fragmented audience has become more difficult than ever. As a result of more and more small businesses have sought alternative channels for their marketing strategies, such as value-add partnerships, inbound marketing campaigns, search engine optimization and social media marketing.

The least expensive and, for many businesses, most effective and fastest growing marketing channel is the social media. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Vine, Quora, and their ilk are highly effective channels that small business can use to reach their target audience  engage their customers, encourage word of mouth, and build visibility and awareness for their brand. For most small business it is not a matter of whether they need to have a SM presence, but how effective a job they are doing with their social strategy. But, and this is a big but, unlike traditional advertising the effectiveness of social media campaigns can be very difficult to track, and the ROI near impossible to calculate.

Most small businesses try to execute on their SM without a plan in place, absent an understanding of the competitive market, and with a limited knowledge of the tools available. The first step in remedying this is to conduct an audit of your company’s social media practices, assets, and strategy; with this data in hand a small business can determine whether what they are doing is effective and whether the ROI on these efforts is positive. Here a 5 tips to get you going and help you craft a roadmap for your company’s SM strategy.

1. Look to your competition First step, like so much in business, is to have a close look at your own market, specifically at your competition. Which social media platforms do they leverage? What is their strategy? And, most importantly, what is working for them and what is not. Take a close look at their Facebook page and their Twitter stream and determine how often they post, what types of content they share, and the level of engagement they are able to achieve. The number of followers your competition has is a good place to start, but also look at who they follow and how they engage with those as well. Another good indicator is to look at the hashtags they are using and how consistent they are with those. Given the fact that you share the same market, similar products, and indistinguishable audiences chances are that what is working for them, will also work for you.

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2. Learn from the best. After nearly 10 years of an increasingly social media-driven internet, a number of rock stars have emerged. These are the companies that do the very best job engaging customers via the SM channels, creating viral content, and building strong word-of-mouth through their use of SM. Pick a great company, one that you admire – better yet, one that you follow on SM – and take the time to analyze what they are doing. The visual look of their Facebook and Twitter pages is a good place to start; an effectively designed page can help visitors to immediately understand a brand, its personality, and its target audience. Look at all of their accounts, dig beyond their main FB and Twitter accounts to their more targeted channels that promote everything from specific offerings, to their own philanthropy, to their public relations and media channels.

3. Set goals. Duh. Without a grasp of exactly what you are trying to achieve in SM you are spinning your wheels. Your goals can be simple: sign up x new followers; achieve an engagement ratio of 20:1 of followers to people discussing your product; or a objective for the number of  retweets of your content over a specific period of time. Why waste effort, capacity, and money on an effort unless you can determine if those are resources well spent?

4. Establish metrics. Related to those goals, are the metrics that will allow you to determine whether or not you are succeeding. Companies with successful SM strategies measure everything: number of followers, number of retweets, clicks on content, downloads, number of Likes, frequency of posts. Good data leads to meaningful analysis and can make all of the difference when determining if a marketing channel is effective for your company.

5. Take action. Develop your own best practices for your social marketing campaigns and repeat what works again and again. If a piece of your content becomes wildly popular, consider what is was about that particular post excited your followers and determine what else you can do in a similar vein. The best action you can take in your social marketing efforts is one that reflects who you are as a business; your audience is your audience precisely because they appreciate what you represent and the actions that resonate most deeply with your followers are always the best actions to take.

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