A Beginner’s Guide To Social Media Marketing From The 10,000 Small Businesses Program
Columnist Alison Zeringue details the most common questions she heard as a social media panelist for Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program and shares the key takeaways for marketers and growing companies.
In July, I had the privilege of serving as a social media panelist for the New Orleans cohort of Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program. Along with two other online marketing professionals from the area, I was to host an interactive session with the business owners and entrepreneurs about leveraging social media for their businesses.
The 10,000 Small Businesses program is a Goldman Sachs and Goldman Sachs Foundation investment to create jobs and economic opportunities across the country. The program provides entrepreneurs with better access to support services, education and capital via 20 locations and 100 partners in the US. Angie Scott, COO of Search Influence (my employer), is an alumna of the program.
This is the 11th cohort of the program here in New Orleans, and the scholars were about halfway through their program at the time of the social media panel. As a young professional, sitting down with this room full of folks who’ve built businesses and successful ventures was quite the experience!
The questions we fielded ranged from beginner-level (How do I know what platforms my business should be on?) to more advanced (Do posts on Instagram get more engagement when shared from a personal or company profile?). It really demonstrated for me the wide range of social media knowledge out there among business owners.
Below, I’ve provided a sampling of the questions we were asked and the advice I think is vital for growing businesses to heed.
Tips On Implementing Social Media Marketing For Your Business
Q: How should companies use online marketing? What are the main tactical aspects to consider when using online marketing?
“Online marketing” is a broad term that encompasses search engine optimization, social media management, display and retargeting advertising, content marketing and more.
Those are common words we throw around inside the industry, but to some business owners it sounds like gibberish. In reality, all of those things total up to online public relations, reputation building and management.
It’s all about getting people in the online community to see your business as a trusted provider of goods or services and making information about your business easily accessible online.
Speaking broadly, whatever your budget or time investment available for online marketing is, you should employ a few key tactics to be successful:
• Create a consistent brand message. Make sure everything about your business information — from the way you write your business name to your graphics to the phone number you list for customers to contact you — is consistent everywhere you’re present online. This builds trust with search engines and with users.
Exceptions would include utilizing call-tracking numbers to measure your success in certain media, but be careful about hard-coding call-tracking numbers on your site and social media platforms.
• Maintain a constant presence. The feeds are going by quickly, so if you don’t remain present, you won’t be remembered.
– 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared daily on Facebook as of May 2013, which is a 94-percent increase from August 2012. (Source: Facebook)
– Social media is a vehicle for delivering and consuming content. Be sure that your content strategy is not only constant but also effective in reaching your audience.
• You have to pay to play. Remember, the social media networks are businesses, too, and they need to make money just like the rest of us. They employ algorithms to ensure their advertisers get the most traction, while businesses using social media organically (non-paid) have more work to do in order to be seen.
• Engage with your audience. Social media and online platforms shouldn’t be read-only media. Businesses should be present so they can hear first-hand what consumers are saying about them or their products, but they also need to engage those customers.
When done well, social and online marketing can turn good customers into brand ambassadors.
• Leverage user-provided information to learn about your audience and target customers. When considering using social media for a small business, I recommend the first step should be sitting down and defining your target audience.
There’s no point in using social media for marketing your business if you don’t know who you’re trying to connect with and what will resonate with them.
The beautiful thing about social media is the rich information users provide (both knowingly and unknowingly) about themselves, which can give marketers insight into how to connect with them best.
• Most importantly, have fun.
Q: Is social media marketing imperative for businesses?
Many businesses historically succeeded without a need for social media or heavy advertising. Today, the number of companies that will be able to sustain success without online marketing is declining at the speed with which the online landscape is changing.
Basic word-of-mouth marketing may suffice for some businesses. My best friend’s father runs a local plumbing company, and he’s never touched social media, yet he continues to stay in business. Those essential home services-style businesses will always have the word-of-mouth referral factor.
For Generation Y (also often referred to as Millennials), social media equals word of mouth. Social media is where they consume news, entertainment, information about products, trends and businesses, and of course, the opinions of their friends and acquaintances.
According to Pew Research, in 2014, half of all adult Facebook users had more than 200 friends on the site. While younger users tend to have the largest friend networks, those users won’t stay young forever and someday will become a prospective customer for you or your competitor.
In short, social media is imperative for businesses that want to grow, scale and sustain themselves in the economy of tomorrow. If the general public is going to be talking about you anyway, wouldn’t it be better to be there, engaging and capitalizing, than ignoring it?
Q: How should a business use social media in comparison with traditional advertising, shows, events and more?
In comparison to traditional advertising, social media can be a DIY platform. With a bit of a time investment, you can even be successful on social media without much of a budget, though I wouldn’t recommend it without some practice, professional advice and constant learning.
Social media platforms like Facebook hold billions of pieces of data about their users’ likes, dislikes, location, friends, family, purchases, reviews and much more. Users and consumers of social media provide information by filling out their profiles and simply engaging with others on the platforms.
The fact that marketers and advertisers can leverage such rich data is what sets social media and online marketing apart from traditional types of advertising.
In addition, the detailed analytics and insights into user behavior and interaction with the business are unmatched when compared with those from traditional media like television or billboards.
Q: Can you give some examples of what worked and did not work in your business or for your clients?
While I’m sure everyone on the panel could talk about this for hours, in short, what works best for our customers is to have a wholesome presence on whichever social media outlets are right for them and their audience. We consider a wholesome approach to include four main tactics:
- Creative and consistent content strategy
- Consistent and interesting visual branding
- Ad spend to grow your reach and visibility
- Engagement with the audience (replying to comments, answering questions, sharing follower stories and photos)
What doesn’t work:
- Letting a teenager who claims to be a “social media expert” run the show
- Blindly targeting “everyone” using social media (not knowing your audience)
- Lacking SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals
- Failing to take advantage of social media tools for scheduling content and measuring success
Q: What time and financial resources should be dedicated to social media each month?
Resource allocation to social media truly depends on the business’s goals, the intended audience and the type of industry or product they are promoting. We have clients who are successful on social media that spend a few hundred dollars per month and big regional brands that are selling tickets online and spending thousands per month.
This is where consulting with an expert is crucial, as they can advise you on the appropriate budget to allocate to these efforts based on a little research and projection.
Q: What final words of wisdom do you have for businesses looking into social media?
Test things for yourself! There is a lot of information and research out there about the best time of day to post, the perfect type of content, how to get the most engagement, and the list goes on.
We’ve seen success using those data, and we’ve also seen success when we go rogue. Only through trial and error can you determine the most effective way for your business to utilize social media for marketing. You won’t know if you never try!