Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Social Media for Small Business : The Why and How

Social media fervour peaked in 2012 with many local brands (from ‘Samoosa Dip’ to ‘plumb-avid’) claiming real estate on any social media platform that was free and didn’t require considerable set-up admin. Two years on and Facebook, Twitter and Youtube (mostly Youtube) may start to resemble elephant graveyards, desecrated with profile pages that have seen less action than a typical social media ‘guru’ at most parties. With that in mind, here is a checklist you can use to determine whether you need to be on social, and if yes, some questions you should consider before starting.
Why are you on social?
My theory is that most brands need to be on social media for one of six reasons:
1. Awareness – By awareness, I don’t mean using social as an additional broadcast channel to host your television commercial or jpegs of your latest leaflet. Social works well if your brand has an existing rapport with people as often consumers will ‘like’ or ‘follow’ something they have an existing relationship with. Consumers don’t necessarily go onto social to ‘talk’ to your brand, but rather, to ‘talk’ about your brand.
2. Sentiment – Do a google search on your brand. Check forums if applicable. What are people saying about it? Is Hellopeter filling your search engine results page? If so, you have a reason to use social, but more importantly, you have an urgent need to change something in your business.
3. Customer Care – Are your consumers likely to go onto Twitter for after-sales service? Do you sell a product that might be a grudge purchase (Insurance)? If so, that’s a good reason to be on social. Just remember that consumers treat your social channels as just another brand touch-point, so don’t give them a stellar social experience but drop balls when it comes to your customer care-line. The experience has to be seamless, regardless of where it is happening.
4. Market share – Are you using social as a lead generator, incentivizing consumers who interact with you on social to purchase with greater frequency or do you have an e-commerce layer to your business? Social is great for the long-game but if you just have a presence because everyone else is doing it then you need to take a step back and think about how social is aligned to your business objectives?
5. Crowdsourcing – It’s not about the numbers, but rather, about having a community of highly motivated and engaged advocates. Do you use social for crowdsourcing? If you’re running a restaurant or similar service, you should consider leveraging social for crowdsourcing. Provided you have a healthy community (a representative sample is sufficient, you don’t need a Facebook community bigger than the population of Botswana), you can use social for research.
6. Recruitment – This generally doesn’t apply to the smaller guys, but is nonetheless, a strategic consideration for the use of social.
Now that we tackled the why - let's look at the how (questions you should ask before you start)
1. How do you know your target market is using social media?
Increasingly all segments of society are joining social, with the affectionately termed ‘silver surfer’ (age 50 – 64) demographic joining en masse. But how do you know that your target market is using social? Have you done any surveys, played around with targeting options on Google’s Adwords server or Facebook’s Power editor tool? Sometimes it’s easiest to just ask your target market how they would gain value from interacting with you on social. Adding a Facebook icon to the bottom of your pamphlets doesn’t cut it – give people a reason to engage with you online.
2. Are you sure social media is the right place for this message?     
Maybe your customers prefer to interact via sms, or even whatsapp (depending on the size of the business). Generally, consumers won’t create a social media account just to interact with your brand (they will create one to keep abreast with all the Oscar Pistorius updates). Could your resources be better spent on a pure CRM (customer relationship management) solution or a newsletter?
3. What is the desired ROI in this channel?
Social is not free (if anything, it costs time), so effort going in has to translate into something. Are you just ticking a box?
4. Does this fit in with your overall marketing strategy?
Where does social sit in relation to Search Engine Optimisation, content strategy, direct marketing, traditional media efforts etc?
5. What platforms will you be using?
It’s important to not spread yourself too thinly. Having a presence on every platform out there may dilute the brand, especially if you don’t have resource to manage them effectively. The new shiny channels might sound appealing, until you realize that it’s quite tough to market a plumbing service on Instagram. Choose platforms according to their role and don’t forget to ask your customers where they play online.
6. Do you have enough resource to manage your chosen platforms? If yes, have they had any social media training?
Reading Mashable doesn’t count.
7. Can you ensure a constant flow of fresh content?
This is where most small brands fall flat. Spend some time developing a content strategy, with focus areas that your company can credibly play in and work out how to ensure that you always have content. Facebook penalizes brands who don’t post often, by limiting their reach. If your current strategy is posting googled funny pizza images’, you run a very high risk of copyright infringement and your account could cost you dearly.
Hopefully, you will now be able to make an informed decision about social media and the value it could offer for your business. Leave a comment if you have a specific question or if you would like to know more. Alternatively, you can follow me on twitter @concerningmj