In the not-so-distant past the implications of Social Media for business were largely unknown. This was mostly due to the aversion by large corporations to adapt, most likely due to the lack of knowledge on the subject. It is now apparent that corporations have drunk the Kool-Aid and are scrambling to create and expand their social presence.
Social works for large corporations because they have the marketing budgets to get the latest and greatest technologies and to engage the best (and most expensive) marketing agencies around. But where does this leave the small to mid-size businesses? How can they leverage Social Media Marketing to drive business, engage with consumers, and monitor their brand?
The answers to these questions may not be as perplexing as they first seem. The great thing about Social Media is that anyone can get involved. If you have a computer, you’re in. As I have spoken to many small to mid-size business owners, I have come to see that virtually everyone has a Facebook page for their business, and many use additional channels, like Twitter and Foursquare. Unfortunately, many smaller businesses do not fully understand how to correctly harness the power of Social Media, with a solid foundation involving a true marketing strategy.
There are many approaches that small business owners are now taking for the purposes of Social Media Marketing. But what is the right way to navigate through the maze of Social Media for Small Business.
Many business owners turn to a current employee to manage their social channels. While this can be effective, I have found that most times it is not. The business owners I have encountered are under the incorrect assumption that because one of their employees has 1,000 friends on Facebook they should be able to effectively manage a Fan Page for the business. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You need someone who has marketing experience, writing talent, and most importantly, time. An existing employee has other responsibilities and cannot devote the appropriate amount of time necessary to adequately manage and effectuate an Online Marketing Strategy. Lastly, think about how much time this employee will be spending managing your online presence and figure out what it actually costs you. You may be shocked.
The next option I have seen many small to mid-size business use is to hire a marketing strategist. While this can certainly be effective, especially if the strategist has experience in Social Media Marketing, it can be costly. Even in this economy, an experienced Social Media Marketing Manager can command upwards of $60-$80k or more per year. Even if the business abandoned all forms of traditional advertising and focused solely on Online Marketing, this equates to spending $5-$7k per month on marketing. This is quite simply not in the budget for many small to mid-size businesses in today’s economy.
The last option is to engage a Marketing Agency to take the reins on your Online and Social Media Marketing. This can be a cost-effective option that can deliver real results, but selecting the right firm to engage can be tricky. Most “traditional” Marketing and Advertising Agencies have adapted to offer Online, Digital and Social Media Marketing solutions, but many do not have significant experience or expertise in this niche. The newer agencies that focus solely or mostly on New Media are often times too expensive for a smaller business to engage.
Just the other day I was speaking with a highly experienced and respected executive at one of the first and largest Social Media Marketing Agencies. He told me he often speaks with business owners and executives that want to engage his firm for Social Media Marketing, but simply can’t afford to do so.
Due to the recent explosion of Online Marketing, specifically Social Media, many new players are attempting to get in the game. There are dozens of small “agencies” that have recently popped up offering low-budget Social Media Marketing solutions, some as low as $299 per month. The problem with many of these agencies is that they don’t actually provide any type of marketing strategy and many have little experience in marketing and Social Media. Most of these firms really only automate postings to social channels and attempt to build you a “following”. The problem with this solution is that that are not engaging with users for the business and the “following” they are amassing is often times useless. They simply get the business “likes” or “friends” on Facebook or “followers” on Twitter. Almost none of these users engage with the business, many are not located in such a place where they would ever actually patronize the business and they do little or nothing to provide any return on the investment. Many of these new agencies are simply trying to capitalize on the growth and exposure Social Media Marketing has had in the recent past.
If you are a small business owner, and you do decide to engage of the smaller agencies, do your homework. Ask questions. Find out about the leadership of the company and their experience. Ask how they will build a following for you. Ask how they will engage with your audience. Ask if they will simply be disseminating content or if they will actually be providing you with an Online Marketing Strategy. Ask who will be handling the day-to-day management and maintenance of your Social Media presence. Ask who will be writing your content. Ask if they will be establishing a company blog for you. Ask if they will link your social channels to your company website. Ask for examples of past clients. And if they can’t answer any of these questions, look elsewhere.
The bottom line is this: every business, large or small, can leverage the power of Social Media for marketing purposes…if they do it right.