Let’s get the easy questions out of the way first. Should you be using social media to market your SMB? Yes of course you should. Does this mean that you have to become a prolific generator of web-based content? No of course it doesn’t. Is social media for every business? Yes it is. And is social media just Facebook and Twitter? Nope.
Now, that said, a caveat or two. Marketing through social media does not have to mean promoting; they are not the same thing at all. You may want to create content for the web but you don’t have to if you don’t want to, and not everyone is a writer. And social media is for every business because, if nothing else, it is the most cost-effective source of market information available to you.
According to the Optus Business Social Media Index, only 28 percent of SMBs currently use social media, which means that most of you need more convincing. Either way, time for a step back. If you are going to spend 10 minutes a day doing anything for your business, the first thing to determine is how best to utilise those 10 minutes. What would your business benefit from most?
Social media feels like an infinite source of possibilities, which can be daunting or even seem too risky, whereas in fact, in round terms, you can use social media to do up to six things for your business:
- Use social media to listen;
- Use social media to ask questions;
- Use social media to extend your contacts;
- Use social media to drive your existing contacts;
- Use social media to sell your IP; and/or
- Use social media to sell your products or services.
It stands to reason that the further down the list you travel, the more complex the marketing requirement, but at the most simple of levels, effective use of social media can be as simple as using it to listen to your customers.
Many small business owners are not using social media channels effectively because they have jumped to two conclusions. First that social media is just Facebook and second that the only use for social media is selling product. The former is a misnomer and the latter just plain wrong.
Many small business people assume that using social media requires the creation of a Facebook page and ongoing conversations with customers. Social media channels are extremely effective at building brands and selling products. They are equally effective as new channels to manage customer service, as recruitment and retention tools, to derive valuable market information, to create cost-effective CRM programs, or to embody customer loyalty schemes.
By identifying the best use of social media for your business you can make very effective use of the channel in 10 minutes a day by focussing on achieving one or two key objectives. If you are a consultant, this could be as simple as using LinkedIn to manage your contacts or Slideshare to express your core competencies. If you are launching a new venture, this could be setting up listening posts or even using Google Alerts to keep you informed of the market’s opinion of your new product. And if you are a café owner and more adventurous, why not use Twitter to tweet ‘hour-long’ specials – hot chocolate on a cold day or ice cream in the summer?
Once you have identified what social media can do for your business, the next thing to determine is where can you find these elusive 10 minutes every day? Not that I am suggesting that you should allocate the same 10 minutes each day. However, you may find that in your busy day there may be a common 10 minutes of down time which you could be using to market your business.
Travelling to and from work is the most obvious (but not the only) candidate for your spare 10 minutes. With the proliferation of 3G devices and excellent apps to facilitate your connections, your smartphone or tablet can easily become your conduit to social media, making that trip to work on the ferry, train, tram or bus valuable time again.
Even if you are driving to work, the drive does not have to be down time. Now I am not advocating simultaneously accessing the web whilst driving a car. However, you could use the time to record an MP3 file which is turned into a podcast when you get to work. Communicating through audio files might be the best way to get to your customers, which is a key point to remember when it comes to creating content for social media. I said earlier in this article that not everyone is a writer and this is true. However, not every piece of content in social media is written. Huge swathes of content are in image, video or audio form. According to UM, nearly 80 percent of us have watched a video online, almost half have actually posted a photo to the web and over 40 percent regularly listen to podcasts.
The trick to creating content that markets your business effectively is to make it relevant to your audience and to use the most appropriate medium, which might not be the most obvious. If you are having difficulty attracting staff to join your business, why not make a video selling its benefits, particularly if those benefits are lifestyle-related. If your customer service team is regularly getting calls about similar issues, why not create a video or podcast that answers the problem once?
It is very possible that creating content in any format is not for you – because it really is not for everyone. Forrester Research conveniently splits social media users into a number of categories which we can all easily identify with and it is important to determine what kind of social media user you are.
The primary categories are Watchers, Shapers, Commentators and Producers, with only the latter likely to create lots of content. Popular wisdom would suggest that you can only be one type of social media user, but that belies the fact that many of us have slightly different work and home personas – so why can’t we do this in social media too?
You might not be the type of person who keeps a regular blog and you might not be able to work out why anyone in their right mind would want to tweet what they are doing this evening. However, you might, in a business sense, be able to see why a Twitter account which tweets discount codes or group buying opportunities might extend the reach of the promotion.
Most importantly during your 10 minutes a day, try to remember that the internet does not create new opportunities; it just improves on existing ones. Group buying is an improvement on asking for a discount if you buy more than one item, email is a better way of sending a letter, even the ubiquitous Facebook is just an easier way of keeping in touch with friends and family.
What this means is that you shouldn’t expect social media to change your world – just improve it – and don’t always expect to see those improvements overnight.
Finally, one of the big benefits of social media use for SMBs is that it levels the playing field. Any business can punch above its weight in social media. Size is not important, just that you direct your punch in the right direction.