The new Main Street exists anywhere thumbs can hit keys or scroll across a touchscreen. So what does your online presence say about what you have to offer those virtually strolling by?
As the use of social media surges and online communities continue to grow, relationships between businesses and customers will continue to evolve dramatically. Customers regularly seek feedback on future purchases from their social circle. Conversations about your brand are readily accessible, and any business can develop a substantial online presence with time and expertise. The emergence of social media has leveled the playing field, and small businesses have unprecedented marketing opportunities within their grasp.
There is no denying social media’s direct influence on business. Nearly 50 percent of people who saw a brand’s name on Twitter went to a search engine to look for the product, according to a recent Performics report. An impressive 34 percent reported first hearing about or learning more about a product via a social network.
When you combine this impressive visibility with the limited investment involved, participation in social media offers a tremendous value — but is it right for your business?
Whether or not your business currently embraces social media, research makes a strong case for every business to evaluate social media opportunities, prepare a plan to capture those opportunities, engage your audience and measure results to make this outreach more and more effective.
The goal of any marketing or advertising campaign is to drive sales, usually by creating the opportunity for a one-on-one conversation between the business and your customer. Social media can make these conversations more accessible but not without adding a few complexities for small businesses looking to integrate these channels into marketing campaigns.
Though inexpensive in terms of dollars, a social media strategy does require you to commit valuable time engaging with current and potential customers through ongoing conversations. Before you decide whether to incorporate these channels into your marketing plans, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have the time and resources to regularly engage in conversations about my brand and business?
Finding extra time is a challenge for any business, but sparse and erratic content updates are the online equivalent to having a storefront without any hours of operation. Customers will find the answers and information they need elsewhere, and you will need to invest even more time and effort to bring them back. A poorly executed social media effort is worse than no effort at all.
Do I have consistent, valuable content to share regularly with my audience?
A social media platform can be great for your marketing-focused messages, but that is just one component of the conversation. Facebook, Twitter and other emerging channels offer a golden opportunity to position you and your business as an expert resource — both in your industry and in the local market. Again, it is all about the conversation. Your marketing messages will be better received if your audience members feel they are part of a two-way dialogue.
How will social media help achieve my business goals?
If you answered yes to the previous questions, start thinking about how these channels can help achieve your key goals. Do you want to build product recognition or spread brand awareness? Are you looking for candid feedback to enhance your product or service or explore a new channel? Do you want to reward customer loyalty? Do you have a specific demographic to target? Want to keep tabs on the competition? Social media can be an incredibly valuable resource, but you should have a clear purpose before you start, so you can track how well you’re doing and where to adjust.
Prepare a Plan
As with any new business opportunity, research is critical to success. There are online conversations happening right now about your industry, if not your specific business and brand. Listen to these conversations and learn about the audiences involved. Choose the best social media channels based on your research, and create your plan accordingly. There are many to choose from, but Facebook and Twitter are two of the most established channels, and each offers distinct opportunities.
- Facebook — one of the most formidable social media channels available, it commands more than 40 percent of social media traffic (comScore) and 400 million users (Mashable). Any business can create a fan page to serve as a hub for a wide range of content, including newsletter signups, contests, events and key announcements. Facebook ads also offer an effective and relatively inexpensive tool to generate awareness with target demographics.
Twitter — one of the fastest-growing and most popular channels, Twitter has quickly become a valuable tool for brands and marketers. Consumers are 67 percent more likely to buy from the brands they follow on Twitter (Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies), and the search functionality offers an easy way to track conversations about your brand or industry. Twitter is also a great tool for promoting events, contests or announcements.
Finally, make sure you have a primary website or blog to link to all of your social media campaigns and activities. Utilizing cross-promotion not only gives potential customers a more extensive view of your business, but also allows you to measure traffic to your site and conversion opportunities.
Engage Your Audience
Now that you’ve selected your channels and created a plan, get ready to engage your audience and participate in conversations. You don’t need to create original content every day, but if you see an article relevant to your audience, post the link with your thoughts on the content.
Offer unique deals to your followers and develop opportunities to reward loyalty. Respond to questions from your fans or those talking about your brand or industry. If you have a new business idea, use these channels to get instantaneous feedback from your customers.
Be sure to tailor your messages (tweets, videos, updates, etc.) to your audience — appeal to what people love the most and continue to listen for opportunities to share your message.
Find the content that your business is already creating in the form of training, presentations, customer successes and public relations, and share this content with your social network.
Ultimately, you want to measure the return on every investment in your business to make the best decisions going forward, and it’s no different with social media. Luckily, there are a number of ways to measure your online efforts:
- traffic to your website / Google analytics
- Google alerts
- Twitter searches
- Facebook Insights
- social media and blog alert sites (both free and paid services)
Specific metrics to watch with your social media marketing efforts include
- traffic and sales leads (rough idea of the number of people who interact with your brand);
- true cost (consider your time investment);
- customer interactions (monitor comments, reposts, mentions about your brand to gauge how people feel about your brand and your competitors); and
- following/friend/contact rating (if people are connecting to your social networking profile — you are providing them with value).
Beyond these metrics, consider the quality of conversations you are engaging in, contributing to or spurring and the insights you are gaining about your customers. Access to this level of insight into the direct behaviors of your target customers was previously a rare commodity for any business, so use this information to your advantage.
Tapping into social media enables you to use direct customer feedback to strengthen your brand, enhance your product, refine your service and build a loyal customer base. Your business can thrive on the new Main Street if you take time to evaluate, prepare, engage and measure your social media opportunities.
Pete Gombert is CEO of Balihoo, a provider of local marketing automation technology and services to national brands with local marketing needs.