Social media has been in the news for years as the newest marketing tool that will transform how businesses are promoted. Large companies leverage considerable brand and reach with clever social media campaigns that, seemingly, go viral instantly. Small business know the reality, watching contests fall flat and their best efforts stall – leading them to feel the promise has not been fulfilled and that the return on investment from social media is small or non-existent.
There are also many mixed messages about what constitutes appropriate use of social media. This leaves small business owners confused, lumping social media in with SEO as another online marketing phenomenon they don't like or understand ¬– and certainly can't afford.
Direct ROI for Social Media Stinks
Expectations for social media are too high. This is understandable, given the viral spread of bullied bus matrons and delivery guys saving falling babies.
On the face, the data for social media isn't good. Many small businesses measure return on investment with crude numbers: "How many leads did it bring me last month?" Many don't have strong tracking or CRM, so they trust their gut.
Direct leads from social media for a small business can be very low, especially in less interesting spaces. People aren't very excited about retweeting news from a septic system cleaning business.
Social Media Automation is Wrong
Another big barrier for small businesses is the notion that social media is extremely hard and time-consuming.
Social media advocates tend to be overzealous, believing that everyone wants to tweet their every meal and check-in wherever they go. But the reality is that many people don't embrace a lifestyle of constant pluses, liking and pinning.
To make things worse, the mainstream message is that automation of any portion of social media marketing is somehow spammy.
How Small Business Should Use Social Media
The case for including social media in the small business Internet marketing portfolio is steadily increasing.
- There is strong evidence that social signals now influence search rankings on most major search engines.
- Social media is often used as an "assist" as consumers determine the legitimacy and reputation of a business during the purchasing process.
- Improved branding has both human and search engine benefits.
- Customer retention is often enhanced by a strong and responsive social media presence.
- Word-of-mouth referrals regularly happen on social media, driving traffic to the website.
Rather than avoiding social media entirely, small businesses should recognize that these secondary benefits are critical and to automate as much as possible to keep costs down. Lower expectations, and start slow. Here are some guidelines:
Social Media Tasks to Automate
- Automatically share every blog post to multiple social media platforms.
- Use software to schedule posts so your feeds look alive when you are asleep.
- Find strong sources of industry-specific content that your audience will enjoy that you won't have to create.
Don't Automate These Social Media Tasks
- Highly-customized content that complements the industry news mentioned above, but shows the personality and human-side of the business.
- "Thank yous": When a human reaches out to you, find a way to build the contact into a relationship with a highly customized (i.e., human) response.
- Refollows: Don't follow every follower. Many are machines and bring no value.
- Retweets: Automation will reduce the quality of social media presence.
Small business needs to recognize that ignoring social media because "it did not bring enough leads in last month" is no longer acceptable thinking.
Search engines are now incorporating social signals. Consumers research social media during purchasing decisions and use it as a customer service channel. And both branding and link-baiting benefit from strong social media management.
Small business owners are resource-constrained and need to be clever. Leveraging automation in the execution of social media management is smart, but can be taken too far.
Bring human resources to the table where the opportunity for real social media engagement exists, and use computers to make all else more efficient. Just be sure the quality meets high standards and builds audience