Are there really opportunities for small business to succeed using social media?
Absolutely, if one factors the strengths and weaknesses of the media with the strengths, weaknesses, and goals of the company.
The reality of the matter is that various social media have different strengths and weaknesses. While it is true the most obvious benefit of social media is branding and traffic, the truth is that social media can also:
- generate lots of good, quality, relevant links, which we all know can help a site perform better in the search results
- help to forge relationships. Not necessarily relationships with potential clients, but with those who help to influence potential client decisions i.e. indirect sales
- generate direct sales
- build a company's authority in an industry
In order for a small business to utilize social media to its fullest, and to determine which social media it should be using as part of its effort, it must understand the trade-offs it faces. Without being able to commit time or money to social media, many small businesses will seriously need to question their commitment to winning in their space in the foreseeable future.
What are the variables to consider:
a. available client time vs. available client $
b. complexity of client product/service information
c. client goals (direct sales, improved positioning, authority building, etc.)
As is the case with search, those social media sites offering the most potential for traffic, also contain the most competition. The more competition there is, the more thought and effort must go into being successful in that medium.
Does that mean that small business should avoid search? Not at all. Same with social media. It just means that small business must assess their desire and means, and find reasonable opportunities where competition is not too intense for their means. Precisely as with search ... though rather than looking for keyword opportunities, you're looking for content and medium opportunities!
For example, would you ever suggest to an SME client that you would try to rank for a generic, ultra-competitive, one-word term such as "weight loss"? Never. Though you may consider "weight loss san diego," right? Precisely!
That said, here are the strengths and weaknesses of several major social media sites, as they relate to small to medium sized businesses:
1. Yahoo Answers:
Yahoo Answers will not require much money to engage in, making it an attractive option for small business. Since in most cases, SMMs (Social Media Marketers) won't/can't play a large role in Yahoo Answers, as they're not experts in the space, it will require client time and expertise.
Yahoo Answers is a great tool for generating direct sales, rather than links or even indirect sales ... an anomaly amongst social media sites.
* Some SMMs may offer Yahoo Answers training solutions, designed to get SMEs up to speed quickly, and teach a few inside tricks. It will also be important to make the system as efficient as possible, so senior-level involvement is not necessary in identifying and answering each question. Instead, relevant questions should first be identified (and answered where a simple answer will suffice) by a junior-level person, then handed to more senior-level people as the questions become more in-depth and technical.
Wikipedia is another great solution for companies with more time than money. This is often a do-it-yourself solution for companies, though a good SMM can greatly aid with training, planning, and implementation, and can save companies a great deal of time. Securing a presence on relevant pages on Wikipedia isn't necessarily intuitive.
As Wikipedia doesn't like companies adding information about themselves (as it's likely biased), having information added by an experienced SMM with a solid reputation is worth its weight in gold.
Wikipedia is great for generating links (not direct as they are nofollow, but indirect through copied text), but is not exceptional at generating either indirect sales via forged relationships or direct sales.
Having a submission go hot on Digg is equivalent to ranking on an ultra-competitive keyword on Google, in terms of the number of links generated. Digg is, in reality, the Google of the social media world in terms of those looking to build links, which means Digg itself has had to become very cautious and difficult as a result of being gamed so frequently.
As Digg's algorithm favors larger, more trusted sites, SMEs cannot expect to do well on Digg routinely without a substantial investment of either time and/or money in the effort. The cost of doing so is therefore beyond the means or commitment of many small to medium sized companies.
Beyond its biggest benefit (links), Digg can also be utilized to forge strategic relationships with key influencers such as reporters, DJs, and the like.
Reddit is capable of generating significant volumes of links, although somewhat less than Digg. It is like Digg, except on a lesser scale. Though it generates fewer links, the results are greater, given the lesser level of effort required compared to Digg. That said, Reddit still requires a significant time and/or money investment from the client. It still involves a commitment to win!
Propeller (formerly Netscape.com) is also like Digg and Reddit, though generating fewer links again. This is in essence what makes it so attractive though ... it's the MSN of the social world. Most companies focus so heavily on Digg, that Propeller is often overlooked. Accordingly, small business can still win on Propeller with reasonable effort.
Time needs be invested in Propeller to determine how the system works, identify the types of posts that are successful, and to forge the necessary friendships to seed posts properly on the Propeller network. SMM Training solutions can again expedite the process, and engaging the services of an experienced quality SMM will trade money for time where time is very limited.
Delicious is a good option for small businesses, though it does require a commitment. SMEs need to spend time creating resource, research, and/or instruction type blog posts. These posts take time, often 8-10+ hours of research per post. Special insight into topics that might be successful on Delicious will absolutely be aided by the guidance of an experienced SMM. Otherwise, much time and effort can be spent creating content that really has no chance of being successful.
Posts that do well on Delicious typically attract a good many links, albeit typically less than those on Digg or Reddit, and more than Propeller.
StumbleUpon is capable of driving large volumes of traffic (more than Reddit and less than Digg) to a site, given the right content. For whatever reason though, it generates substantially fewer links than either Digg or Reddit on average.
For companies with brand new, innovative products and services, StumbleUpon is a great way to gain exposure and build awareness. It is not however, good at generating direct sales unless the item is an impulse type item.
YouTube is unlike any of the other social media mentioned above. While video itself has the ability to generate substantial quantities of links via other social channels, the YouTube medium essentially attracts all links for its own purposes, leaving the video creator with virtually no additional link power.
What YouTube can do when great content is created is attract additional quality search traffic via the search results (YouTube videos are often included in the search results of major engines), and can help to forge relationships with key influencers.
In the end, success with any of the above social media sites is still largely based on the quality and creativity of the content. For companies without the time to dedicate to creating such content, it will require a financial investment. In this situation, hiring experienced SMMs skilled in the art of choosing topics is very important, as they can likely aid real quality content be successful on numerous platforms.
This is why I say it takes a commitment to winning. It's going to require either time and/or money from the small business perspective, but success is absolutely achievable, given appropriate amounts of either, and proper selection of media.