Online social media marketing (SMM)… fifteen years ago, the concept didn’t even exist. And where was the first place online that provided a way to market what one had to offer? It wasn’t Facebook (2004). It was LinkedIn (2003).
Granted, LinkedIn was more about individuals marketing themselves as viable candidates for jobs and about businesses building their brands, but it still fits the category of social media marketing. Facebook really took off as the premiere SMM environment in 2006 when it opened its network to allow advertising to anyone willing to pay. And of course, eventually Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, SnapChat, Google+, and more got into the game of promoted ads.
Cannonball or Toe in the Water?
Some small business owners view investment into SMM the way many of us view Bitcoin…with a mix of trepidation and fear of missing out. Should I get into this? Am I passing on the chance to make a big return on a small investment? Do other people have insight about how to proceed that I don’t? While SMM is not as volatile a venture as cryptocurrencies, it can still be a boon or a bust of your investment, depending on how you approach it. The good news is that if you don’t want to go in full cannonball in several areas, you can just dip your toe in a particular pool until you become familiar with the process.
Let’s get back to the question in the title… Is SMM worth your business’s time and money? Fortunately, unlike Bitcoin, there are specific areas to consider that will help you make a more informed decision. We will consider three of them:
- Your target audience
- Your primary goal
- Your resources
Your Target Audience
This area assumes you already know your target audience. If you don’t (and until you do), there’s no point in pursuing SMM because you’ll waste your time and money. Your first step toward success in marketing of any kind is to understand the overall traits and characteristics of your buying public. I’ll be writing a blog post soon about developing a marketing plan around what is called personas, a representative marketing audience identified by particular demographic traits that may affect their buying habits.
Unlike Google ad words which push you up the rankings to appear in front of random people who are searching for your goods or services, SMM interjects ads for your goods and services into the area around the watering hole where these demographically similar people gather. The former provides a targeted connection as the person is real-time searching for what you have to offer. The latter provides an educated guess that what you have to offer will eventually be needed/wanted by someone with those particular demographic traits.
If you want to move beyond educated guesses, provide online surveys and feedback forms to your customers. Ask them “how did you hear about us?” and “which social media sites do you frequent?” These are just a couple of straightforward questions you can use to discover the paths your customers use to find you, and then invest your marketing dollars there
If, for example, you own a business that provides wholesale PVC pipes, you might naturally think of plumbers as being your target audience, and you’d probably be right about the majority of them. But which customers might be an untapped source? Do-it-yourself folks, crafts people, gardeners, stage builders for theaters, etc.? The takeaway here is not to assume you know exactly who your customers are and what their social media habits are. Do the research work to find out so that your target aim will be more like a trained sharpshooter with a scoped rifle, rather than a blindfolded novice with a shotgun.
Your primary goal
If you keep up with marketing trends (and you should), you know that creating “buzz” about your product or service is one aim of social media marketing. Ideally, that buzz translates to increased sales, but that’s not always the primary aim. Sometimes the aim is simply to create awareness for the business or its offerings through sharing, re-tweeting, following, etc. This is often accomplished through viral videos that hardly even touch on the product or service, but rather create a positive emotional response from the viewer.
Below is a short list of possible goals a business may choose to pursue with a social media campaign. These goals may overlap, be concurrent, or be consecutive. Determining which they are and when they happen will help you decide how, when, and even if SMM is the best path for your business.
- Keeping your name in front of customers through recognition and recall (Ongoing)
- Strengthening brand identity through buzz (Ongoing: Hit and miss)
- Introducing a new product or service (Limited time)
- Offering a discount for a product or service (Limited time)
- Presenting your business as a thought leader in your industry with relevant, valuable information (Ongoing)
- Announcing a change to your business or business process (Limited)
- Soliciting customer feedback (Ongoing, but Intermittent)
You may come up with something totally outside these ideas, but thinking through your goal is essential to having a successful strategy.
Let’s say you’ve done the research and discovered that your target audience is heavily engaged in specific social media outlets, and you have determined your primary goal. Now it’s time to examine to see if you have the resources needed to create an effective campaign for these outlets. Your resources include both finances and time allocation.
Financially, you can spend a relatively small amount to advertise on many social media sites… and on some, you can pay nothing at all. Of course, you can blow your whole marketing budget, but since most small businesses have a tight budget, that’s probably not the case. There are too many variables to review in one blog post regarding the costs involved. Just make sure that you understand whether you are being charged per click, per site visit, per view, or whatever parameters are offered. Also, monitor your campaigns, as not paying attention to how fast the clicks are adding up can result in an unexpectedly high cost.
Even if you are not paying to advertise, time allocation can be a bigger consideration than finances. Whether you are committed to an ongoing campaign or a limited time effort, your content needs to be engaging and valuable to the customer. This requires someone to write, design, and execute the ads on a predetermined basis.
Having someone in charge of your various media outlets to answer questions, address complaints, and interact with responses in a timely manner is essential to make SMM work for you. Is that someone you? Is it a staff member who is already juggling several tasks? Is it someone who knows how to write effective copy, create branded ads, and publish to the various outlets? If your answers are no, you’ll either end up with an ineffective campaign or you’ll need to pay someone to perform these tasks for you.
And finally, monitoring the site analytics and feedback to discover which venues are actually generating positives results is another time-intensive and technical consideration. Your work on the frontside won’t be as valuable unless you mine the data on the backside for insightful nuggets that will help you adjust to meet your customers’ needs. If you don’t have someone who knows how to use analytics to make beneficial changes, you won’t reap the greatest return on investment of your resources.
Choose with Confidence
The good news is that if you consider and plan for all three of the areas mentioned, you may be able to reach exactly the audience you want with a message that resonates with them, and for a lot less cost than traditional marketing outlets. After evaluating these areas, choosing whether or not to pursue a social media marketing strategy will be a decision you can make with confidence. And you can always make a different decision as your business and/or customers change. In business, as in life, change is the only constant.