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I’m an SME - How do I make social media work for my business?

“Half of my marketing works,” the old saying goes, “I’m just not sure which half.”

For SMEs with limited resources, social media has been a blessing. Free social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube have been adopted enthusiastically by businesses for marketing, publicity, customer relations and market research purposes.

But the sheer number of tools available can be daunting. The challenge for a business is to strike a balance between focusing too narrowly on limited social networks and spreading itself too thinly by adopting too many.

Focusing on the "big four" of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ should help in keeping efforts manageable and accounts active. It is best to focus on just a few networks and regularly update those. There are few things more embarrassing than a Twitter account that was set up and forgotten with only one lonely tweet present. Twitter is filled with people who have set up an account, said 'hello' and then abandoned said account because no one replied. Don't be that guy.

It is not about the technology

Let’s face facts, most businesses join the social networks for one reason, they want to increase sales. To do that they figure, quite rightly, they need to let more people know they exist and they need to tell more people what they sell. And that’s where the problems begin, because they fail to realise that social networks are not sales platforms. They are just a single part of an holistic system that works in conjunction with, and not separate from, the rest of their business and its marketing activities.

Why do things go wrong?

The first thing that usually causes a problem is the lack of a strategy to determine which of the millions of people they could be talking to, are the ones they should be talking to. This knowledge is essential if SME’s are to avoid wasting precious time they don’t have, doing things that don’t work.

They have forgotten that we all buy from people, companies and even corporates we already know, like and trust. As a result the updates they put out forget that most readers probably don’t yet don’t know them, let alone like or trust them.

Their existing website is set up only to tell people about the business, or capture and convert sales by exhorting visitors to ‘buy now’ or ‘call for a quote’. The lack of a nurture process means that those who aren’t ready to buy will quickly leave, never to return.

What could they do?

The key to a successful social media strategy is to understand your audience and choose the platform that suits them best. Considering a target market's age, gender and interests before widening social media efforts. YouTube is useful if you have video content and Google+ for search engine optimisation reasons more than anything else.

Content is also an important consideration. Allocate and spend a set amount of hours each month solely on content creation. SMEs should invest time in creating content to populate social networks, including strong images. Understand what you are getting into before embarking on a half-baked social media effort that has the potential to cause more harm than good.

Just because one buys a tin a beans from company X doesn’t mean they would buy the same tin of beans from company Y. There are many reasons for this which could include convenience, price, staff likes or dislikes, ambience, loyalty or other associations one has with the company. The first thing an SME new to the social networks needs to do is work out what makes them different from their competitors. When they know that, they can make a much better assessment of whom their likely online audience will be.

Now they know that most people reading their status updates probably don't even know who they are, means they can change what they share so it demonstrates an understanding of their target customer needs. In this way they both introduce themselves AND show expertise along the way. That’s the reason savvy online marketers talk about ‘3 Things to do with Beans’. Readers know exactly what they’ll get when they click the link and, if they have this problem this is where it will be solved. Over time, and if they are consistent, their audience will come to not only know them but like and trust them as well.

Instead of being an information site that tells a visitor about the business, their website becomes an information site designed to make a visitor’s life easier. It becomes a repository of the useful information they share on the social networks set up so that people can leave comments or ask questions. No one is forced to make an immediate buying decision; instead they are nurtured along the path to purchase. SME's have to get out of the habit of 'advertising' and into the habit of nurturing if they are to survive in the long term. The thing is most do it in the day to day running of their business already, it's just that the habit hasn't translated into their online actions.

Don’t just bombard your audience with promotional messages (aka Spam!). Provide compelling content. Engage. Be original.

Of course, the problem with this approach is that it takes time; time to put together the necessary elements, time to build an interested audience, and time to develop the relationships that fuel it. And time is a commodity precious to the SME as it’s something they never have enough of, especially in the startup phase when revenue generation is top of mind. But by doing things right in the first place can be time well spent as an investment for the future.

Measurement

Once networks have been established and content posted, businesses have to monitor how much impact that content is having against their goals. For some businesses, a successfully implemented social media strategy is measured by engagement and media mentions or simply by the number of customers social media activities bring to the business. Positive and negative sentiment is a key factor in measuring the effectiveness of social media. If you are an SME that's investing 'time' in social media activity it would be crucial to learn more about which actions are resulting in the greatest return on the investment of that time.

Once engaged with an audience, the feedback you receive can be a valuable tool in helping to develop your products and services. Social media isn’t a one-way street and uncovering the suggestions your customers are making has never been so easy. Acting upon ideas that the conversation throws up demonstrates your willingness to listen, strengthening your position within the market and ultimately improving your brand. There are a plethora of tools to assist the SME in this regard.

While social media can offer many benefits to businesses, the possibilities might seem mind-boggling to anyone unfamiliar with these tools. Managing a social media campaign, or 23, can be a daunting task.  Juggling through accounts, scheduling updates and obtaining metric goals are the name of the game. The useful site, www.watsonnowlin.com provides the following list regarding social media tools used by the professionals in this sphere. Top 30 social media tools report, according to a survey of 14 social media professionals:

- Circlecount - Circloscope - Sprout social
- Hoote suite - Social bro - Tweet adder
- Facebook analytics - Google analytics - Buzzstream
- Buzzsumo - Ifttt - Allmyplus
- Empire avenue - Just retweet - Tweet deck
- Unified social - Klout - Unfollowers
- Avenue.io - Twitter counter - Social oomph
- Nod3x - Manage flitter - One qube
- Ad espresso - Edge adexchange - Google alerts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suss out the right tool to use for your business and become an expert at it so that the measurement feedback loop is put to profitable use for future social media campaigns.

Making it all Worthwhile

Big Wins don’t happen often, but when they do, they make it all worthwhile. That one contract you land could cover your social media marketing costs for years. And that major media interview could lead to subsequent interviews and a line item on your CV that impresses a corporate sponsor or potential investor three years from now. Never forget to factor in the potential for Big Wins in social media.