According to Webster’s dictionary “social media” is defined as “forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).”
Popular examples of social networking websites include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr and Instagram, to name a few of the top ones.
There is a lot of hype regarding the importance of social media to a business marketing plan, much of it is incomplete, inaccurate or just not true.
In fact, the sad truth is that many businesses gain little to no direct lead-generation value in setting up social media sites (this is not totally true, read my entire article and you will see).
According to a survey of 1,235 small businesses conducted by Mantra, 60 percent of these businesses are not seeing a good return on investment in social media. This includes an investment of time and money.
The purpose of this article is to help you cut through all the false or misleading information and provide you with some facts you can work with. But first the bad and ugly, and then the good!
In his blog article “Social Media’s Massive Failure” from March 2011 author Bob Hoffman documented probably the largest failure in social media history:
Last year, Pepsi substantially abandoned its long-standing commitment to traditional advertising in favor of social media….never before, to my knowledge, has a major consumer brand made a social media program the centerpiece of its advertising and marketing. The results are now in. It has been a disaster.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pepsi-Cola and Diet Pepsi had each lost about 5% of their market share…this represents a loss of over $350 million…The [project] accomplished everything a social media program is expected to: Over 80 million votes were registered; almost 3.5 million “likes” on the Pepsi Facebook page; almost 60,000 Twitter followers. The only thing it failed to do was sell Pepsi.
It achieved all the false goals and failed to achieve the only legitimate one.
How did this happen? Well, for one this company did not use social media as part of an integrated marketing strategy, as you will read about below, but relied on it to drive all their sales.
To compound their error, they dropped previously successful actions and went with something new and untried. Big mistake. After all, Pepsi began as “Brad’s Drink” in 1893 and grew for a century before social media even existed! So this was a management error of magnitude.
My Own Facebook Experiment
I’ve had my own experience along this line. One day Bill, a video producer in one of our businesses, requested that I authorize him to hire a full time social media expert. He wanted more video views to our YouTube channels and felt that this was the best way to get them. What he wanted to do was send out a weekly newsletter through social media, primarily Facebook, letting our followers know what new videos were released that week. Simple. Or so you would think.
I argued with Bill that this was untried and, although it would be more work, we would probably get better results with some standard marketing. Specifically, I was talking about a website tied to an email marketing campaign.
But he wouldn’t let up. So I decided we would do it his way and if it didn’t work, we would do it mine. He agreed.
Bill’s team did all the right things, including launching a Facebook page. Soon we had more than 15,000 likes (people who subscribed to our page), which is considered excellent for a company our size. Yet every time we sent out our weekly news, of all those Facebook “friends,” we rarely managed to get more than 10 to 15 that showed any interest by watching a video – a dismal 0.001% return on investment.
So we tried it my way. We launched a website with an email lead capture and recently broke 20,000 subscribers to our email list. Video views skyrocketed.
The difference? Every time we send out our weekly news we had an “open rate” (the number of people that would read our news) of 30%. That’s at least 6,000 people or more than 300 times more than with Facebook!
How can this happen? Oh, let us count the ways!
1. Facebook’s “pay to play” rules. It restricts the number of people connected to your page that see what you post. In a December 2013 article in Ad Age, author Cotton Delo said that “Facebook is being more blunt about the fact that marketers are going to have to pay for reach. If they haven’t already, many marketers will soon see the organic reach of their posts on the social network drop off and this time Facebook is acknowledging it.”
2. People who are looking for a particular product or service are more likely to use a search engine to find it. Don’t you?
3. Just because someone likes a photo you posted to Facebook doesn’t mean they’re interested in doing business with you. In fact, overt pitches are typically discouraged on social media.
The Need for Integrated Marketing
If you dig deeper into the situation, you’ll find the reason that so many small businesses fail in their social media attempts is they have no clue how to use social media to their benefit. Further, they totally misunderstand the type of marketing value social media has to offer.
The simple fact is that social media is rarely successful by itself. It must be part of an integrated marketing strategy.
What is an integrated marketing strategy?
It is a plan that includes the basic actions of almost all successful online marketing campaigns.
This means having an effective website (see my website marketing article) that presents your business correctly, attracts interest and gets them signed onto your mailing list. Such an email list has a much higher value that social media lists.
Social media has a positive value when it is used to interest people in your business and product or service.
The Key to Success, Peoples’ Mindset
To successfully use social media in your integrated marketing strategy, you need to understand why people use social media.
People who are active on these channels usually use it as a multi-purpose platform to interact with their family, friends and other associates. For example, most people I know use Facebook to share photos (and cat videos) with family and friends.
As a business, you fall into the “other associates” category and, as such, you need to “mind your manners” on these platforms or else you will not only be ignored but hated. Blasting people with ads is considered boorish on social media platforms.
Social media is first and foremost about people interacting with people. It is about human relationships, enriching each other’s lives, having fun, and being social! It is not about advertising. If you attempt to use social media to advertise, in the same way you would use print ads in a newspaper, your social media efforts will fail to help your business. In fact, you may end up hurting your business.
Think about it: if you were looking for a local plumber would you rather use Twitter or a search engine like Google?
Social Media as a PR Tool
Because of the nature of social media, you can best benefit your business by using it in building positive public relations.
Some businesses don’t understand how valuable this can be so they attempt to send out ads instead and then get frustrated when this doesn’t work.
Keep in mind that people buy from people they know, like and trust. They also recommend businesses when they can interact with people they know, like and trust.
Let’s look at some concrete examples of how to use social media successfully to promote your business.
If you run an online scuba gear website or a retail dive shop, instead of placing ads for products on social media, you may want to set up your business page and …
- Post about what you saw underwater on your latest scuba diving trips.
- Post about changes in road conditions to get to these diving destinations or whether or not the location had showers.
- Write about your vacations to incredibly cool scuba destinations.
- Have your employees and customers do the same. If you offer scuba diving classes, you may want to ask your instructors to post an entertaining report on what the class saw. Invite class members to do the same.
- Throw in some news about coral reefs, sea turtles, marine mammals, or tropical fishes around the world.
If you run a coffee shop, you could post information about musicians and other entertainers who perform there. You can announce when they’ll be performing, what they’ll be performing, and then post and tweet about them as they are performing. Send out a thank you the next day to them for putting on a great show. You might want to throw in some interesting factoids about the history of coffee. Just don’t overdo it or tweet non-stop ads about your coffee or you’ll lose your audience fast.
Here are some other general tips for social media posts.
- Include some humor that your audience would appreciate.
- Include a few tidbits about your family life and the volunteer work you do in your community.
- Don’t be afraid to throw in some “off-topic” stuff like a mini-review of a great restaurant you just discovered or something cute about your dog. This makes you more human and likable.
Very occasionally, you can get away with peppering in a few things about sales or new product lines, but only if they are exceptionally newsworthy. But never let this dominate what you or your staff post in social media outlets. In fact, it should be way less than 10 percent of what you post.
Outside vs. In House Social Media Help
How many times have you been approached, usually unsolicited, by companies or individuals offering to set up and/or maintain your social media accounts? While this started out largely as a cottage industry, it has become big business (thank goodness for the spam filter!).
Companies that specialize in setting up and/or managing social media accounts for businesses often make claims that social media can bring in more leads and more sales than any other form of online advertising. They often boast about how they can add thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of followers to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. They may try to equate this rapid inundation of followers to instant marketing success, when in fact, this is nonsense.
The media has played right into their hands, unfortunately, providing the hype they need to “prove” their worthiness.
Sad to say, many businesses fall prey to these hyperbolical tactics and end up doing more damage to their business than good. Don’t fall for these pitches.
Outsiders may be able to help you set up your social media accounts, and even help you pick out software that can help you more easily manage these accounts yourself, but they don’t know your business well enough to maintain them. They have no first-hand knowledge of your company.
More importantly, they don’t have a good working knowledge of your target audience, your potential customers and existing customers. In other words, they have no way to delve deep into the mindset of these people and build an effective public relations campaign as part of an integrated marketing strategy. This is why it is often better to handle social media efforts in house, at least once the accounts have been established.
When To Hire An Expert
There are exceptions when it comes to hiring an outside social media expert. The key point being you can afford a really good one because you and/or your staff have limited time to devote to social media.
A good outside social media expert, like a good investigative reporter, will take the time to really get to know your company and your audience. They will want to interview you extensively, and probably interview your key employees as well. They may ask to be copied on intra-office emails/memos.
If you are a retail store or a local service provider, they may even want to talk to some of your customers/clients, visit your place of business, and dig around a bit to see what impression the community you serve has of your business.
Some of the better outside social media experts may not even want to accept an ongoing job until they have completed this research. Just keep in mind that this level of service and attention to detail does not come cheap, nor should it.
But you may want to hire a part-time employee for these tasks. One with a background in journalism might be able to tackle this task better than anyone.
The “Big Four” Social Media Outlets
Let’s spend some time talking specifically about the “big four” social media outlets:
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, most businesses who use social media successfully, currently consider Facebook their most effective social media outlet. Therefore, if you currently have no social media presence, you may want to start here. If you already have a presence on Facebook, you may want to beef up your efforts since it is a proven winner and it’s essentially free, other than the time invested.
Keep in mind that pictures get far more attention than just text so keep your camera handy at all times. You may even want to supply your employees with cheap point and shoot cameras or provide them with cell phones that include a camera. You may also want to invite your customers to submit photos for you to include on your company’s Facebook page.
If your customers (or others) communicate with you on your Facebook page, be sure you are timely about answering back. This small amount of effort can go a long way toward building your public relations.
After Facebook, LinkedIn is considered the most effective social media marketing tool. It is also gaining pace on Facebook so it could very well overtake Facebook in this department. At minimum, every business should sign up for an account and fill out their company pages. Be sure to include an attractive header image, as users will stay on the pages longer if this is present.
LinkedIn also has a much higher conversion than Facebook in regards to the rate of visitors that sign up as business leads when free reports, e-courses and prize giveaways are offered. Therefore, spending the time to create a lead generator on your company pages is definitely worthwhile.
Regarding LinkedIn’s networking capabilities, it is important to remember that you do not have to accept all the invitations sent to you via LinkedIn. In fact, doing so could spell trouble as you do not want to be connected to a LinkedIn account that gets flagged for spam. Make sure you know the entity sending the invitation, or you at least check them out a bit before accepting.
Encapsulating your messages in 140 characters or less may seem a bit stifling at first, but with a little practice you’ll become a Twitter pro.
BrandWatch.com published an extensive Twitter Usage Report in 2013. In their study, they closely monitored 253 of the top brands that use Twitter. Here are a few of their most important findings:
1. Companies that sent out engaging messages that interact with their audience did much better than those that sent out broadcast messages only.
2. Many companies found it best to have more than one Twitter account, with at least two: one for broadcasting messages and another for engaging with customers. Some larger companies set up different Twitter accounts for each department and this worked well.
3. Tweets that include a picture or a video show 3 to 4 times more engagement than tweets that are all text.
4. In most cases, the weekend was the best time to engage customers through Twitter. However, testing other times proved valuable for some companies.
5. Tweets sent between 2:00 – 5:00 pm PST had the highest engagement.
6. The number of followers did not matter much. However, the amount the followers of a business were engaged mattered a lot.
One of the easiest ways to engage your Twitter audience is to ask an offbeat question. In fact, this could also work well on Facebook.
Here are a few examples.
What secret ingredient did the Aztec Indians add to hot chocolate after they learned how to make it from the Mayan Indians (good for coffee shops)?
Do grey whales, humans, or dolphins have more vertebrae (good for dive shops)?
Have you ever seen the green flash and where (good for any company selling outdoor gear)?
You’ll find that people will be frequently checking back to see what other people post and to find out the correct answer, if there is one. The character limit works in your favor here as people can easily scan through all the answers.
Google+ hasn’t been around as long as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. However, it has rapidly become one of the most important social media networks, especially for businesses, because of the heavy cross-promotion Google does across all its various platforms.
It is known that Google has incorporated Google+ into their search engine algorithm, so it does add some weight to your website ranking to set up Google+ pages.
It’s also free to do so, except for the time it takes, so it is a worthwhile endeavor.
However, although Google reports 359 million active users, this is a small drop in the bucket compared to the other “BIG FOUR” social media outlets described above and it is stagnating a bit. Unless this changes, it would be wise to spend more time on the other “big four.”
Important New Kids On the Block
While the internet may be one of the most important marketing tools of all time, to be really successful with it, you need to fully understand how rapidly things evolve on the internet. This is especially true when using social media platforms. Don’t be afraid to hop on new trends as they happen. You will be rewarded for doing so as it will give you a jump on your competitors.
Do you remember the search engine, Webcrawler, the original search engine of the World Wide Web?
In the mid-1990’s, less than twenty years ago, it was THE search engine, before Google was even born. There were other dominant search engines before Google too, including Lycos, Infoseek and AltaVista. In fact, AltaVista was so dominant, it is doubtful that anyone at the time could have imagined it would ever disappear so quickly.
The above is not just a trip down memory lane, but an important reminder of how quickly and drastically things can change on the internet.
You should never think of anything as permanent. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter may currently seem irreplaceable in some people’s minds, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some experts are already talking about their eventual demise.
What’s more important to you, a business owner planning out your integrated marketing strategy, is making sure you jump on social media platforms that are surging in popularity as quickly as possible and just keep doing so as this happens.
A good example of this is Pinterest. The beta version of Pinterest wasn’t launched until March of 2010. However, in four years, it has surged to become one of the more popular social media sites on the internet. Many experts predict it will overtake Facebook and Twitter in the near future.
Pinterest allows users to create themed bulletin boards, or “pin boards,” where they can “pin” images. Pinning graphical resumes and samples of work is one very popular purpose. But more recently, businesses have begun to realize the advantages this social media network offers. Responding to this, Pinterest now offers businesses the chance to set up business pages.
In 2013, Pinterest introduced a new concept called “Rich Pins.” This allows more information to be tagged to an image that is pinned on a board. Product images can now include maps with directions, pricing, availability and the ability to send real time information, such as a price drop to a smartphone app.
Social media can play an important role in marketing
So social media can be an important part of an integrated marketing plan IF the fundamentals of marketing are kept in perspective and you know the mindset of your customers/clients. Social media can then be used for building better public relations and engagement with your clients and prospective clients rather than posting ads.
And social media can help you target your audiences too. For instance, if you are looking to reach female consumers, then interest will be your top choice. If you want to communicate to techies like computer programmers, then Google+ should be your first option.
As usual, if you have questions, I am always available to you. To your success!