Social Media Tips for Small Businesses

By James A. Martin | Posted March 02, 2012

If you're like most small business owners, you're not investing much money or effort into social media marketing. But given the fact that 51 percent of Facebook fans are more likely to buy from a brand they like, not engaging with social media could curtail your business's growth, according to Jim Bennette, CEO of VisiStat, a Web analytics firm.

Bennette spoke recently on the topic of "Social Media for Small Businesses" at the Online Marketing Summit 2012 in San Diego. In his presentation, he cited stats from a 2011 survey conducted by Zoomerang that illustrate what small and midsized businesses (SMBs) are doing -- or not doing -- in terms of social media marketing. Among the stats worth noting:

  • Nearly 60 percent of SMBs spend less than $100 to market on social media.
  • About 74 percent said they don't employ anyone to handle their social media efforts.
  • 51 percent of Facebook users say they're more likely to buy a product after becoming a fan of the product developer's Facebook page.
  • 81 percent of SMBs use social media to market to new customers. Of those, 86 percent use Facebook, 41 percent use LinkedIn and 33 percent use Twitter.
  • About 50 percent of SMBs gained new customers in 2011 from Facebook and Twitter, up from about 4 percent in 2010.

Facing the Limitations of Time and Money

Given this data, Bennette said small businesses should be using social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get new fans; fans who will in turn be more likely to buy your product or service.

Of course, most small businesses are limited in the time and financial resources they can devote to social media marketing, Bennette acknowledged. "Not only can you not afford to hit every single social media channel, you don't have the time," he said.

In addition, unlike major brands like Coca-Cola, SMBs need to see results from their social media efforts quickly, Bennette said.

"Big brands have big goals on social media, like increasing brand loyalty, improving customer support, and enhancing their reputation," Bennette said. "It often takes 12-18 months to see a return on their investment with these goals. But small businesses don't have that luxury. They can only invest in things that will bring revenue in 30 to 60 days."

Small Business Social Media Success Stories

So how can an SMB be successful in social media? The key is to focus on just one social media network to begin with, Bennette said. Keep at it until you perfect it. Then, as you become successful with that social network, consider adding other social media channels to augment what you're doing on your primary social platform.

For example, Bennette cited Irena Vaksman, a San Francisco dentist whose Facebook fan page is liked by 4,245 people. Bennette said that Dr. Vaksman focused her social media efforts on Facebook, adding content about dental hygiene and asking patients to like her page. Once her Facebook fan base had grown, Dr. Vaksman took the next step: offering deals on Groupon. Those deals netted her 320 new patients and 1,900 new Facebook fans, which has significantly boosted her dentistry business, Bennette noted.

In another example, Yeti Coolers, which makes ruggedized ice chests, focuses its social media campaign on YouTube but also uses Facebook and Twitter to augment its efforts. The company produced (for not much money) a series of YouTube videos, such as one in which a 500-lb. man goes ballistic on a Yeti ice chest. The video, also posted on Yeti's website, has netted a total of some 300,000 views, increased Yeti's Facebook fan base by 28,000, and helped the company get an additional 1,900 Twitter followers.

"All Yeti did was focus on one single medium, do it exactly right, and then bring in other social media channels as they got more successful with that main medium," Bennette noted.

Similarly, the crème brûlée cart in San Francisco has focused its social media efforts on Twitter, gaining more than 21,000 followers. Twitter has enabled the cart (actually a truck) to set up shop at different times and locations around the city, tweeting its current location and flavors. Over time, the crème brûlée cart also developed a Yelp page, where it has more than 472 reviews and an average 4 star rating.

"They were very focused on Twitter as their single medium," Bennette noted, "and then, when they were well established, they pushed customers to their Yelp page, too."

Bennette also mentioned the Aperture Academy, a Campbell, Calif.-based business offering photography workshops. The company focused its social media efforts on Facebook and now has more than 15,291 fans. With its Facebook fan page well established, the business began offering Groupon deals. Through its social media efforts, the company "earned $92,400 in sales and 14,000 Facebook fans in one year," Bennette said.

Social Media Tips for Small Businesses

In addition to staying focused on a primary social media channel, it's important to measure your social media efforts with business analytics, Bennette said.

"Big companies measure in silos. They have specialists in reputation, sentiment analysis, demographics, psychographics, and business intelligence. This is how they measure the success of their total online presence, he said. "But SMBs need one single view of their overall strategy. For that, you'll need technology that offers Web analytics, social media analytics, lead management, ecommerce analytics, and marketing ROI."

Are your social media efforts driving traffic or increasing sales now? These are the most important things to look for in analytics, Bennette advised. 

Bennette also recommends these other social media tips:

  • At first, devote 30 minutes a day to your social media efforts. Once you start getting traction, boost the 30 minutes to an hour or more. It takes time to gain momentum, so it's important not to start out devoting a lot of time to social media. You'll risk getting discouraged.
  • The tactics for social media marketing are mostly the same regardless of whether you're a B2B or B2C company. If you're a B2B company, however, you shouldn't expect to gain as many Facebook fans as a B2C company might.
  • Facebook B2C campaigns can be more effective in gaining new customers than Google AdWords ad campaigns. Google AdWords can be expensive. Leads can be hit or miss. And ads tend not to stick with people. On the other hand, Facebook ads are inexpensive. Also, due to the sharing nature of Facebook, one fan can translate into additional fans. That's because by liking your status updates or fan page, your Facebook fans help push your content out to their friends.

James A. Martin is the co-author ofGetting Organized in the Google Era. He writes about SEO and helps businesses optimize their sites for search engines.

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