The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

Social Media: Getting it Right in Small Businesses

By Deborah Osgood, award-winning founder of the Knowledge Institute for Small Business Development (KISBD)

Photo of Deborah OsgoodDid you know that 23% of consumers use social media to interact with brands and 90% of the most affluent consumers use social media? Social media is also prevalent in business-to-business (B2B) marketing with 93% of companies reporting successful outcomes when placing content across an average of seven different social media platforms. Not so long ago, the question many small businesses had was whether they truly needed to have a website or not. Today, not only is a website important, but having a voice across multiple online platforms is critical if you plan build your company brand, increase sales, and remain competitive.

Today's customers want information on their own terms, often completing 57% of the purchase decision before even contacting a potential supplier. Their time is limited, they're juggling multiple priorities and there are many competing demands for their attention. Sound familiar?

As a business owner or marketing manager, can you relate to having limited time, juggling priorities and wrestling with competing demands? Do you have the skills and bandwidth to develop, implement and manage a productive social media strategy? While I am a firm believer that most business skills can be learned, the issue about whether to take on a new skill or not centers around return on investment (ROI).

The purpose of this guide is to help you to determine if and when it makes sense to hire a social media professional and how to go about it so that you realize the greatest return on your investment of time, money and talents.

To Delegate or Not to Delegate?

Social media is personal.

Unlike a product brochure or company website, social media is about social networking. It is about talking to your customers in a way that is informative, educational, and trustworthy. As a business owner or manager, you are certainly in a position to be well-informed and knowledgeable about your company's offerings. But are you engaging? Do you have the time and talent to develop compelling content?

Social networking is about engagement marketing. Engagement marketing takes time — time to learn the various social media platform options, time to determine which platforms best reach your target audience, and time to develop the right content to engage and attain your business objectives. Here are some further thoughts to help you judge whether managing your social media is something you should handle yourself or delegate to specialized talent:

  • You love marketing and are good at it. Marketing communications is your job. You're well trained and you have the time, talent, and capacity to surf the Web, stay on top of trends in your industry and productively engage your target audience. Read no more. No need to consider delegating until demands exceed capacity. You are in an enviable position compared to most business owners and managers today!
  • You recognize the need yet lack the budget to hire social media talent. Fear not. One of the upsides of social media is that it is always changing. Anyone who claims to be an expert today must also be continually learning to remain an expert tomorrow. With a little bit of time and talent on your part, you can establish a productive social media presence by selecting two or three social media platforms to focus on. By learning each platform well, publishing content often and monitoring engagement, you will be able to be in the game in a way that returns tangible benefits. When you begin to reap the benefits of your hard work in your bottom line, you can begin to consider outsourcing or employing part-time social media talent.
  • You have a solid grasp of your marketing strategy and no time to learn or take on a new responsibility. Surprising at it may be, having a solid marketing strategy in place is not as common in business as it should be. The fact that you do suggests that you also have a strong grasp of your overall business strategy and how marketing fits into it. With quantifiable objectives and a means for measuring progress over time, you are in a great position to define your social media objectives, secure social media talent, and implement a compensation program that is aligned to results.
  • Your business is growing and your customers are actively engaged and digitally savvy. You likely already have social media talent on your team in some capacity and are reaping the rewards! You're staying on top of content marketing trends and influencer marketing strategies, which are helping you to manage your social media activities to yield the optimum return on investment. Delegating under these conditions is more about knowing when to expand social media activities and the social media team.

What to Look for in Social Media Talent

Whether you have social media talent already in place or expect to be looking soon, it is essential to know what your business objectives are. The more you can be clear as well as quantify your objectives, the easier it will be to recruit the right talent and measure ROI over time. While specific qualifications will vary based on what you sell, your business culture, and your industry, certain common attributes include…

  • Marketing experience. In order to be effective in social media, a candidate must have a solid grasp of business marketing. This includes the traditional 4 Ps; product (or service), place, price, and promotion, as well as contemporary inbound marketing strategies. It would be a significant waste of time and resources to employ a person who may know how to write and publish content, but not understand how it fits into the total business strategy in a way that serves business objectives. Success in marketing is all about the right content in the right context.
  • Social media experience. Because you are paying for talent that you yourself lack the time, skills and/or desire to perform, you want be sure that you hire someone who possesses more knowledge, experience and capacity to continually learn than you do. This includes proficiency in using multiple social media platforms, researching and staying on top of industry trends, developing compelling content and tracking, and reporting on performance metrics and outcomes.
  • Social media presence. What is the candidate's personal presence on social media? How and where they engage and how often they post will tell you a lot about whether they will fit with your business culture and how well they will fulfill your social media objectives.
  • Industry perspective. As part of the interviewing process, invite candidates to submit a brief overview of how he or she would go about improving your social media presence. This is a great way to learn whether they've done their homework about your business and how well they will align what they know with what you need.

Further attributes include experience working with a company that is similar in size, industry, and culture. Regardless of these factors, however, experienced marketing professionals are likely to possess the agility and capacity to learn and adapt basic marketing principles to your specific business objectives.

What to Measure for ROI

Measuring return on investment from social media activities can be tricky. While the ultimate goal of any marketing strategy is to increase sales, social media marketing benefits emphasize increased brand awareness. Most social media platforms include rules against hard sales tactics and self-promotion. This includes affiliate marketing strategies, hypertext links to sales offers and related promotional content. Anyone abusing the rules can get blacklisted and suffer additional negative comments across multiple social networking platforms.

Instead, posting, liking, favoriting, and sharing center around users expressing self-interest in value-add information and learning. While a Vision Critical study published in 2013 found that 40% of consumers purchased an item after "liking" or "favoriting" it, the capacity to align the like or favorite action with a specific consumer purchase action isn't always possible. Therefore, if you're looking to routinely measure a direct relationship between social media engagement and a sale, you may be disappointed.

Even the most effective social media campaigns may not show immediate results. When you do start to see positive outcomes, they are typically in the form of users choosing to follow, connect, share, like, and comment on your social media posts. In most instances, these activities lead to your content being shared through their social media channels as well. This form of referral marketing can be incredibly powerful as it is based on trust and typically reaches prospects that would otherwise never hear about you or your offerings. Still, when someone chooses to buy from you, you may never be able to trace the sale back to a specific social media platform or post.

For these reasons, it is important to be realistic when defining what it is that you are going to track and measure as social media ROI. Useful quantifiers include the total number of times users choose to connect, follow, share, and like your content over time. Decide what is important and set milestones. The law of manifestation states that what you track expands.

Why It's Important to Schedule Time to Reassess

Change is inevitable. Change is also rapid in business, particularly during uncertain economic times. In order to maintain a productive social media strategy, you will want to...

  1. Be strategic. Look ahead. Stay on top of what's going on in your industry, with contemporary marketing strategies, and with your customers. This includes knowing what your competition is doing to reach customers.
  2. Be smart. Do you have the budget and capacity to truly take advantage of the benefits that social media has to offer? Do you have the right social media talent working for you? Having a solid overall marketing strategy, a detailed job description when utilizing in-house talent, a comprehensive contract when outsourcing, and a reliable tracking and reporting mechanism are just some of the wise practices to have in place to ensure ROI.
  3. Routinely reassess. Set benchmarks, milestones and deadlines across all parameters. This includes performance assessments of your social media team, evaluating outcomes, refining your plan, and reallocating resources when necessary.

When to Celebrate Progress

Enthusiasm is infectious. As the number of user activity increases across your social media platforms, share it with everyone — your customers, your website visitors, your suppliers, your internal team, and particularly your investors. The very fact that people are choosing to take the time and make the time to engage with you through myriad social networking venues is to be celebrated.

It is a busy world out there! You're doing something right when your engagement marketing is truly engaging.

I'm a firm believer that most business skills are teachable and learnable, even to those who don't consider themselves inherently "entrepreneurial." Managing social media is no different from the other skills required to run a business. However, as with any skill a business owner must juggle, there comes a time when it makes more sense to pay someone else to do it for you.

This guide will help you recognize when it's time to hire a social media professional and how to do it so you realize the greatest return on your investment.

Next: Chapter 6: The High Cost of Advertising Injury Lawsuits

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