If you are a small business owner or a self-employed professional, and you are reading this post, then you've heard (probably numerous times over) that you should be including social media in some way in your marketing. For some of you, you are also hearing that social media should be used in your customer relations.
But beyond this vague knowledge, when it comes to the implementation, many of you are getting it wrong, and you may not realize just how much your social media efforts are actually cutting in to your income when they supposedly should be increasing it.
A Few Words About Where I am Coming From...
The idea for this post has actually been percolating for some time. It all started with a recent interview I did about content marketing for small businesses working with limited resources. That got the wheels spinning. Then, I wrote a post a few weeks back about why some small businesses should not actively market themselves on location-based social media platforms. Finally, over the past week, I've been mulling over a book put together by Danny Iny over at Firepole Marketing called, Engagement from Scratch which offers a ton of insight about how business owners can build a loyal and engaged online audience (a big shout out to Ti Roberts who alerted me to this great free resource.)
I want to start off by saying that I have nothing against social media for business owners. On the contrary, I fully believe that with the right approach, businesses can use various social media platforms to increase sales, improve customer experience, and gain immensely valuable market feedback.
What I do have a problem with is the way these platforms are being thrown at small business owners as the holy grail of accomplishing all the things just mentioned above. And a holy grail social media is not.
Social Media Enhances; It Can't Create Something From Nothing
There's a great deal of social media hype out there- a lot of it baseless. I believe that many social media evangelists are playing on the vulnerabilities that small businesses tend to have, such as limited resources, limited experience, and limited reach.
There is also a physiological component here: many small business owners and self employed professionals don't fully recognize the value that they have to offer their customers and thus are looking for ways to compensate, to add some extra appeal to their offerings. Social media savvy has somehow become this elusive stamp of competence and quality.
The result is that there is a literal movement of businesses and individuals who are going through a lot of hoops, spending a great deal of time and money, and many are technically making all the "right" moves on social media, yet they ultimately end up unsuccessful. For all the success stories out there, we just can't push under the rug the thousands and thousands of individuals and small businesses and even big businesses, that were unsuccessful in their social media campaigns- regardless of the platform.
Where are they going wrong? The vast majority of the time, I've found that it's a matter of perspective.
Social media at its core is a medium of communication and information sharing. It can enhance what already exists to build something greater, much like binoculars or a microscope can enhance your sight- it can extend your reach, improve your customer response time and effectiveness, help you learn about your customers, and market trends. But we have to get away from this Social Media God complex. Social media alone cannot do all these things and especially not for free. If you're blind, don't bother looking through a pair of binoculars...
It boggles my mind how this message can still be promoted.
To the extent that business use these platforms to merely amplify their message and reach, to the extent that they truly understand what works and what doesn't in terms of marketing in our Internet-based world, and to the extent that they truly try to connect to their customers, to address the actual flesh and blood people behind those social media accounts, online purchases, and survey responses, to that extent they will be successful.
It doesn't matter which platforms are trending, what matters is how the actual business is able to use that platform to connect to current and potential customers. Expect that some social media platforms will work, others not. It's highly individual. It has to do with not only the kind of business and industry involved, but also the market demographics as well as the unique personalities, skills, and available resources of the people who own and work in the business. It's like trying to use binoculars when you should be using a microscope or at least a magnifying glass, and then wondering why you can't see anything.
Realize that the rules of doing business have stayed the same even as they have changed. What I mean is that the fundamentals of marketing, networking, building customer loyalty, etc. These still exist, and they will always exist. All that has really changed is that we now have tools to enhance and target our message, to extend our services, and connect with others.
Once you as a small business owner or self employed professional understand this, you'll begin to realize that customer loyalty hasn't died, for example. The fundamental rules still hold. The goal remains to build a real following of people who like what you have to offer, who feel in some way connected to your brand, and who will want (by themselves) to further that connection through repeat purchases. This has been happening way before the days of the Internet and social media. Think: Coca Cola and Nike.
What has changed is that there's a lot more noise, customers are spending a significant amount of their time online (as opposed to off-line) doing a variety of tasks; social circles have expanded in ways never before possible; many barriers have come down between businesses and customers, between peers, between those who are formally educated and those who are not; and the pace of life has quickened.
You have to adapt your marketing and customer service strategies so that they can accommodate these trends- among others. But if you come in with the right perspective, and you do the work, not only can you build and engaged audience of customers, but your customers will own their loyalty more since they must make a more active choice to follow your brand, and that act of making an active choice is a very, very powerful thing.
Bottom line: small businesses and self-employed professionals who use social media as an enhancement, who do the research to see what works and what doesn't, they will ultimately catapult their businesses to levels never thought possible.