Social Media Marketing Essentials for the Small Business Web Presence
This is a submission to the Small Biz Discovery Contest and part of our commitment to serve the small business community with quality Internet marketing resources. This article answers the question “What one recommendation would you give to small business owners to improve their online presence?” focusing specifically on social media marketing. It is part of a group of contest submissions sharing Internet marketing recommendations for small businesses. Public voting for the contest is now closed. Winners will be announced July 2, 2010.
Author: Jeff Toler
The ever-changing paradigm of Internet marketing has greatly advanced a relatively recent phenomenon called social media marketing. In the broadest sense of the term, social media marketing (SMM) can and usually does embrace a number of outlets including: tweeting, blogging, viewer-supplied content sites, (such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube) email campaigns and cell phone texting (SMS.)
To think almost none of these marketing outlets even existed even as little as four or five years ago is breath-taking proof of the swiftness of the evolution of social networking when wedded to advancing internet technologies. Facebook now boasts over 400,000,000 members; The Florida Supreme Court, for example, is now posting information on Twitter at twitter.com/flcourts. One wonders if even Stanley Milgram, lead researcher of the famous “Small World Experiment”, could have envisioned how rapidly social networking in this hyper-fast environment could prove to be.
For you, the small business owner/marketer, SMM should not be over-looked, as indeed, it may well be one of the more effective tools at your disposal for rich content on your site, indeed as an integral part of your strategic marketing plan.
To be sure, engaging actively in developing SMM strategies and tactics is time-consuming to be effective. Michael Seltzer’s Social Marketing Media Report for 2009 found 64% of marketers used SMM five hours a week, while 39% were using it for ten hours or more. Yet this same report polled an amazing 88% of marketers who had been actively employing these new mediums for years with 72% who admitted they were just getting started with only a few months experience. Most significant in this report: more than 30% were sole proprietors actively using SMM in their small businesses.
Is the investment in time and energy worth it? These statistics would indicate that many certainly think so. So what are the better outlets for social marketing? Let’s examine some of the examples typically cited.
Facebook (and Similar Reader Supplied Content Sites)
When businesses and organizations discovered the supercharged “six-degrees of separation” phenomenon of this social network site, Facebook business pages devoted to promotion, marketing and PR cropped up in waves. The notable advantages of Facebook are:
- It has a huge user base already using it that is likely also to include your existing customers.
- It’s easy to use and readily accessible.
- It can accommodate multi-media content, specifically tailored to your message.
Its few downsides such as a closed environment and the non-customizable formatting that is the trademark of Facebook are not really showstoppers. Its cousins, MySpace and LinkedIn for example, offer similar advantages and disadvantages but are tailored to differing demographics with uniquely differing outcomes. MySpace caters to a younger audience while LinkedIn is more of a networking site best suited for professionals and personal business contacts.
YouTube is an amazing opportunity to promote business products and services via reader-supplied videos. Some videos, even obvious business contrived contributions can go viral with tens – even hundreds of thousands of viewers overnight. It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to see the potential for the small business owner/marketer when these videos link to their web site. (Ref. www.facebook.com, www.myspace.com, www.linkedin.com, www.youtube.com)
Implementation: All of these social network websites simply require a free membership to get started and offer excellent help in the process and answering questions about their use. You link your web site to the page or posting — even using supplied graphical files of their recognized brand. All YouTube requires is the ability to create video files — easy enough using available editing software.
Most businesses can profit with a blogosphere presence by either publishing a blog or advertising on one that draws the audience best suited for that business. Blogging has become a major force in disseminating opinion and news not typically found in traditional media. For that reason alone, small businesses find a hospitable and relatively inexpensive outlet for public relations, advertising and sales.
Because literally anyone can create and publish a blog, it is easy to get started. A vast array of free open-source solutions is available to assist you in the effort. Maintaining one is another story. Blogging, to be really effective, requires constancy and consistency. Again, social marketing does require an investment of time. The dividends are an environment relatively free of regulated restrictions and the potential for creating personal connection for customers and consumers with your message or opinions. Moreover, blogs allow for feedback with reader comments, a great way to harvest valuable opinion and insights. When a web site includes or links to a blog, it has the potential to offer customers, researchers and consumers a reason to become familiar with your business by connecting more personally with it. A great example of how well this can work would be GoDaddy’s colorful founder Robert Parson’s video blog. Whether you like him or not, he garners attention for his brand. (For examples and more information, see www.wordpress.org, www.movabletype.org, www.textpattern.com and others – Google: Blogging, blog software and blog forums)
Implementation: It’s possible to create full -blown web sites with WordPress (for example) with all of the structure and content management available in non-blog CSS/HTML, but often, you will link to your blog from your existing web site and vice-versa with a stand-alone blog site (complete with hosting if you like.)
Gradually supplanting “snail mail” direct mail campaigns, email campaigns are demonstrating a distinct advantage of messaging to controlled audiences with colorful and impacting content – and of course directly linking to your web site landing page.
Email has made the cost of direct contact advertising much more economical by eliminating costly printing and postage expenses. Lists are readily available from a number of reliable resources, (which you would need to obtain for direct mail anyway) including associations and memberships. Are these the people your business needs to target? If so, email deserves more attention from you than it often receives in a serious marketing plan – especially for small businesses.
But here is the important thing: think of email as social media marketing. When handled properly, it is a very powerful tool in your marketing arsenal, especially with the ubiquity of the Blackberry and other smart phones in use today.
Implementation: Creating HTML email and engaging a service for broadcast campaigns is relatively inexpensive. There are a number of competitive services available to help you with creating and sending them efficiently and hassle-free. (Examples: MailChimp.com, ConstantContact.com, www.iContact.com and others)
Who would have thought that a communication idea like Twitter would have become the popular force it is today? Once again, the power of social networking has unleashed a simple yet powerful tool. In the words of Twitter itself: “Twitter connects you to your customers right now, in a way that was never before possible.” In addition to its useful immediacy, Twitter allows for a personal response or opinion to float out to any and all that are “following” you or your business. Twitter is more of an open environment than Facebook and so it tends to be easier to create a larger audience quickly.
How does it work? Again, it’s best described in Twitter’s own words: “Twitter lets you write and read messages of up to 140 characters, or the very length of this sentence, including all punctuation and spaces.” Messages can be sent and received from your laptop or your cell phone. They are real-time communication.
Why is that important? Let’s suppose you discover a benefit (or a complaint) one of your customers has twittered about your product or service. Something you may not have discovered on your own right away. Immediately you can begin promoting it (or doing damage control) right away, tweeting and posting on your blog or site accordingly. Trends and opinions are available to you and your business enterprise instantly and continuously.
Implementation: Becoming a twitterer really only requires signing up as a member and logging on. (Ref: www.twitter.com) Links strategically placed on your site would allow others to add your site to their follow list – which you would encourage of course.
More and more businesses are using the cell phone to alert a customer to an important announcement or offer – assuming the customer has opted in for that. Many organizations other than your cell carrier are taking advantage of this.
For the small business, this can be a great way to develop customer’s awareness of your presence. Such messages can and should link directly to your site where the message is amplified with content related to the text. SMS stands for short message service. Simply put, it is a method of communication that sends text between cell phones, or from a PC or handheld to a cell phone.
Implementation: SMS services are available for a nominal fee to help in delivering messages to your customers and prospects. (www.interactivemediums.com, www.smseverywhere.com, www.openmarket17-px.rtrk.com and others – Google: SMS and SMS delivery) It is important to have a sign-up form on your site where users can opt-in for this service.
A full generation – the Generation Y – has spent their entire lives with the computer and the subsequent flow of related technology that it embraces and embodies. Contemporary phenomena like Twitter and Facebook are just not phenomenal to them. If they represent a part of your businesses target demographics, you can’t even think of ignoring these social media marketing tools. But don’t make the mistake of thinking older generations are not using SMM in growing numbers too, because they are.
Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book, “The Tipping Point” documented the extraordinary phenomenon of the tipping point and how often we fail to understand how it is achieved. It’s never an accident accident. For the small business that relies on their web site as a chief marketing tool, content alone, even sites using sound Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click campaigns are well advised to include all the assets for their site they can get their hands on, and that certainly includes social media marketing assets if they hope to achieve the tipping point in their own business enterprise. Any or all of these SMM tools could be invaluable for you and your small business. The best advise is to try them out if they are new and unfamiliar to you and get to know how they work. Good ideas will ultimately flow from the experience to lead you along the way. You can get additional help and training from hundreds of forums as well as training sites like: www.lynda.com, www.videoprofessoronline.com and so many others all found online.