What every small business should know about social media – before they start using it

Digital Marketing | Social Media
August 25, 2020

Knowing these basics will save you money and get real results

I want to start this article by saying the topic of social media is very complex. This article is not the one answer to all of your social media questions. The intent of this article is to put things in perspective and increase your odds of succeeding with a realistic baseline of understanding of what’s real and what’s not.

In the interest of full transparency you should know that I may have a reputation for being anti-social media. I am not. In fact, in a recent, very successful project the primary driver was social media and it was wildly successful. The reason I have that reputation, I think, is because most people passing themselves off as experts and selling the service or idea of social media, are putting businesses in a bad position with their embarrassingly naive understanding of social media… and marketing in general. So, I try to help protect the business and make them aware of the realities. That means I am often talking them out of, or right-sizing their perception of, social media because it is the most oversold, over hyped marketing tactic out there.

The first part of this article will reinforce the notion that I am anti-social media. The second part of this article will balance that out.

Onward!

You can spot an amateur marketer immediately because they focus too much on social media. The first words out of their mouth are – “We gotta get you on social media!” or “So what are you doing on social media?”

Social media should not be used by every business. For starters the difference in the value social media offers B2C businesses is vastly different than the value it brings B2B businesses. As funny as it sounds, people, including marketers and small business operators, are so enamored with social media that they completely forget to consider whether there is a viable audience there or not. The conventional wisdom must be “Everyone’s on social media so my audience must be there.” They might be there in some capacity but being there and the likelihood of a conversion are two different things. One must always consider which mediums or channels provide the best result and return on investment.

If your audience is there, standing out in social media can be like a needle standing out in a stack of needles. Furthermore the amount of time your post will have a chance to be in front of anyone is a matter of minutes, maybe hours, if you’re lucky. That means to find the needle you want people to find, they have to be there to look through the stack of needles, during those minutes AND you have to be the most noticeable needle in the stack.

It is tough to attract a good audience. In fact, you see many more companies with most Recent Posts from over year ago than you do companies that are hitting home runs, or even base hits. They have decided that that it is not worth the effort.

If you have the resources to post frequently enough and hit a home run with your messaging much of the time, you also need to be there to respond to comments. Both good and bad comments should acknowledged. Responding or acknowledging also is not enough. Responding well, especially to negative comments is crucial. Poorly handled communication has nearly wiped out big companies, on social media. Do you have what it takes?

Some of the “experts” will also tell you – you need to build an audience. That is ideal, of course. However, not as easy as it seems. Getting people to follow you is easy-ish but getting the right people to follow you is quite a bit more challenging. It takes time and a lot of credibility (followers believe you are worth believing), authenticity (what they see in your posts, is what they get when the engage with you) and integrity (you deliver on your promise) to prove that you are worth the clutter and notifications they’re signing up for by following you. There are plenty of automated ways to build an audience but if they are not following you for the right reasons your or messaging will still fail to make an impact. Size is not everything. I would rather have 50 followers that move the needle and buy from me than 5,000 that don’t even know my name.

I also really do not love trying to talk people out of social media because it often times requires a conversation that slaps them in the face telling them that the only person interested in seeing their BS on any given social media platform, is themselves. That conversation NEVER goes well, no matter how diplomatic I can be.

I know what you’re thinking – I really do hate social media. Nope. I hate the way it is sold and I hate that everyone thinks they’re an expert and I hate that businesses get mis-directed and lose focus on mis-guided attempts to rock the social media world.

What follows documents what I like and love about social media. Because it sounds easy many of the things I love will be followed up by the pitfalls. Ok… maybe I do hate social media. I’m kidding.

When you know how to get posts to cut through and get straight to the audience most appreciative of your content, nothing works as fast or as directly as social media. When done well the ripple effect of a good post can be life altering, or at least make your day.

It’s a bit of a double edged sword but if your posts are well crafted, social media can be an excellent medium for staying top of mind. Being a regular fixture on social media can be an immense tool in the awareness game. Here’s the caveat – if you are not careful or do not have a good plan, you will get lost in the noise, lose credibility and most importantly, you will lose a viable option when you really need to say something. Your audience will be numbed to your posts and stop paying attention.

I like that small businesses with little to no budget can use social media to promote their business. Assuming there’s a solid plan in-place, social media can provide a platform that costs nothing but someone’s time. If following a sound plan, a DIYer can perform as well as anyone or any other channel or medium.

I really like the ability to measure results thru social media efforts. Each platform has an analytics component and if used properly you can measure any type of conversion coming from social media. There are two types of small businesses. Small businesses that analyze everything they can and those that won’t be around much longer.

So… who should use social media and who shouldn’t?

If you are open minded and have the time and have a systematic plan for experimentation, you can learn a lot by which posts work and which don’t. Over time you can become adept at driving awareness and conversions through social media and even learn a lot about promoting your business in other ways.

If you have resources and/or experts that can devise a plan and work the plan, social media can be a tipping point that takes your business to another level. Remember, in order to get good results you have to be able to craft impactful posts and respond to the good and bad comments.

Stay away from social media or consult an expert if any of the following are true:
• You’re not 100% positive you know what it takes to create an impactful post
• You’re not 100% positive you know what drives your customer
• You do not have the time or resources to carefully manage social media efforts
• You do not have the time or resources to experiment and fail, a lot, and continuously improve until you get in a groove.
• You’re not 100% where your audience is most likely to be on social media

In summary, if you have a solid handle on what moves your audience, where your audience will be and you have a plan to properly communicate, social media can be an excellent platform to promote your small business.

If you’re not sure, you’ll be better off in another medium, allowing experts to handle social media for you or spending the time and energy required to learn and get good at the game. Wait until you can spend some time or money to do the job well.