Social Media for Small Businesses in 2011

Social Media had a good 2010. From the companies we met throughout the year, there seemed to be a growing understanding that social isn’t about the tools (which we know can be faddish) and is more about better and more effective communications, both with customers and within the enterprise. This is a major barrier to get past – Good news! However, there are still barriers to overcome, especially for smaller organizations.

Most businesses spent the best part of last year being told, ad nauseam, that if they aren’t on [insert name of social network of the day] then they were losing out to the competition and must “join the conversation” immediately.  Some dived in headfirst and didn’t really see any kind of return, others got freaked out and stayed on the sidelines

We thought we would share the top 3 problems we encountered when working with small businesses in 2010 and a few things they can do to make it go a bit smoother in 2011.

1. Finding The Resources

100% of the companies we spoke to had plans for or were doing something with social media. But, times are still tough and while setting up a social media presence might be perceived as ‘free’, the work needed to make it successful most certainly isn’t. Whether it’s a new hire, diverting someone’s time to social media or getting some outside help, this is going to cost money. Sorry about that. The good news is that if you do a few simple things to make sure any activity is targeted, efficient and trackable…you will see a return.

2. Measuring the social activity is still a problem

Many companies that dipped their toe in the piranha infested social media waters found it very difficult to prove any kind of success. Can you measure the effectiveness of social media? Yes. Is it easy? Not so much. You can track the web metrics quite easily, but to get to the insights is much harder and takes more resource. Some businesses haven’t got to grips with the measurement tools needed for social media and are still struggling with benchmarking and mapping the activity against other marketing and communications programs and then linking it to sales data. It certainly isn’t that sexy, but unless its done properly, you will be sailing blind. (Some ideas on how to tackle this are below)

3. Getting Your House In Order

This is one we have come across many times in the last year. If you are operating online then your website and the ‘user experience’ needs to be prioritized. There is no point spending your scarce resource driving people to your website if you are going to encourage them to leave as soon as they get there! Most online consumers have the attention span of a goldfish these days such is the competition and ease to walk down the virtual street and find an alternative.

Where Should Small Businesses Focus Their Social Media Efforts?

1. Sort Your Website Out

Check the design, how easy is it to navigate?  If you sell stuff – how easy is it for people to buy? – check this out if you need help on this one. Do you have landing pages sorted if you are investing in SEO or PPC? These questions should be addressed before promoting yourself on social channels.

2. Do the research on your customers

Find out where they are, what platforms they use, what content they like. There are number of free and paid social media monitoring tools to do this. Once you know where your customers are, you can focus your efforts and resources where you will have the least waste.

3. Don’t over extend yourself

Pick one social media platform which you can manage to start with. If it’s a blog then make sure you use an easy platform . We use WordPress for most clients as we like the SEO plugins and the choice of themes…but there are others. If Its Facebook then make sure you have compelling content that will keep your audience entertained or become a useful resource for them – remember the interaction and potentially huge number of ‘likes’ won’t happen by magic . Don’t try and do too much, too quickly.

4. Commit to Social Media

I know no one really wants to hear this, but it’s the same with SEO…you need to be patient! It almost always takes time for the work to yield valuable results…so hang in there.

Once you have got into the groove with a channel you can manage and have proved that there is some value to it…then add another channel. There are tools (free and paid) that can help you manage multiple platforms, we use Spredfast and Hootsuite but there are others so again, it doesn’t have to be as daunting as it may seem at the outset. If you have enough resources think about employing a social media manager.

5. Get a social media measurement framework in place

There is the technical side of things like making sure you have the correct analytics packages attached to your digital properties. Have you got Google Analytics on your site, are you using any social media monitoring of some kind for deeper intelligence. You need to measure the impact but also make sure your are measuring the important thing – the £ or $. Most execs understand how to measure ROI on their core business…social media marketing isn’t any different. If you don’t then read some stuff! There are blogs, presentations and books . If that fails…Get Help!

There is obviously a ton of other problems and tactics to overcome them, but this post is long enough as it is so, we’d love to hear what you think some of the major issues are that we’ve missed. Comments are good for that!

Good Hunting…

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