Cashing in on social media
There’s been no doubt that the arrival of Google+ has electrified social media nerds the world over, but what does having a profile, or “page” or location or whatever, actually do for your business?
It’s hard to imagine it would when even the search engine’s own developers don’t trust it.
Google+ is just one of a host of new social media options that face start-ups. Facebook is now overtly attempting to lure small businesses while competitors are popping up all over the place, including a new family-focused social networking tool developed by an Australian couple.
Many budding entrepreneurs, especially the non-tech savvy ones, can be forgiven for being bewildered over which online tools to plump for and how to be confident of a healthy monetary return for the time and effort.
There have been case studies the world over proudly heralding the ease in which companies can engage their customer directly through this channel.
From Coke to Coles, Carlton Draught to Starbucks, many of the biggest brands in the world designate large portions of their marketing budgets to get more people on their Facebook page or listening to them on Twitter.
But how does this help small businesses that don’t have the budgets to hire a social media coordinator or community manager, or don’t know how to position their product in this space?
It's all in the timing
It’s really a matter of time management, says Lucio Dias Ribeiro, managing director of internet marketing consultancy The Online Circle.
Ribeiro says the bottom line for any small business is time versus revenue.
“Every hour you spend in your day on social media is one that you could spend selling or building up your business or product,” he says.
“Small businesses that want to tap into social media need to have very clear objectives and need to be very accountable – social media is for the long run, it’s not really quick to have an effect.”
Ribeiro points to big brand clients like Cadbury and Kraft as examples of those who have the money to have the social media upkeep.
However, this isn’t to say that it’s impossible for small businesses to do well in social networking, mainly because they’re in an industry in which direct client engagement is part of a recognisable point of difference.
Don't fall for the hype
“Small businesses need to be really careful not to be taken in by the fashion of the words ‘social media’ and forget about all of the other channels that may be more efficient for them – at the end of the day we talk about revenue and you need to be in ‘business’ not ‘busiless’,” says Ribeiro.
“You don’t want to be six months down the road and saying, ‘Hey I’ve done Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube and nothing returned back to me’.”
“That social media plan doesn’t work. You need to find the most efficient way to keep up with all of your objectives – you need to sit down at the table and say, ‘My time costs $60 per hour and I spend X amount of hours on social media, making sure I don’t have any spam, feeding in content, thinking about strategy, thinking about promotion. Am I better off going to a CPC (cost per click) model or paid media model?’”
These are questions that all small businesses must face when figuring out how to divvy up their marketing time (and dollars if they’re lucky).
For those whose business relies on a consistent online presence, lessons can be learned by those companies that have discovered how to best utilise this space.
David Olsen, head of social media for AppliancesOnline.com.au, has built the online company’s Facebook community to 170,000 members over the past two years, shaping what he sees as “one of the most engaged Facebook communities in Australia” and making it one of the largest among Australian retailers.
“What we believe sets us apart is that we listen and engage with our customers directly on our Facebook page and avoid simply pushing a marketing message or trying to sell through Facebook,” he says.
“As a retailer that sells online-only, Facebook has been invaluable to us. It allows us to demonstrate our dedication to customer service and satisfaction in a public forum for all to see.”
“Allowing our customers to share their experiences with us, and their friends, eases any apprehension consumers may have about spending $1,000 online to buy a fridge they have only seen in pictures on our website.”
Getting customer centric
This management of product image in the social sphere is what Olsen sees as creating accessibility to his brand.
The more visible they are to their customers, the more likely they can head off any negative connotations that could be associated to them.
“In addition to Facebook we have a presence on both Twitter and YouTube, as well as a number of Australian internet forums,” he says.
“It’s important to be visible, but it's more important to be active where your customers are.”
While having a visible presence on these networks is important to Olsen, the lure of advertising through them has yet to catch on – though that’s not to say that it should be ignored.
“We believe the ROI on advertising on social networks is a hard one to quantify – but if you can build up a model and the numbers make sense for your business it is not something that should be dismissed entirely,” he says.
This is an area in which Cliff Rosenberg, LinkedIn’s managing director of South East Asia and Australia/NZ, has been educating small business for a number of years.
For Rosenberg, social media platforms have to offer a compelling channel for small businesses to engage with their customers or risk losing them to more “traditional” methods of online advertising.
“As a small business, they may not have large marketing budgets so there’s a clear need to be savvy and creative in marketing themselves on social media platforms,” he explains.
“Currently over 10% of LinkedIn members in Australia are small business owners.”
“We have tools for companies of any size and budget level… our Marketing Solutions business involves display creative, custom solutions and enhanced engagement tools.”
“LinkedIn Ads, our primarily text-based ad system (for direct response marketing), allows advertisers to create their own campaigns and set their own bids.”
Picking your social media battles
So, will social networking tools such as these, along with everything from Foursquare to YouTube, put your business in the game?
According to The Online Circle’s Ribeiro, it’s a channel that should be taken with a grain of salt – where it works for those whose business relies on an online presence, other areas such as services should be more careful, especially if you’re only able to service a certain location. You could get more traffic but not necessarily in your area.
“When I’ve worked with SMEs before, the return is really difficult to earn for these guys, especially the guys offering services in regional areas,” he says.
“I think Google+ offers a lot of resources – there is definitely a good reason to be using it… I just don’t know where it is taking small business specifically.”
“I would advise SMEs to look at Google+ mainly for the resources it offers such as Conference Call – which could impact in the overhead costs for an SME… this isn’t about gaining new business/lead generation, it’s about potentially saving your business money.”
“However, I’m not sure if Google+ will go anywhere – you’ll have a lot of people following but I don’t think it’s going to be a hit the mainstream like Facebook.”
- Don’t avoid social media. Observe it if you don’t have time to be on it.
- Work out where your customers are and what they are saying about you. Do they mainly stick to one or two social media sites?
- Measure your time management against how much your time costs – does it balance out?
- Social networking can pose problems if your service is “locationally locked”.
- Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: if there are free opportunities to advertise with social media, have a go and see if the figures work out for you.