Does social media marketing work for small businesses? The answer is a resounding yes! But why is it such a powerful tool for small business owners and how can you master it?
One of the things about social media marketing that makes it so potent for small businesses is that success largely comes down to great personality and proven tactics. Put another way, being successful doesn't require deep pockets and huge budgets. So unlike some other marketing channels, social media marketing is something that small businesses can benefit from every bit as much as their larger corporate cousins.
Being affordable is clearly one key factor, but just as important is the fact that results can often be achieved within a 90-day period. So unlike some marketing Investments that take many quarters or even years to pay dividends, social media marketing is something that can contribute to your bottom line in a far shorter timescale. For small businesses with modest cash flow at their disposal, this is clearly a very important consideration.
Compare this with other forms of marketing and you will see a very different picture emerges with social media. Designing a new optimised website and having it feature within Google Search results is likely to require an investment of tens of thousands of £$ and 12 months or more before it starts bearing fruit. Building a sizeable email marketing list is similarly going to take a year or more to achieve and is going to require ongoing spend both to grow the email list and to continue to nurture that list with regular valuable updates and insights.
By contrast, focus on the right tactics with social media marketing and it's quite feasible you could be seeing regular sales leads coming into your business within the first 90 days of investing in this activity. You could also get to this point with only a relatively modest outlay. To put things into context, our most expensive lead generation package costs £1149 / $1499 a month and we expect to be generating tangible results for you within the first 3 months.
So all in all, social media marketing is a much more affordable proposition for small businesses and also one that can bring results in a much shorter timeframe.
So we've answered the question “does social media marketing work for small businesses” and now it's time to think about why social media marketing is so important for small businesses. Some of the many ways it can directly contribute results to your business include:
It’s widely understood that people tend to buy from others who they know, like and trust. One of the big upsides from social media marketing is the way it allows small businesses and local businesses to generate trust and customer appeal at scale. Whatever niche market you serve, it is perfectly plausible to build up a target audience of your ideal prospects on social media and to nurture them with valuable or entertaining content. Meaning that over time, potential customers increasingly come to know, like and trust you. Plus, having that audience built on social media means you’ll be able to learn more about their needs, wants and frustrations through social listening.
Another thing that is widely understood by small business owners is the value of other people recommending your business or being the ones to promote it on your behalf. Social media achieves both of these outcomes.
Small businesses can find themselves being promoted at scale by other people if they have great content on their website that others choose to share on social media, or if competitions are organised on social media and others start entering these en masse. With a bit of planning and tactical awareness, small businesses can find themselves in the exciting position that other people are promoting them even when the owner and team of that small business aren’t even at work!
Perhaps of greater importance is the element of social proof. A strong social media presence will start pulling in customer reviews on your Facebook page and mean when people search for you on Google they'll see reviews from your delighted customers. These are the most obvious forms of social proof. But more subtle forms also play a big part in making a small business successful. Other people sharing your company's reports, brochures, menus, event details and the like is far more likely to cause people seeing these things to act on them than if you yourself shared them or ran paid advertising campaigns to promote them.
Something else that experienced business owners know is that only a tiny fraction of your ideal customer audience will be ready to buy from you at any given point in time. That’s why it is so important that your small business finds ways of remaining on the radar of your ideal customers throughout the course of the year. That way, when they are at the point that they are ready to buy, your business is front of mind with them and they are likely to turn to you to make a purchase.
Small businesses can achieve this by having potential customers follow them on social media and therefore regularly see updates and reminders from the business. They can also achieve this by running low cost social media advertising campaigns that will retarget people who have previously visited your website but not yet completed a purchase.
Another challenge that small business owners face is to ensure that potential customers view the business as being a real expert in its field. Whether you are a business consultant or a wedding planner or a recruitment agent or a training provider, the future sales you make in your business will be directly linked to your credibility as an expert in that particular niche field.
Social media is a great channel for establishing this credibility. Partly through what you share you demonstrate your niche market focus and expertise. Then through comments and answering other people's questions, you are able to demonstrate that you should be people's preferred supplier thanks to your depth of knowledge and willingness to help. Plus if other people in your market start sharing your content or commenting on your posts or recommending you as an expert provider, then all of this activity serves to reinforce your credibility as an expert in that field.
Another way we find social media marketing really does work for small businesses is through the power of incremental gains. Imagine if just a few percent more of your website visitors went on to do the thing you really want them to do (ie. buy from you, book a place at one of your events, etc). How big an impact could that have on your bottom line?
Or imagine if your investment in producing an email newsletter each week went out to a whole extra chunk of subscribers this coming year. Or how about if more people seeing you appearing in Google Search results chose to click on your website because they’d already heard of your business.
It’s not hard to picture how these incremental gains would all add up to a sizeable boost in the sales and profitability of your business is it? But if you haven't mastered social media marketing, or don't have an external partner doing this for you, then all these incremental gains are left on the table.
Another unexpected win you will get from being more active on social media is an increase in the number of websites linking to content on your business's website. We see this happen every week. Someone sees you share some great content on social media (perhaps because you had recently interacted with them) and then they link to that content from their resources page or in one of the next blog posts they write.
This gives you the win of some extra traffic coming to you from their website, it also results in Google treating your website more favourably because that link adds credibility to the value of your website's content. Plus it's thought that Google also pays attention to how much social media interest there is in content from your website, when determining how highly to show your company in search result pages.
Lastly - and most importantly - social media marketing works for small businesses precisely because it can be shown to generate sales leads and other tangible business wins, so that the return on investment from social media is easily demonstrated.
This doesn't happen by simply posting on social media and hoping that some of the right potential customers visit your website and choose to call you or buy online. Rather, it happens by following a very methodical process of growing your audience of target prospects and then converting that audience into sales calls, event bookings or the like through a mixture of direct messaging (with wording that’s been proven to work) and targeted advertising that produces a predictable and scalable end result.
If your social media marketing efforts bring in let's say fifty new enquiries in the first 90 days of experimentation, it is a simple calculation to establish whether or not that is going to translate into the volume of sales that makes this a no-brainer to continue investing in! If you close 20% of all enquiries and the average sale you make equates to £1k / $1k of profit then you’ve generated £10k / $10k of additional profits from social media. Provided you’ve spent less than that on your social media marketing then it’s produced a favourable return - and that’s just in the first 90 days of getting started. Now imagine that those results are going to grow over time and it's not hard to see how social media will be a great investment for many small businesses
If we come back to the question “does social media marketing work for small businesses”, the most important consideration is whether or not there is a proven conversion mechanism that social media can plug into. A couple of examples will help to clarify what I mean here.
Let’s say that you are a Consulting business that needs to get 20 people along to one of your free workshops or business breakfasts in order to make a sizeable sale. Or you are a B2B technology provider that needs to generate 10 requests for a demo in order to make one sale that will have a significant lifetime value.
In both of these examples, if social media activities can directly contribute to a doubling in the number of prospects booking in for a free workshop or business breakfast… or requesting a demo request… then that over time is going to translate into a doubling of sales. Social media is dovetailing into a proven conversion mechanism.
By contrast, if you have social media try to generate interest in your products or services in a way that they have never been sold before, then if there is a lack of success from this experiment we simply can't determine whether that is due to a failure of social media marketing, or whether it is simply that that means of making a sale was never going to work and social media has been plugged into a dud of an idea!
So the first part of the answer to “how should we start social media marketing” is to map out the desired outcome from your social media activities and to choose outcomes that dovetail into existing proven conversion mechanisms. This is a key step in devising a successful social media strategy.
The second part of the answer is to determine whether you are going to try and do this yourself with your existing team members; or you're going to try and employ a new team member with the skills to pull this off; or you're going to find a specialist niche social media management firm to give yourself the best shot at generating results quickly.
If you're going to try the DIY approach then at least be conscious of the fact that this is likely to take longer to generate results - and also make sure you give your team the tools and resources and timescales they will need in order to have any shot at being successful. This is a whole topic in its own right and I direct you to the following blog if this is the route you are thinking of pursuing.
The following would be my checklist of suggested things to check if someone in my network asked me to help them select the right social media agency for their business. This list is clearly influenced by our experiences of working with clients, but I hope these tips will help you select an effective agency to partner with - especially if you're working in markets that we do not have a track record of supporting ourselves. So what should you look out for?
Those of you that've been involved in a business with a website will no doubt have been approached numerous times by Search Engine Optimization companies, claiming they can propel your website to page 1 of the Google search result pages. Whenever I get an approach like that, my very first response is always to check how the SEO company's own site ranks on Google. If they can’t achieve stellar results for their own site then what prospect is there that they'll have the ability to get excellent results for anyone else’s?!
The exact same logic applies when selecting your social media agency.
If you take a look at our social media profiles, you'll see that we’re extremely popular in our space. We have built significant organic audiences and brand awareness on social media, produce lots of interaction from our engaged fan base and also have thousands of people sharing content from our site on social media, 365 days a year. Talk to us and you'll also discover that we generate a significant proportion of our own client leads through social media. Without even reading our client testimonials you can already sense that we're a company that understands how to generate results on social media.
Warning! There are lots of cowboy outfits in the social media space, just as there are in the Search Engine Optimization world. So proceed with caution! Firms that appear enthusiastic and competitively priced, but don’t have a strong social media presence themselves, may be at the stage where they’re just learning how to get good results from social media - which, if you engage them, they'll be doing at your expense...
My second decision criteria would be whether the agency has a specialist focus or a record of working with organisations like yours to generate the kinds of outcomes you are wanting to achieve? The challenges of working for a small business are completely different to working for a major global brand. Getting results in one sector will not necessarily translate well to getting results in an unrelated industry. Does the agency you're speaking to have some relevant experience they can bring to the table? Be sure to delve into this and establish how deep their expertise in your sector really is. Are the social media marketing strategies they’ve had success developing relevant to your business and the results you want to achieve?
Watch out for any agency that seeks to commit you up front to a long-term contract. It's reasonable that an agency will require an initial period of work (say 3-6 months) to get your accounts up and running and to begin to produce tangible results. But beyond that, a social media company should feel comfortable living or dying based on the results they are generating.
Look for firms that offer a rolling month-to-month agreement - where you can walk away without penalty. A service provider offering those terms has more confidence in their ability to deliver - and you reduce your financial risk of seeing what social media can do for your business. A double win!
Want to reassure yourself even more? Check with the agency what their typical client duration is right now. If clients have been working with that business for years then that tells you a great deal about the results they’re getting. If the results were poor, they simply wouldn’t be continuing with the service!
I hope I’ve got you excited about the ways social media marketing could transform the fortunes of your small business if you just do it right. It all starts with having a clear and achievable outcome in mind. Plus the skills and expertise to implement your strategy effectively in your business. If that means partnering with a niche social media agency to get the desired results, just be sure to pick one that has a track record of delivering results for businesses similar to your own.
Good luck - and if a call with our friendly team would be helpful, you’d be most welcome to book in a time for a call here.
The team at Social Hire won't just do social media management. Our team work with you to ensure your business sees great value from the service and that your team gets tangible results.
Our digital marketing managers are the wizards that can give you the insight you need to grow your business. Have you had enough of making difficult personnel choices that don't work well for your online marketing?
We're an organisation that helps our clients boost their social media marketing by providing social media marketing on a monthly basis.
You might like these blog posts Navigating Photoshop and Design Trends in an Age of Social Media Marketing, 5 Steps to Increase Employee Participation in Your Retirement Plan, How to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile to Boost Marketing Strategy, and Omnichannel Marketing: Best Practices.