Small business, start-ups and entrepreneurs run at social media like no one else! yet, they often fail at doing it properly and never fully get a return on the time or financial investment - in some cases a poorly designed strategy can also lead to the opposite where your content disenfranchises people. (p.s warning - this article is longer than usual!)
So, What does playing a game of soccer or gridiron have in common with social media? Well, in the world of sport, just as in business, you need to have a plan, practice, have patience and enjoy the game. In fact the world of sport when it comes to planning and execution in business is very much the same in so far as the most successful sports and business people are those who have started off by knowing exactly where they want to end up.
In fact, a number of people, particularly the younger generations, have a belief that those in the older age brackets just don’t under social media and to some degree they would be right. The truth is there is a lack of understanding at both ends of the age bracket for that reason – young people think they know how to do it better than the older age groups because they were born into this brave new world where as those in the older age bracket struggle with social media because they think they are trying to work something out that is a little too foreign to them.
So, this week, we are going to focus on those seven core elements that make social media engagement for small business and start-ups so important:
Having and developing a social media engagement plan
Practicing and experimenting it to get it right
The execution and having patience and refinement
Enjoying the journey
Reflecting and refining the strategy
Building great content
The magic bullet - monetisation
In doing so we want you to think of how you would play a game of sport and all of the necessary planning that goes into winning – and it doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is whether team related or individual pursuit. Now, let’s look at how that applies to the first step in getting involved in social media from a small business and start-up perspective: having and developing a social media engagement plan and here are our seven tips to success in stage 1:
1. Is social media for you? First of all understand whether or not social media is for you. The biggest mistake we make is by heading into unchartered water because we believe it is a course we need to plot and the truth is not all start-ups and small businesses need to be on social media. The key is to understanding whether or not you will be able to build your business faster and if so how. Take for example a manufacturing business who builds a product versus a shop who may sell the product. Let’s be honest there is no real need for the manufacturer to be on social media because the way they sell and engage with customers is still very much from a traditional perspective – in other words through face to face business development mixed with telemarketing, strategic mail-outs and trade shows / conference – whereas the shop who may sell the end product had a broader more consumer based market who need to draw customers in either online or through a store front. So, the first question you need to ask yourself is do I need to be on social media and if so is it linked to the growth of my business? if it is not, and it’s all just about public relations or “everyone else is doing it so must I” then you need to think again.
Why? Because there is a monetary cost to you! Do not be fooled by the glamour of social media and the thinking that it’s just a little time spent here or there – those hours add up and when you are running a small business or a start-up you need to ensure that you have focus around those things that will specifically earn you income. Imagine this – if you spent 2 hours a day (an hour in the morning and an hour at night) on social media every week then that is 14 hours. Let’s say your calculated minimum hourly wage rate was $25 and then multiple that number by 14 and then again by 52 to get $18,200. That is how much your own time value will be per week focussed on your potential social media activities.
2. Ensuring you understand having either a monetary or brand outcome: Ok, let’s assume that you have an idea that social media is in fact for you. The next step in developing your strategy is to try and work out how you are going to monetise the time and cost you will expend. Monetisation comes in two forms – direct cash and brand awareness (which turns into brand valuation). As pointed out in our first tip, if you spend a certain amount of time per day and per week then you will expend a cost – therefore from the beginning you should always build cost recovery and monetisation into your thinking (this thinking will be so important as the strategy later unfolds because you will make more strategic decisions around the form and type of content you will publish.
Some of the ways some small businesses can grow a revenue line from their social media engagement strategy is selling products based on audience demand. This is where traditional store front sales techniques can meet the online world – what attracts someone into the traditional store front is a mix of imagery, inviting messaging and offers – in other words, creating buzz around those things that are meaningful to your audience that you can sell. A simple exercise to do is by writing down all of the various products and services you might have in the form of a traditional sales plan would you be employing a sales person – why? Because as you will see later, developing a traditional sales plan is very much the same as having a content production and publication plan later on. If it is a brand outcome you are looking for then you need to understand that in order to grow brand value you have to first create it. This comes down to the sophistication of what you are publishing and why.
3. Understanding your audience: let’s be clear just because there are more than 1 billion people in China doesn’t meant to say there are a potential 1 billion consumers of your product. The same goes for social media. As at April 2014 there were 1.28 billion users of Facebook but not every user will be a buyer of whatever it is you have to sell. Just like in a the traditional sales market you need to understand who will buy what you have because ultimately they will be the people you will need to engage with in order to grow your audience and your crowd. You also need to understand what that audience will mean in the context of the geographic reach of your business. If you are a more local shop front in the form of a coffee shop then you really have an immediate sales reach of about 5 miles therefore your strategy should be about attracting an audience that is in that radius. It extends out because some people may travel for work living outside the five mile radius – but in the main, it is within 5 miles.
So, your social media engagement strategy should be targeted towards all of those people who may be in the local area. If your business is national or even international then you also need to make decisions about who your likely audience needs to be. If you are a national business who services a domestic market then there is no point in trying to channel your offerings through platforms that service international users. For example, one business came to us and could not understand that even though they had 30,000 Facebook likes why they were not generating any business – the fact is, why would they when 27,000 were offshore and they were a national business? That meant that they had invested a lot of time and money into growing the wrong audience.
4. Putting analytics in place early on: as we have just pointed out just because you might only have 27,000 Facebook likes doesn’t mean all of those people will buy from you or even engage with you and just as you might spend a lot of time making posts – you need to spend as much time analysing what is going on. A number of platforms have analytics in place already such as Facebook Insights or LinkedIn profile and company views. Google Analytics is a free service that you can also build in behind your website and you can monitor who comes onto your main website from your various social media channels – in other words analytics is the ability, in real time, to know what is working and what is not. Measuring this sort of activity will enable you to adapt or change tack without waiting until the end of financial year and wondering what happened to all of your expected sales.
5. Carefully select the platforms you will engage with: this is another trap for old and younger players alike – that they need to be on all platforms from Facebook to Twitter and from Instagram to LinkedIn. In fact did you know there are more than 500 top social media apps, tools and platforms our there? The reality is start-ups and small business (as well as larger companies) traditional hit what we call the top six: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google + and Tumblr. The temptation is great in the belief that you need to be on everything right away. That is false. You need to carefully select what you will start with otherwise it will become unmanageable and the risk will be that you spend more time on social media for all the wrong reasons and not enough time focussed on those parts of the business that need your attention. Select a platform that will enable you to connect with the audience that best fits your market and in doing so try select the platform with the greatest reach for that purpose. When you do so – make sure that whatever channel you have selected is connected to your website or APP – never allow things to run in isolation.
6. Content and message consistency are king: when developing your social media strategy don’t just make the content up that you think will draw an audience in or content that you think personally you would like – in other words, leave your personal emotional attachment to issues out of the equation and focus on content that is aligned with your business (unless your business is you and that’s different such as motivational speakers and life coaches). The initial content you will be publishing is even more important because you will be starting with an audience of 1, YOU, and in order to grow that audience the content needs to be relevant and meaningful. Content can be meaningful in different ways for example, there is nothing wrong with having a daily dose of inspiration (such as a famous quote) published on your Facebook page followed by a market or community insight followed by something more specific to your product – although, and here is the little gem – make sure one piece of content flows from the other. The inspiring quote of the day could be connected with a market or industry insight and that market and industry insight is connected with your product.
Brand consistency in content is also important – have the same messaging and consistency of brand across all of your channels – don’t confuse your reader or viewer by presenting your business twenty different ways. So the lesson? Think about the content that could be most relevant to your audience and, as an exercise, take a four week period. Commit to making four posts per day for those first four weeks – now, one of those posts will be an inspirational quote, one will be whatever is happening in the world of your industry and the other two will be directly connected to your business (it could be a piece of news or insight or it could be a daily discount offer). What is the secret then to building great content? Check back later in our series for that insight!
7. It takes time and the art of contagion: when developing your social media engagement strategy you need to understand two really important things – 1. Just because you built it doesn’t mean they will find it. 2. It takes time and 3. What you really want is contagion. Firstly, you need to accept that time, effort and resources (either financial or material) will need to go into the strategy to make it work. Like anything just because you build something doesn’t mean to say people will want to use it right? Therefore it will take time before you start generating and seeing results. The worst thing you can do is be enamoured by initial success in growing an audience because that initial audience may just be your own friends and family (which happens at the beginning of a small businesses engagement on Facebook where they invite pretty much everyone they know to “Like” the page) and why? Because your mother will always tell you what a great idea you have and be supportive – that’s her job right? Will your mom be your biggest customer? No – could she be your only customer? Yes – if you don’t get it right. So, accept it takes hard work and perseverance to make your social media engagement strategy work. Finally, there will be a point where contagion takes over and by contagion we mean that as soon as your various channels begin to reach certain audience numbers they will begin sharing and liking, retweeting or posting your content. In doing so it will appear in their friends news or twitter feeds and your audience will increase not by rates of 1 but in some cases, by rates of hundreds and thousands per week. We talk contagion later on in this series.
So, that is a lot to digest right? The fact is there could be another dozen tips we could put forward in terms of developing a social media engagement strategy for start-ups and small business – but this is a start. Keep watching out all of this week as we talk social media @www.entrehub.org. Remember to comment and get engaged in the conversation; share your stories both good and bad.
Finally, at the beginning we said that social media was like playing a game of sport – this first stage is all about the planning and development process.
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