How do you find businesses when you need a particular service or product? Do you pull out the yellow pages and thumb through them, looking for something relevant? Or do you quickly Google what you are looking for?
These days most people are searching the internet for products and services. Phone books are nearly extinct. We keep our phone book in the car – to use for kindling when to start bonfires (really).
Getting In Front of Your Market
It is clear that you are going to need an internet presence for your company if you want to be in contact with the customers in your market. This presence can take many forms – social media like Facebook and Twitter, free blogs, review websites, and official websites.
You can use some or all of these platforms to promote your business. This multi-part blog series is going to look at each one and show you what is most important to spend your time on.
Let’s just look at social media for now.
Using Social Media To Promote a Small Business
There is a huge variety of social media sites available now – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and so on.
Facebook and Twitter are by far the largest, so those are probably the two that most companies will focus on, but you need to go where your market is. If your target customers are hanging out on Google Plus, use Google Plus.
Companies in some industries, like the party rental business, will probably benefit greatly by posting pictures of their work at weddings and other events on Pinterest, because that is a site that many people visit when planning a party. If customers can see and begin to visualize the benefit that your company can provide their party it will be easy for them to want to do business with you.
The consideration of whether your target market is largely using a specific social media platform is the most important factor in deciding whether to spend time using that platform.
The Benefits of Social Media
Connect With Customers
The obvious benefit to social media as a platform for advertising your business is that it is (can be) free. It is hard to beat free.
Another great feature is that social media is great for generating discussion with your market. This discussion is perfect for getting to know your customers and what they desire. Ultimately, this makes you more in tune with the needs of your customers and more able to give them what they want.
Connect With Suppliers
Social media also connects you with the suppliers for your industry. You can follow the companies that distribute the products that you use, and this allows you to stay up to date with trends in the market and new product availability.
Finally, social media can help you to connect with other people in your industry. If you own a canoe rental business you can connect with other canoe rental owners across the country (and world) to see what is working for them, and to gain new business ideas or approaches from their experiences.
The Downside of Social Media
Social media may seem to be a realm of infinite possibility, but there are certainly difficulties with advertising your business via these channels.
The first problem is your control over the platform. You do not have any. If you use a Facebook page as your home web page you are putting your company in somebody else’s hands. Facebook can suddenly change the rules and decide to drop your company from its site, or Facebook may suddenly close down and disappear all together. If this happens your platform and base of followers is gone. The same is true for any social media platform.
Advertising on social media such as Facebook used to be free and easy. It was almost as if Facebook offered to advertise your company for free on the side of a truck that it would drive around past all of your target customers all day long.
These days, Facebook still advertises your content for free to a small extent, but it is almost as if they are driving the truck around in the countryside at 2:00 am. Almost nobody sees your content, even if they opted-in to receive it from you by joining your group. That is, nobody sees it unless you pay Facebook a bribe to drive the truck around near your customers.
As social media sites go public and have to pay investors a profit you can expect more of this. Sure, you might have 100,000 Facebook followers, but only a small fraction of them (think 2-4%) are going to see your post unless it gets a ton of “likes” and comments, or unless you pay Facebook to “boost” each post. This model can work really well if you have money to spend on advertising and know the monetary benefit of reaching a given number of customers. If you are starting out and have a low budget however, it is difficult to make work and is probably a waste of time.
So Many Voices
The other major hurdle with social media is the problem of getting your company seen.
It is easy for a company to get lost in the sea of other companies and people on a social media platform. Their search process is not as refined as a search engine’s, like Google, so customers have have a difficult time tracking you down when they search the social media site for you.
Once the customer does find you, there is no guarantee that they will see the content that you post to the site.
As we discussed, customers will probably only see Facebook posts that you pay to promote.
Twitter, the other major social media site, is similar. Twitter still shows everything that you tweet out to each person that follows you, but the large volume of tweets mean that your content gets pushed down out of sight very quickly. If you customer is not checking their feed right when you post they are not likely to see it at all.
This leads us to the problem of what to post to social media. People go on sites like Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to connect with friends and family and to see interesting stories, not necessarily to learn about businesses. To earn a spot on your customer’s social media feed you will need to find a way to post engaging content that is both entertaining and provides value.
The Verdict on Social Media
Your business should have a presence in social media, but it should not be your only presence online.
Tools like Twitter and Facebook are great for connecting with your market and for presenting your company’s story in a way that others can start to trust you and desire to do business with you.
Social media can also connect you with others in your industry that you can collaborate with.
If you put all of your marbles into one basket like social media, however, you leave yourself open to getting burned by rule changes or shifts in the internet marketplace.
So, where can you look to start building an online presence outside of social media? We will take a look at some other free options in the next installment of this series, which is now available Here.
Have you had any success marketing your business on social media? Share your experience in the comments below!