In 2009 or so, I asked our marketing manager what we should be doing regarding our business strategy and social media. I was both concerned and intrigued with what was going on with social media marketing in small businesses. Still, I didn't know what our strategy should be or what value could be extracted from such an initiative.
I didn't get a great answer with solid recommendations, so a short while later, I carved out three months of my time and started a deep dive. However, I was only a few hours into the project before I began understanding why our marketing manager had so much difficulty providing an answer. The field was simply overwhelming - so much so that I almost gave up! It quickly became clear I had to invest research time before I could figure out any strategy that could make sense for a business.
A few years later, we believe one of the questions still most often pondered in small and medium-sized enterprises is - "What's the point of social media for my business"?
To help answer this, a reference to large enterprises frames up the topic quite well. Many of them have deployed effective social media strategies and, as a result, have increased their reach and authority to their targeted audience. Furthermore, most C-level executives in large enterprises seem to have a reasonable understanding of what social media is used for and what its strategic importance is.
It's reasonable to conclude that because there's this level of engagement and understanding at senior levels in major corporations, it's a strong indication of the knowledge of the value to their business resulting from their social media initiatives.
Small and medium-sized enterprises should note that their failure to understand the importance of social media and how to develop and deploy similar strategies will extend another sustainable advantage in favor of large organizations. In failing to do so, they pass up an opportunity to help transform a business that will otherwise be placed at an increasing disadvantage.
THE PATH FORWARD FOR SOME
Many small and medium-sized enterprises appear paralyzed on their social media strategies with disjointed and inconsistent efforts. Many have dabbled in social media but seem to give up without a clear strategy and goals after a short period.
Owners cannot be unaware of the multitude of platforms and hype surrounding social media. Still, the subject continues to become more overwhelming, and without specialist digital marketing staff, they don't know where to start.
Thousands of agencies, consultants, and individuals are offering their services to guide small business owners through the minefield and help deploy digital marketing strategies. Unfortunately for the agencies, there's still a high degree of owner skepticism to be overcome because of the tendency to believe that platforms like Facebook are for family photos and Twitter for celebrity trivialities. For LinkedIn, there's a higher level of acceptance as most small business owners have seen value in developing and building up contacts. However, despite this, most have still failed to leverage its potential in publishing content and developing business followers.
A COMPLETE BUSINESS STRATEGY
To be effective social media must be part of a complete business strategy. However, to begin using it effectively, the business must be operating on an integrated information technology platform that includes customer relationship software (CRM) such as Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics. The CRM software must be fully integrated with the back-office accounting system and the email contact management software such as Constant Contact.
The use of social media results in "big data," and without an integrated platform, no sense will be made of the data. Unless the clicks and other data resulting from a campaign are recorded in the CRM software, then there will be little value extracted from the initiative.
Of course, most small businesses are using some back-office accounting system, but most are probably not using CRM software, and if they are, then it's not likely to be integrated with the accounting software. For a social media strategy to be effective, the first step must be to have the business operating on a fully integrated information technology platform.
Integrating software systems is difficult – it costs money and takes time. However, the expense must be budgeted and the work completed if a business expects to be around longer. If the funds cannot be available, the company will be poorly equipped to survive in the Internet-dominated 21st-century environment.
The justification for expenditure on an integrated technology platform should be the return expected from well-planned and executed social media and digital marketing strategies. Social media is an essential platform for businesses to develop awareness and build engaged audiences.
During the time frame needed to integrate and deploy a suitable technology platform, a significant amount of groundwork can be accomplished for the overall social media strategy.
1. A start can be made to develop the various networks on different social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
2. The "look and feel" of the corporate website can be prepared to align with the business Facebook and business Twitter sites.
3. The corporate LinkedIn page can be prepared, and a campaign can be started to develop the number of followers, identify appropriate groups to join, start participating in discussions, and post relevant content.
4. Attention should be given to key employees and their networks. These can be invaluable when combined with the corporate network, as the reach for messaging can be significantly amplified.
AUTHORITY & STANDING
Consideration should also be given to connecting the corporate and the individual management's social media accounts to Klout to provide a means to publicly display the authority of the enterprise and its key managers. Remember, social media platforms are just mechanisms for publishing content. The content has to be high quality and value and have a purpose – namely, to drive qualified organic traffic to the target website. If the audience the message is targeted toward can see, as a result of respectable Klout scores, that the enterprise and its senior management have authority, then it will increase the chances of the content being read and for it to serve its intended purpose.
Suppose effort is only expended on developing the Klout of a corporation but not of the individuals running it. In that case, the audience will become aware of this limitation, and the overall Klout will diminish. If crucial management is encouraged to develop their individual Klout, then, as contributing employees, they will benefit from that additional "juice" applied to the overall corporate standing.
It can't be stressed enough how vital social interactions are between a company and its network of followers and other connections. If the published content is poor quality or irrelevant, it will not be read and will reflect negatively on the enterprise. If it's relevant and exciting and a high-quality network has been established, then significant engagement should be expected, and growth in organic site traffic can be anticipated.
The importance of social media cannot be over-emphasized because it provides a platform for small, medium, or large businesses to promote themselves by providing helpful information to the target audience. The content creators should become part of a virtuous loop in that the stronger and more focused their content becomes, the greater the volume of qualified inbound web traffic that should be expected.