Most small business owners know that social media is an important part of their online strategy, but may not know where to start or have the time to learn. Others may not believe that social media is important at all. The truth is that social media is critical to the success of any business. According to a survey by Hiscox, 47 percent of small businesses do not use social media to promote their business, and 14 percent of businesses said they did not know enough about social media to use it. Are you missing out on the incredible value of social media marketing? Fortunately, retailers need not be social media experts to utilize the power of social media to increase sales and build customer loyalty. All it takes is some research, focus, and dedication.
Dedicate time to curate your social media accounts.
One of the biggest misconceptions about social media is that it can be done as an afterthought. Many retailers think they can simply create Facebook and Twitter accounts, post sales and promotions a few times a month, and customers will start flocking. Simply put, social media takes time. If you are not able to devote several hours per week towards maintaining, updating, and nurturing your social media accounts, it is unlikely that you will make much of an impact. Even worse, if you cannot respond to customer inquiries in a timely manner or provide an ill-met response, negative publicity could spread like wildfire and have a negative effect on your business.
Another misconception about social media is that anyone can do it without proper training. Larger corporations often task green interns to update social accounts, while smaller retailers may try to handle the job themselves without doing proper research. Your social media accounts are the voice of your business. If you leave that voice to be spoken by someone who does not know enough about your company or speaks inconsistently, your power is lost. If you find the concept of responding quickly to customers and updating your account with current sales information daunting, hire a social media professional or dedicated marketing manager to maintain your social accounts for you. Social media is not an overwhelming task, but it does deserve proper attention.
The social media landscape can seem overwhelming without a tactical business strategy. Updating your accounts with information about your business is one thing, but what do you hope to accomplish with social media? Are you looking to increase sales? Drive traffic? Build brand loyalty? Without a roadmap and tangible goals, it is easy to get lost.
The first step in creating social media goals is to do your homework: find out how active your target demographic is on social media, which social networks they use most often, and what conversations they are participating in. Never assume they will know where to find you. Also analyze what your competitors are doing in the social space. Are they doing a good job with engaging their customers? Is there anything you can learn from their strategy? What about bigger brands?
The next step is to set concrete goals that equal success to your business. Tracking goals monthly will allow you to analyze your progress, and assess the effectiveness of your social media campaign. Some key performance indicators (KPIs) you may want to consider are:
- Increase in referral traffic from social networks.
- Increase in sales conversions.
- Increase in number of comments on posts.
- Increase in number of Facebook fans and Twitter followers.
- Change in perception about your product.
There are a variety of free and paid tools that can help you measure these KPIs. Google Analytics now provides social media reports that track referral traffic, conversions on ecommerce transactions, and networks where users are interacting with your content the most. Free social media dashboards like HootSuite provide basic reporting features that can tell you how often users click on your content, and how it is shared in the social space. Once you set tangible goals and can track your successes and misses, you will be able to adjust your social strategy accordingly.
Take advantage of Facebook.
With over 800 million users, Facebook is a great place to start growing your business. Facebook Ads allow businesses to generate advertisements to users based on information they have provided to Facebook via their likes and interests. Ads can be micro-targeted to any age group, education level, location, interest, or profession, making it an ideal platform for retailers to advertise on. With Facebook Ads, you can drive traffic back to your website or increase the number of fans that like your fan page. You can even target new products to fans of your own page, to re-engage your audience.
Some best practices for creating Ads on Facebook:
- Present a clear call to action in the body of your ad.
- Include an eye-catching image to accompany your ad.
- Run several versions of your ad with different copy and images to determine which is most effective.
Facebook is also rolling out a program called Facebook Offers that allows retailers to post a coupon or discount directly to their Facebook page. Users can claim offers they like, and then print out the coupon or display the code on their mobile phones. These offers can also be shared via Facebook, attracting more customers and creating awareness.
Use social media to generate leads.
While social media is great for branding and fostering communities, it is also effective as a lead generation tool. Remember those 800 million Facebook users we talked about earlier? Would you not love to have the opportunity to collect their names and email addresses via an opt-in form right on Facebook? You can, and it is easy; you just need to provide a little incentive. A coupon code, white paper, or other exclusive can be just the thing to encourage people to sign up for your newsletter or mailing list.
There are several free Facebook applications such as Constant Contact that allow fan pages to grow their opt-in email lists by collecting email addresses. If you have a web developer or social media marketing company on retainer, custom applications can be created that allow users to submit any type of information: email address, opinions about products, purchase habits, and more. These custom apps can also be "fan gated," or set so a user must also "like" your fan page before they receive your incentive, thus growing your fan base.
Update your accounts.
As a retailer, you may think the best strategy is to post as many links to your website and products as you can. You may be reluctant to link out to sites other than your own, for fear of missing out on traffic referrals. Excessive self-promotion is a common mistake that many uninitiated businesses make. By posting nothing but self-serving content, you may be driving customers away. View social media as a conversation. Would you want to talk to someone who only talked about themselves? Of course not. Fostering two-way conversations is what differentiates a business that has social media success from one that does not.
Facebook uses an algorithm called EdgeRank to determine what users see in their News Feeds. Any action taken in Facebook is called an edge; this can include a status update, a comment, liking a post, sharing a post, and so on. According to Facebook, the average Facebook user has 190 friends and is a "fan" of many business pages. Instead of showing every single post that users friend, or liked fan page posts, Facebook determines which posts to show them based on three factors: affinity, which is the one-way relationship between a user and a brand, weight, Facebook's value for a particular edge, (a comment may have more weight than a like, so Facebook would view a comment as a more engaging action), and time decay, meaning how long the edge has been alive.
If you want users to see your promotional and product-related posts, you must engage them regularly. By posting content that your fans like and comment on, like questions and polls, you will increase their EdgeRank and ensure that more of your posts appear in their News Feeds. Post too many promotional posts that get ignored, and users may stop seeing your updates altogether.
Offer exclusive deals.
A great way to attract new customers is to offer promotions that are exclusive to followers of your social media accounts. Customers love to feel special, and providing a special deal just for your Facebook fans or Twitter followers will not only help to increase sales, but will also create engagement on your social media accounts. Teasing the offer ("If we get to 1,000 Twitter followers, we'll give you an exclusive coupon!") will help your existing fans to spread the word for you.
Social media is important to the success of your small business, and will become even more important as companies and customers become more social. Simply creating social profiles and expecting them to work on their own is not enough. Businesses that want to succeed in social media must be serious about formulating a social strategy, and dedicated to executing it properly. Perhaps you agree but are a bit overwhelmed by the idea of spearheading a social media plan yourself. Don't fear, you're not alone. Social media solutions providers such as Internet Marketing Ninjas, Social Annex, Friend2Friend and Wildfire Interactive can work with you to develop and implement web- and mobile-based strategies. Social media marketing can be a cost-effective way to strengthen your brand and gain exposure for your products, with a positive ROI.
Suzy Gray is a social media specialist at Internet Marketing Ninjas, based in Clifton Park, NY. Internet Marketing Ninjas is a full-service Internet marketing company specializing in link building, social media, content writing, analytics, reporting, and more. For more information, please visit www.internetmarketingninjas.com.
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