For a small business owner, who’s wearing too many hats at the same time, keeping up with digital and social media marketing can be a daunting challenge.  Yet, it is the single most important and cost efficient ingredient in a today’s marketing mix.

Almost everyone now searches the internet before making a purchase, which is why it’s imperative for small businesses to be visible online.  Then there is the mobile phenomenon – currently at 60 per cent penetration, and consistently on the rise.  With 88 per cent users now accessing social media on a mobile device, and budget flexibility offered by Google, Facebook and other platforms, small businesses can better access social communities for engagement and conversion.

Before all the posts, hashtags, pins and snaps, there is strategy that few small business owners acknowledge as the inevitable cornerstone of any social media initiative. The first time “strategy” comes into the conversation, you can almost hear some small business owners thinking: “sounds expensive, wonder what it would cost me”.  Well, here’s some good news at the outset. Backed by sound strategy, many small-budget marketing campaigns can be truly successful – and not just going by number of followers or page likes. Commitment to the right strategy behind social media marketing can keep customers walking through the door and significantly optimize return on marketing investment.

Planning for social marketing success

It all starts with a clear, precise business objective; whether its creating awareness, looking for new customers or increasing sales.  Once that is determined, a distinctive social media strategy can be worked out.  Like any business planning, social marketing requires answering the who, what, why and how.

  • What are the business objectives?
  • Who is the audience of the business?
  • Where should you target on the social landscape to reach that audience?
  • How can the business develop, execute and maintain its social presence?

 Perhaps the most elusive aspect of social marketing planning is the “how”, which is why we’re going to delve a little deeper here.  There is some learning in this area from corporate social media for small businesses.  Most successful corporate brands clearly identify four fundamental attributes of their social media framework before deployment:

  1. What character or persona of the business or brand should come alive online – e.g. friendly, authoritative, playful or professional.
  2. What kind of language should the business or brand use to talk to their audiences – e.g. serious, simple, fun, whimsical or complex.
  3. What should be the tone of voice that the brand or business uses to communicate on social media – e.g. personal, clinical, honest or direct.
  4. What is the purpose of your business or brand that you want social media audiences to understand – e.g. educate, inform, enable, engage or entertain.

Developing a persona helps narrow down your target audience. Whatever you’re selling is not for everyone. Finding your niche on social media and delivering an online “experience” just right for that niche is the key to building relationships and growing customers.

Once you understand the “what, who, why and how”, the rest begin to fall in place. You understand how to build relationships with your audience and community by engaging with them.  As long as you’re able to tie in your business goals with your social media objectives, you will start to see activation and engagement that translate into measurable business results.  For instance, if your business goal is to educate customers about a new product or service, the supporting social media objective could be to direct traffic to a page on your business website that further explains product or service features, and a measurable result could be increase in referral traffic from social to webpage by X per cent.

Keep an eye on the competition

Small businesses can utilize digital tools for customer insights and competitor monitoring for more aligned marketing initiatives.  Keeping an eye on the competition can let you know what works and what doesn’t.  Searching them on social networks they’re most active on would let you analyze their persona, language and tone as well as how they engage audiences – by talking about products and services or using other types of content to drive engagement.  They’re targeting the same customers and can give you great insights, uncover opportunities you could have been missing out on and help define you own social media strategy.

Remember, passion conquers all

Product features and benefits can’t create enough excitement to tug at the heartstrings of your audiences. What is that one thing you’ve got that can drive their passion?  Think of Apple. Its about innovation not just technology.  Etsy is being honest, unique and hardworking.

Many small business owners bring a bit of themselves into the marketing mix.  While that may work well for some “personal brands” such as trainers, authors, chefs and the like, it can be tricky if the business and the business owner are distinctly different entities. So, remember that just because you’re a Twitter crackerjack doesn’t mean your customers are there too.  Or if you love those hockey PJs, your audiences will avidly follow your tweets about that big game Saturday night.  Its important to figure out where your customers hang out and what they love to talk about – makes it easier to reach out to them than trying to bring them over to your favourite space or conversation.