Can Small Businesses Do Without Social Media?

Can Small Businesses Do Without Social Media?

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Although TV, newspaper and radio ads are not out of fashion yet, the sources of advertisement for businesses have become increasingly internet-based. Big businesses, which can afford launching large promotional social media campaigns on the web by producing multimedia content that targets their audience, for instance, can greatly benefit from active Internet promotion. Small businesses, however, do not necessarily have a budget to build an online marketing strategy. But can small businesses do without social media and still thrive in today’s competitive world?

The stats

The 2012 Burson-Marstellar Fortune 100 Social Statistics Report showed that big businesses are quite active in social media. In fact, 87% of the Fortune 100 companies use social media; 75% use Facebook and 50% use Google +. Twitter, however, remains the most popular source of social media activity for Fortune 100 companies. Small businesses also are quite present on the web: millions of them are using Facebook and the likes. Yet, a survey showed that despite increased devotion to social media activity, small businesses fail to report a return on their investment online.

But small businesses know they better try to have some people talk about them on the Internet, for there is evidence that social media use can yield substantial benefits for companies: 64% of Twitter users and 51% of Facebook users say they are more likely to buy the products they follow online. This large pool of potential customers, which can be reached within a few clicks, cannot be neglected: be assured that more opportunistic businesses will take them over if you don’t!

The reasons

Knowing that they cannot waste an opportunity to give their products and services visibility, small businesses are trying hard to play the social media game. In fact, 27% of small companies say they use social media first and foremost to increase their visibility, while about the same amount claims their primary motivation is to connect with their customers and to do some self-promotion. Only 9% say they do it in order to get news out quickly.

However, one thing does not sound right. “Our customers use social media” is only the third most common reason why small businesses claim they use social media! Shouldn’t it be the most obvious answer to give? Don’t you usually use a given marketing vehicle because it is likely to reach your target? Interestingly, small businesses say the main reason they use social media is because it is cheap to do so: in effect, 42% of small companiesspend no money at all on online visibility, while 30% of them only spend between $1 and $500 per year.

Moreover, 74% of small businesses do not have an employee who takes care of social media: only 12% have someone working on that full-time, 8% have someone doing the same thing but part-time, and a tiny 6% employ a consultant. But any business person knows, going for cheap often looks cheap, and rarely gets the attention of busy customers whose attention is already grasped by more aggressive strategies.

There is no need to spend skyrocketing amounts of money every year, but using social media just because it can be done for free may be problematic. The fact that it is free to use is an advantage, but that should not be the primary motivation for using it. Focusing on saving money diverts attention from putting in place efficient strategies that are likely to reach people online.

And even while customers claim that the most effective tactic to reach them through social media is to make special offers and give discounts, most small businesses think that the best way to reach customers is simply to make wall posts on Facebook! Yet, offering a discount for a predetermined period of time can be an incentive to get people coming your way in the first place… while posting news on Facebook can be a way to increase loyalty afterwards. Both actions should be part of a larger strategy and should not be used in exclusive terms.

In order to compete and remain visible in today’s world, small businesses should definitely be using social media. Yet, they should do it in an efficient manner: using social media the wrong way is almost equivalent to not using it at all.

As Ted Rubin puts it, “Small business owners have got to be thinking of their social presence as first and foremost an extension of what’s happening in their physical location.”

If we further interpret this quote, we could say that not caring about your customers online is tantamount to not caring about your clients at your physical location, since both dimensions are interdependent nowadays. Therefore, small businesses ought to be active in the world of social media, but some rules must be followed if they want their web presence to help turn a profit.



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