I’ve worked with a great number of small businesses that I admire, both as social media consulting clients as well as potential customers. I am happy that I have helped several companies get to their next level with regards to their social media marketing, but I also find that many companies that seek my services are looking for social business expertise with a budget that does not place sufficient value on the experience they need. Social marketers have a complex yet unique combination of traits that make them true artists in their field. Are small businesses ready to appreciate the value that they bring?
If we analyze the situation further, however, we start to uncover the many issues that small businesses have with social media marketing. That’s why I call it an oxymoron. Let me explain further.
Small businesses have limited budgets, especially in departments that are not immediately revenue-generating contributors. This means that, unless you can show immediate sales through engaging on social websites, the value is not seen by many a small business. Small businesses got to where they are by being lean and only investing on services and people that bring immediate results. Once they see results, money flows, but until then, it is a classic chicken and egg scenario.
But that’s only part of the greater oxymoron between small businesses and social media marketing that I see. What can small businesses do to overcome these challenges? Let’s first examine the contradiction in greater detail.
Small Budget or Resources not Available but Investment is Necessary
It’s obvious that without a specific budget allocated, you can’t hire or appropriate the adequate resources to ensure that you create a robust social strategy and implement it effectively. This is why small businesses often end up hiring social media interns or having someone who might lack the experience but is available to do the job. If you’re going to be active in social media, you need to have a general education of the lay of the land. You need to have used the tool from a business perspective; otherwise, it could backfire. Those that are utilizing social media on behalf of your company also have to have a business background to understand the potential implications of the conversations they are having on behalf of your company. Needless to say, it is truly a case of you getting what you pay for, and a small budget can severely impact the chances of a small business to be successful in social. Social media requires budget because it costs more than what most small businesses think.
It also takes time to socialize with people, and it is no different on social networking websites. Social media is a commitment, not a campaign, and an investment in resources is the first sign to see whether or not a small business is serious about wanting to be successful in online social circles. Resources required go beyond the person or agency you hire for social media – social media often requires the entire organization to get involved and provide resources to support the effort. Without strategically allocating resources, it will be hard for a small business to be successful in social media. As my old boss used to say, it is truly a case of, “No free lunch.”
Immediate Returns Wanted but Long-Term Investment is Necessary
Nobody makes a splash in social media and immediately gets lots of fans or a loyal following. It takes time to socialize in person as it does online, and therefore immediate returns in social are hard to attain. Small businesses, however, look for quick gains from their investment and are quick to get frustrated if they don’t see things developing that affect their bottom line in a relatively short time span. This short-term view can negatively affect their social media activities, and it helps to explain the many “salesy” social media accounts run by small businesses that we see out there in the social web.
Social media requires a time commitment in addition to an investment in resources.
The Returns Requested are Simple When in Reality it is More Complex
One thing I find is that some small businesses, without a social education, feel that merely having lots of Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers means they are doing well. I’ve said it before, but fans and followers can be bought. The real business ROI of social media is how it affects your bottom line, and often social media ROI has impact on your entire organization that many a small business owner does not see in advance. Small businesses shouldn’t get fooled in thinking that a simple metric can determine their success in social media. This is an area which calls on the small business owner to exercise their leadership and read beyond the hype and understand how social business yields benefits for the entire company.
Conclusion: Social media requires a minimal commitment of time and resources with a long-term approach and a need for metrics that are aligned with your business. Even if you were to have a Marketing employee devote half of their time to social marketing, it would require a few thousand dollars a month in terms of resources, not to mention time and an education. ROI for social media within a business context does exist, but it often requires the CEO to believe in the vision and sometimes begin launching social media implementation through experimentation. If you invested 10% of your marketing budget into social efforts, it is a good place to start to see the potential effect that your program can have on your bottom line – and then some.
There are no rules in social media nor guarantees that any business or person will be successful at it. Yet there is a guarantee that we are spending more of our time on social sites and that opportunities abound for small businesses, even without brand recognition, to take advantage and build a new revenue-generating community of present and future customers as well as find new business development opportunities through monitoring conversations and engaging with the participants. The only long-term solution for such an oxymoron is the continued education of small business leaders with regards to social business, a task which I am committed to and investing my time and energy to fulfill.
Don’t get me wrong – there have been many successful small businesses who have adapted to and become successful at social marketing, but they are like the goldfish in the image above, swimming against the stream of their industry norm.
By Neal Schaffer