Day to day business activities have transformed dramatically since I launched my first company nearly 20 years ago. Back then, there was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn. My social contact with customers and potential customers was limited to email and phone conversations.
With the birth of social media, I was eager to adopt a new way of doing business. Like so many other small business owners, I was enamored by the possibility of reaching new customers at an unprecedented scale, getting free exposure and showing a more fun side of our business. I was determined to be the “social” company in my industry.
As time went on, some of the shiny facade of social media began to chip. I wondered if all the time I was spending on social activities like Instagram and Twitter was actually paying off. Using social media effectively takes an enormous effort, between creating original content, defining a social strategy and roadmap, managing communities, running targeted ads and more.
Last year, Vertical Response conducted a survey of small businesses and social media and found that 43 percent of small businesses spend about six hours per week on social media (almost the equivalent of a full workday). Most telling to me, one-third of CEOs and small business owners wanted to spend less time on social media.
If you’re wondering if you or your business is spending too much time on social, here are a few things that I have learned.
Know your market before investing in social media.
With all the buzz surrounding social media, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon without first creating a social strategy that makes sense for your business. Some businesses live on social media -- for example, urban food trucks that use Twitter to let their customers know where they are. But that’s not every business.
The key to social media marketing is reaching your target audience wherever they live, work or play. If the people you’re trying to reach aren’t using Instagram, even the best content on Instagram won’t do a thing for your business. Think about the demographics of your target customers and research where they spend their time. You can even ask some of your existing customers which social platforms they’re likely to use, and where they’d like to connect with you.
Prioritizing your social media presence is the single most important thing you can do to minimize (and optimize) the time spent on social media.
Don’t ignore other channels because of social media.
You should never put so much time and energy into social media activities that you can’t do anything else. For some small businesses, a strong email campaign will be even more effective than social media, since email is a form of direct marketing.
Over the years, I came to discover that the more time time I spent on social media, the less social I was actually being. When I backed away from Twitter and Facebook, I had more time to answer phones and talk to customers one on one. Meeting people through live networking events and conferences is what keeps me inspired and driven. The bottom line is you don’t really know your customers if you’re just interacting through blog comments and retweets.
Learn to function without your smartphone.
As a mom of teens and tweens, I understand the importance of logging off from social media and putting away the phone. Some of the same messages I tell my daughter apply just as well to me as a CEO. We live in a distracted world, but your relationships will be impacted if you’re always distracted when talking to employees and customers. As hard as it may be, resist the urge to check your phone when talking to somebody; the conversation you’re having right now with an employee is just as important as the Facebook message you just received.
Listen to experts with a grain of salt.
Given social media’s popularity, it’s no surprise that an entire industry has sprouted up to help businesses manage their social media presence. Many small business owners are sold on the importance of social media by consultants who want to set up and manage their accounts.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a publicist and marketing manager who truly understands social. But, there are others out there who try to convince small business owners that creating a Facebook page will instantly double their sales leads. That’s setting the wrong expectations.
Before investing significant time in social media, you need to understand that "likes" don’t equal clicks or sales. The power of social media is that it helps foster loyalty, trust, and goodwill between you and your customers. Some of your social efforts will bring in direct sales, but more than likely, it will be a gradual process toward increasing your community and brand presence. Social media marketing requires a lot of patience, but don’t ignore all your other customer touch points along the way.