Unless your small or medium size business has a huge marketing budget, social media is likely the first place you turn to reach ideal customers. Indeed, according to a study released this year by LinkedIn, an overwhelming percentage of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) are using social media to market to customers, grow their audience, and extract business insights.
Because of this, there is no shortage of social media advice. Unfortunately, much of it is often at odds, conflicting and even confusing.
This is why sound research is so important and why today we at Indispensable Marketing decided to continue your free marketing education by posting a statistically valid social media survey of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB). As we studied the data over a course of several weeks, we have come to several conclusions based on research.
Here are five lessons we have learned from the study:
Lesson#1. Social Media Creates a Stream of Revenue
Now that more and more SMBs are investing time and money into social media participation, people are looking for ways to measure the return in terms of direct business rather than fans, friends and followers. Eighty-one percent of SMBs reported using social media, and of this group, nearly all of them (94 percent) use it to market their businesses. The study also found that social media provides SMBs with a solution for their number one challenge: finding new customers. Of those surveyed, 64 percent stated that finding new customers was their greatest concern.
Lesson: There are only three ways to grow your business and social media solves one of them: adding more customers. With the opportunity to build know, like and trust with new customers SMBs should discover and communicate a problem-solving core point of differentiation that attracts ideal customers.
Lesson#2. Social Media is Worth the Effort
Most SMBs believed that social media was moving the needle for their organization. 49 percent of these SMBs also see social media as a valuable source for learning about their markets and about growing a business – for example, they use social media to connect with their peers, discover best practices, learn from other experts, and get answers to their business questions. However, there is a clear correlation between effort and results: Those that were more willing to work at social media saw better results. Social media can be productive and it certainly takes an investment of time. Those that invest the time are more likely to see a return in the long run.
Lesson: When committing to social media, keep in mind it is a marathon, not a sprint. An aspiration of a magic growth pill that leads to instant sales is setting you up for disappointment.
Lesson#3. Spending is an Untapped Growth Opportunity
LinkedIn survey shows compelling links between the growth of a business and its spending on social media. Three out of five businesses surveyed are in growth mode – showing an increase in revenue from year to year – while one in six businesses are in “hyper growth” mode, meaning that they’re showing significant increases in revenue. That is not surprising, since prospective clients are not waiting to be sold to — they’re proactively gathering information when they search, mining social networks and soliciting peer recommendations.
Lesson: Your advertising spending must be used in highly targeted, measurable ways to promote awareness of education based content such as white papers, audios and seminars. It carries the highest cost and lowest credibility, but is also the only lead generation tactic that can be completely controlled. Advertising works when utilized as described and must be part of the overall mix.
Lesson#4. Create Content That Turns Suspects into Prospects
According to the survey, 93 percent of SMBs are driven to take action by valuable information they see on social networks about financial services. For financial services this means your social media marketing and advertising efforts must focus on getting a group of those “suspects” to raise their hands and tell you that they want to know more about your firm. Once they do that, they become your prospects. The future of social media marketing is less about demand creation and more about organizing behavior. People don’t really need more information, they need insight, they need guidance and they need an experience that allows them to behave like they want to behave.
Lesson: Service providers should take advantage of this marketing opportunity by creating relevant and useful content to be distributed on social networks allowing SMBs to behave like they want. This content must be focused on what SMBs say they need but currently aren’t receiving, such as best practices guides, information on innovative business technologies, and new product information.
Lesson#5. LinkedIn is in the Path Way for Moving Someone From Initial Awareness to Advocate
In order to generate leads and be found, businesses must put themselves in the path of people who are learning about, asking about, and shopping about their particular industries. Fifty-seven percent of all SMBs surveyed (and 69 percent of hyper growth SMBs) said that LinkedIn is their favored social destination for learning more about financial products and services. In the path to purchase for financial services, LinkedIn is a community that SMBs trust and value. With social media, we do not simply build a presence and hope people visit. Instead, we go to where our customers and prospects are spending their time.
Lesson: It may seem like everyone is on a platform, but it is important to understand if the users there are the people you want to engage. A less popular site may be the answer to driving business results.
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Social media for the small to mid size firms, however, has always been and shall remain one of the best places to gain exposure for great content. Shares, likes, embeds and retweets are the currency of marketing in social media and always have been.
About the Author: Patrick McFadden is the marketing consultant to call when you want GROWTH and SALES … not just words.. He is also an advisor and featured marketing contributor to American Express Open Forum and has been named a marketing thought leader for small businesses.