Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses and nonprofits. I’ve submitted all sorts of proposals to work with even more, only to have them rejected or ignored. I’ve spoken to thousands of people in various groups, and heard their questions.
I’ve also gotten very good, in most cases, at knowing up front which ones will make good clients, and which ones might be more trouble than they are worth. And I’ve noticed that ones that don’t seem to “get it” have a few things in common, most of which could be summed up in two words: mindset and culture.
But to break it down a bit further, there are certain themes that come up either directly or indirectly, during conversations that raise red flags for me. Sometimes I feel that when businesses use the phrase “social media,” I should respond in Inigo Montoya fashion:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
These are the 5 things I wish small businesses understood about social media, as they seek to expand their online presence properly:
1. Social media is not traditional media
Most small business owners are familiar with traditional media: broadcast, print, outdoor, and direct mail. They’ve used, or at least tried, most of them. In fact some of them have used traditional media so long that they approach social media from that same mindset. Traditional media is about delivering a message over a period of time. Social media is not completely about the message, and certainly not about pushing. It’s more about customer service than it is marketing. It’s a two way street. Traditional media is also built around campaigns. While you can build campaigns into your social presence, social media itself is not a campaign. Social media has no end date.
2. Social media is a long term proposition with a different type of ROI measurement
Small businesses are used to talking about impressions, and seeing fairly quick results and return on investment from their marketing and advertising efforts. If they don’t see the ROI fairly quickly, they assume it hasn’t worked and try something else. Traditional marketing is generally built on quick results: get people in the door to buy your product. Boom. If you start using social media with the expectations of a rapid ROI, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I always make this clear in my first meetings with prospective clients. I tell them to think of social media as a digital form of what goes on in their brick and mortar presence, rather than any sort of specific marketing messaging. I let them know that if they do it well, and stick it out, they will reap the benefits, and that the goals might actually be different. But, in most cases that won’t happen overnight. If you’re gonna get in, get in for the long haul, and understand what you’re measuring.
3. Social media does not exist in a vacuum
For some reason, small businesses seem to think of social media as its own little entity. They have their marketing and communications plan, and then…they have their social media. They have their website (maybe), and then…they have their social media. It’s as if they operate in two very different worlds, only one of which includes social media. Social media only works when it is part of a fully integrated whole. Online integrated with offline. Social integrated with traditional.
4. Social media is not merely an add-on or extra
Going along with the previous point, many small businesses treat social media as the proverbial red-headed step child. I think part of this is because they still view it as a novelty. I think part of it is the mentality that it is “free.” I think part of it is that they think social media is what “the kids do.” That sort of mindset leads them to put social at the bottom of the list when they are thinking about communications. The “get around to it” mentality. You know, they’ll get around to social media once they take care of that print campaign, oh, and that sales brochure. And of course the radio commercial. Out of time and money this month? No problem! We’ll get to it…eventually. No. Eventually never comes. Not only is social media NOT some extra nice thing you use when you have free time, but it might just be more effective at the center of your strategy.
5. Social media isn’t Facebook
For many small businesses, social media = Facebook. Now, I understand that it’s often the first thing to come to mind because of how big and pervasive it is. But not only does that cheapen the value of social media in our minds, it minimizes the role and power that social media can have. Yes, Facebook is big. Yes it can be an important part of your online social presence. But…it is not all there is to social media. As far as I’m concerned, social media really is everything you do online, including email marketing and even your website. Just because you are on Facebook doesn’t mean you are “doing” social media. It’s not quite as simple as that.
Those are the five things I wish small businesses understood about social media, how about you? Are there any other things or beliefs you see that need to be addressed or challenged?