I currently have the fortune to experience two different fronts of digital marketing. Under Plural, I work with brands and, with SocialMouths I mostly jam with small business, personal brands, and bloggers.
One of the reasons I absolutely love this setup is that they are two different worlds in how the social web is approached, how it’s handled and how success is measured.
So I’m here to tell you that, despite the ridiculous budgets and unlimited resources, small business has a huuuge advantage over brands when it come to social media.
Here are my thoughts:
Strategy. Or Not?
This is a touchy subject, I’m sure you’ve seen tens or hundreds of blog posts about the importance of having a strategy in place. Listen to what I’m about to say here: An entrepreneur does not need to elaborate a huge document to handle social media marketing. You need the necessary product and industry knowledge and you need to have the sensibility on how to use the social networks.
Having a set of goals in place and knowing what you are aiming to achieve with your daily activities is enough for an entrepreneur to dive in and adjust as needed.
When it comes to big brands, that’s a whole different story. The requirements to manage social media presence are different. You now have to consider the involvement of employees and even outsourced efforts. We’re talking about heavy documentation here on how to represent the brand, the language, the tone, how to respond to problems and inquiries and even how to handle a crisis, when things are escalated to higher ground.
A brand without this type of documentation is just an invitation to media disaster. One of the beauties of open voice channels is that the consumer can take your brand down in a few hours. If policies and processes are not in place, guess what…
There is a huge gap here. Brands that are successful on social media have implemented communication channels for specific needs like customer service or promotions but they fail at reaching true engagement. Even in those areas most brands fail to reach their full potential. We have lately seen how Social Commerce and Social Customer Service are not performing as well as we expected.
Brands are far from becoming human and getting the user engaged for real. It’s simple, the average social media user is not online to interact with their bank in a conversational manner. They will take advantage of your special deal or rant about bad experiences but that’s it.
When it comes to small business, it’s easy for an individual to become the voice of the company, a personal brand that builds trust around a product or service with a human touch. This person becomes a resource of good advice, a problem solver that people feel comfortable interacting with. In fact, they’re responsible for huge part of the company’s success online.
I have a couple of examples of these individuals that do an amazing job representing a product and making it human: Leo Widrich from Buffer and Oli Gardner for Unbounce. These guys are not hired community managers, they’re co-founders of the respective companies, part of the key team, but they are also the face and voice, producing content, listening and interacting in the frontline and building community.
These guys are perfect examples of how a small business can be human online and reach true engagement.
Another advantage of small business over brands is the possibility of ensuring satisfaction. Guys like Oli and Leo are approached with questions and issues on a daily basis (I know I bug them from time to time).
Small businesses are able to do this on a smaller scale and on a personal level.
— Leo Widrich (@LeoWid) May 8, 2012
There are a few brands that are able to focus on satisfaction and do an excellent job on quick responses and providing solutions. Directv comes to mind. But I’m sure you’ve seen more brands handling customer service in a very poor way. Imagine how a customer with a problem feels when arriving to an endless Twitter stream of apologies…
I have contacted Time Warner Cable via Twitter for massive interruptions to my Internet service and after not getting a solution over the phone, to sadly have no response.
If you are an entrepreneur that is naturally involved in social media marketing, chances are you don’t label daily activities such as brand monitoring, content creation and curation, front-end interaction, etc. But you are performing them. Something similar happens when a small business has designated two or three people to handle things, there is a small setup with basic agreements on who does what.
The other advantage is how quick a small operation can make an unexpected turn or have a reaction without the bureaucracy that comes along with corporate land. Small business can focus on honesty and satisfaction while a brand will often take the damage control approach, usually with a bit of delay.
But when it comes to the enterprise, management can get pretty complex. We talked about the need of having a strategy in place and even though employees are familiar with how to handle themselves, there is still a lot of management needed. Those daily activities become departments that at some point need to come together to measure things.
Which brings us to the next point…
Another controversial topic indeed. We often read about the complexity of figuring out return on investment. Think about it, a national fast food franchise runs a TV campaign, how do you measure if it resulted in an increased amount of sales. They do, they have systems in place that provide a clue when the needle moves in certain markets. Nothing is ever exact.
How is social media ROI measured? often times brands focus on shiny numbers like Likes and Followers. Numbers that are definitely part of social media measurement but not how the bottom line is affected. The fun part is when the CEO asks: “So now, how do we turn all those likes into actual sales?”
How is all that tied up to measure sales and profits?
Measuring ROI for global brands is still a puzzle.
Now don’t get me wrong, figuring this out can also be complicated for small business. But does it need to be?
What if you create your own formula to determine ROI? Let’s see…
In my previous business I used to run tons of advertising on different media vehicles. I used to measure the lead cost and sale cost to determine my magic number, I knew exactly what magazine ad or TV spot was working or not. In actual profit, not just percentages.
Cost per time spent. Not media.
When it comes to marketing in the social web, you do not have costs for media (unless you run Facebook ads or something like that) but you do have time spent. Either by your team or yourself. Can you measure that? Of course you can, you don’t need massive data to figure out that if you’re spending 4 hours a day to get only a couple of sales a week, things are not working that well… unless you sell cars.
A simple tracking spreadsheet can tell you if your time is being well spent.
When you have a new client, do you ask him where he found you? Sometimes it’s obvious, you know you established contact on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes it’s not that easy, for example if this relationship started a while back. But the point is that by manually tracking this kind of information, you can easily get an idea of what channels are giving you better results and where to spend more of your time and energy.
I can easily tell you without looking at any numbers that 80% of my relationships turned into clients come from Twitter, even tough I generate more traffic more Facebook. That is enough for me to know I need to be present there but it also indicates that I could improve things on other networks as well.
Of course no system is perfect, my point here is that for a small business things are easier to establish and track, with a simple custom approach that fits your company needs you can get a better idea of your performance.
You, as an entrepreneur, might not have the budget and resources big brands have but I can guarantee you, the average digital citizen will interact with you before interacting with a brand and that right there, gives you a huge advantage.
The social web levels the field, if you are there to deliver what a brand can’t, you might just be able to create great opportunities. People like doing business with people.
Dive in with a short set of goals, be human, focus on satisfaction, manage your efforts and track your results in a simple way.
Do you have a strategy in place? How often do you revisit and adjust this strategy? How do you measure success? How do you approach issues? Share with us in the comments section!
Photos are mine, I’m a “saved by the filter” wannabe iPhone photographer. The coffee shop is Single Origin in the L.A. Farmer Market, they serve hand-brewed coffee that rocks your world.