By now, most smaller business operators are likely to be aware that social media can be an invaluable marketing, learning and general business tool.
But understanding how to apply it may be a different kettle of fish altogether.
As Sensis reported in their most recent annual (and invaluable) eBusiness report, only 35% of smaller business actually use social media for business – a paltry number given the amount of attention given to it in all of the business websites and publications.
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Of those, a whopping 52% report experiencing no impact from their activities whatsoever, 48% report a positive experience and a resounding ‘None’ see a negative impact.
That’s right, not a single business operator surveyed reported a negative impact of social media on their business!
This is a remarkable result given the seemingly endless negative ‘chatter’ about social media being a waste of time and money, not to mention distraction for all concerned.
Which social media activity?
Of course. ‘using’ social media can mean many different things to different people.
It can mean advertising, or participating in the conversations of business ‘Groups’, or posting items of interest to their followers and so on.
It seems every single business is using social media in a completely different way to the next business.
What is certain is that the greater the social media engagement, the greater the results. This is because the more often you post comments with social media networks, the more likely the chances a customer will be to see it and in turn ‘Like’ or follow your posts.
With more likes comes more ‘viral’ – your followers sharing with others and so on.
Fail to plan…
Like all good marketing programs, it’s important to plan and schedule your social media activity.
For some, that will be planning and executing a social media campaign around their normal, regular promotions, sales and so on.
For others (like me), ensuring that your regular blog posts are in turn announced to not only your followers but the thousands residing in your special interest Groups.
If you haven’t shared your posts with members of the various Groups you belong to, it’s an absolute must for your content program.
Because within a matter of minutes, your post can be distributed to literally tens of thousands of recipients – provided you have chosen your Groups wisely and judiciously.
Your posts within social networks can either be planned or spontaneous – and both have their place.
Planning to be perfect
There is nothing new in planning and scheduling marketing activities – that’s the way most successful campaigns are done.
Typically you start with defining your strategy for the period, work out how and where you are going to promote the business in line with that strategy and then schedule a program of activity.
For larger business, this approach is exactly how they will approach social media – work out what they are going to say and where and when they will say it.
This approach has the benefit of ensuring that your posts have the necessary variety of subject matter and timing to maximise interest and engagement with your market.
I use another variation on this approach by creating a blog schedule, but instead of pre-determining the topic, simply maintain a list of topic ideas and then choosing one just prior to writing. This allows me to choose a topic that might be trending right in time to publish the blog.
Relevance and currency critical
What it is less good at is being topical. Social media is all about the now and if your program is devised too far in advance, it may well be irrelevant by the time it is broadcast.
Conversely, most smaller business operators tend not to take this planned approach, instead marrying it to the personal social networking they are familiar with – unplanned and off the cuff.
A quick straw poll of one of my favourite small business Groups illustrated this perfectly, with not one respondent claiming to plan or schedule their posts.
While this approach definitely makes its subject matter topical, it can lack the timing, co-ordination, integration and discipline that a well-planned ‘campaign’ approach can offer.
Plan and unplan
But to this blogger, the most effective approach is to embark on a combination of both planned and unplanned posting to your networks.
To me, the ideal approach is to go ahead and plan out a six or even 12-month schedule of promotions or topics you want to post about.
But at the same time, allow yourself to monitor what is going on both within social networks and the world at large, so as you can take advantage of a great posting opportunity.
Being strategically spontaneous
Say, for example, you were in travel, and our dollar went up as it did today. A good and social media aware travel specialist would post about this upward trend, highlighting how it would buy more holiday for your buck if you were to book today, or tips for capitalising on a healthier dollar with your travel and so on.
Better still, why not aim to explore a topic of the month, which not only allows for planned posts but provides a platform for any other relevant material for that month too, thereby consolidating you (and earning ‘brownie points’ with search engines) as a leader in that particular field.
This combination of planned and spontaneous posts will only give you much greater reach whilst ensuring that your annual promotional goals are achieved.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.