Social media does a better job at connecting with consumers and closing leads than nearly any other digital platform. Popular channels like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram offer a way for merchants to connect with customers in their local areas, either organically or through paid advertisements.
In a survey by Street Fight Insights and Thrive Analytics, 66% of merchants said they actively use social media to promote their businesses with the expectation of generating leads. The most popular platforms for these businesses to use were Facebook (56%), LinkedIn (27%), and Twitter (24%). The real question is: What’s stopping the other 34% of merchants from jumping on board?
From a broad perspective, it appears that a lack of understanding is to blame. Many of the local merchants who’ve shied away from social marketing have a fundamental misunderstanding of what’s required from the standpoint of finances and time. More than half (51%) of the local merchants in Street Fight’s survey said managing social media was too time consuming, and 38% said they hadn’t seen a return on social spending. Both of these issues can be remedied through the use of social media management dashboards from firms like Hootsuite, Mediative, Sprout Social, and Union Metrics.
Ideally, business owners should be developing comprehensive social marketing strategies. Those merchants who haven’t taken the first step by creating Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for their businesses are losing out on customer loyalty, as well as new opportunities for growth.
Here are three steps for creating a comprehensive social media strategy:
- Set goals
Customer acquisition is the No. 1 reason why local merchants use social media platforms. Other common goals include building brand awareness, engaging customers, adding credibility to the business, reducing marketing costs, and working more efficiently with partners. How a merchant uses social media, and which platforms he or she decides to rely on, will vary depending on the merchant’s goals.
- Create accounts on selected channels
Few merchants have the resources available to create business pages on every social platform. A better strategy is for merchants to target their social investments to a few high-value channels. For most businesses, that means starting with a Facebook page. Merchants who are interested in working with partners will want to try LinkedIn, and those that are interested in using social media primarily for new client acquisition should try Twitter.
- Track progress
Social media ROI doesn’t have to be a mystery. Merchants can easily track their progress by looking at the number of people who’ve “liked” or “followed” their company on various channels. They can also measure engagement by looking at the number of “shares” their content generates. Social media dashboards offer a more detailed view, with tools for generating conversion rates and qualitative reports.
The results of a merchant’s social media marketing efforts don’t usually appear overnight, but they can be significant. For example, a Fortune 500 rental car company worked with the digital marketing firm Mediative, sponsor of this series, to boost its presence on Facebook, Google+, and Foursquare. The company created new social profiles, with pages that linked back to the location page on the rental car company’s website. Mediative also made sure that all location names, addresses, and phone numbers were consistent across social pages and website location pages. As a result, the company saw $60,000 in incremental revenue captured in the first three months from customers coming to its website from social media.
Smaller businesses may see more modest results, however a positive ROI can still be achieved when merchants follow some basic social strategies. Here are three tips for maximizing the results of a social marketing campaign.
- Use channels for the right purpose
When merchants create accounts on multiple networks, they should realize that most of today’s popular channels serve very different purposes. For example, Pinterest is a visual platform, where merchants can post images of their products. Meanwhile, Twitter is a channel that merchants use to reach prospective customers with short, witty messages. LinkedIn is used most frequently by other business owners. Although Facebook offers the broadest experience, it can be difficult for merchants to find new customers without relying on paid ads.
- Keep messaging consistent
Brand messaging should remain consistent across a merchant’s social media profiles. That means using the exact same business name on Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, for example, and including proper formatting for all addresses and phone numbers. It also means using the same profile image across multiple social media accounts, and updating that image whenever new logos or branding elements are released. What’s more, consistency of name, address and phone number is essential for listings accuracy and local SEO.
- Start engaging customers
Social media pulls back the curtain on what customers really think, but it’s up to marketers to peek inside. Reading status updates and posts by customers provides merchants with insights into the types of products or services they should be offering. In addition to monitoring customer conversations, merchants can also take an active role by responding to complaints and analyzing discussions based on sentiment or keywords.