According to an article by Julie Brooks published last week on Street Fight, demand for social media management among small business owners has “dropped off a cliff.”
At Main Street Hub, we know a few thousand small business owners — and a few social networks — who might disagree. In our experience, small business owners are very interested in using social media as a tool for gaining new customers and staying in touch with existing ones, and the prominent social media websites have taken notice.
According to Facebook, the number of active local business pages increased 40% from January to December 2012. Meanwhile, a study from Vertical Response published in October shows that 90% of small businesses are on Facebook, and 66% of such owners are spending more time with social media than they were a year ago. Here at Main Street Hub, we manage social media for local businesses on websites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Google+ Local, and in 2012, our number of local business clients grew 400% while inbound inquiries for our services grew 25-fold.
We know it can be scary to invest resources, time, and money in a new marketing strategy, but local business owners should not ignore social media altogether for fear of falling behind or making a mistake. In fact, ignoring social media right now would be the worst move yet, just as Facebook is rolling out exciting new resources tailored toward making local businesses more visible to consumers.
Facebook has an enormous stockpile of information about consumers’ preferences, taste, and interests. And with its new Graph Search, Facebook has created a tool to better use this data in a way that will connect more consumers with local businesses. Graph Search lets Facebook users enter phrases like “sushi restaurants my friends like” or “dentists my friends like” and reveals all their friends’ favorite local spots. Another new Facebook tool, Nearby, functions very much like Yelp or Google+ Local and makes it easy for consumers to find local businesses recommended by friends. These tools reinforce one of the main reasons that social media is more powerful than other forms of advertising: It surfaces valuable friend-to-friend recommendations of local businesses.
And when it comes to the argument that investing in SEO might be money better spent, do a quick search on Google for “sushi restaurants in San Francisco,” and see what comes up. The top four search results are all from Yelp. So successfully managing the social media presence of a local business includes managing profiles on customer review websites like Yelp and Google+. Use of these websites is how the vast majority of consumers find local businesses in the first place because they are trustworthy and objective sources of information and their material is based on the experiences of other real customers. Keeping online customer review profiles up-to-date, posting specials, and responding to consumer reviews is something all local business owners should do. If they don’t have the time, interest, or expertise, they’ll see good results from hiring a professional.
This is not to say that SEO isn’t important. We often hear from SEO firms and local advertising agencies whose mom-and-pop clients want social media management services they cannot provide. Rather than competing with our products, these companies often refer local businesses to Main Street Hub through our reseller program. It’s definitely possible to have a symbiotic relationship between social media management and other marketing channels.
But social media has something that other marketing channels don’t — the trustworthy friend-to-friend nature of the interactions. And that’s the reason social media marketing beats SEO. For more than a year, we’ve been catching opportunities like these and turning them into conversations (and customers) by proactively reaching out on Twitter on behalf of our clients.
Social media is about taking word-of-mouth online, and now that the prominent social media websites are making it easier than ever to capitalize on these moments, local businesses have everything to gain.
Keith Peiris, a product manager at Facebook, says of Graph Search, “The types of questions we can solve are the slightly nuanced and social questions that you wouldn’t typically think to ask of a search engine. … There’s a lot to be said for taste.” And there you have it: Potential customers are speaking out; they’re telling you exactly what they like and dislike, and they’re ready to purchase. With a little help from social media experts, all you have to do is show up at the party and jump in on the conversation.
David Kreitzer is senior director of marketing at Main Street Hub, a social media management company that helps local businesses across the country acquire and retain customers through technology, best practices, and a “do-it-for-you” service.