Getting Real: What SMBs Can Realistically Expect from Social Media

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Small business owners don’t sign up with digital agencies for mediocre results. When SMBs pay for hyperlocal services like social media management, they expect to be wowed. For hyperlocal vendors working with SMB clients, failing to set clear expectations is a recipe for disaster.

Unrealistic expectations can damage the relationship between small business owners and the vendors they work with. That’s why it’s imperative that salespeople and account representatives are clear about which targets, metrics, and goals are realistic, given their clients’ short timeframes and limited budgets.

Here are seven key insights that vendors can impart to their customers when the topic of realistic marketing expectations comes up.

1. Success takes time. “Social media should not be thought of as just setting up Facebook pages, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and expecting results. The best approach to social media is a longer-term strategy. SMBs should think of social channels as a way to cost-effectively support communication with existing customers, monitor customer relationships with the brand, and provide valuable content to engage customers. Short-term campaigns work best when a small business begins its web presence. Based on our own experience, contests and sweepstakes related to product offerings have been very successful in building high-quality audiences and increasing engagement.” (Chris Marentis, Surefire Social)

2. Facebook has fundamentally changed. “Merchants need to stop thinking of Facebook as it was in 2013. It’s become an increasingly powerful ad product for reaching out to customers and potential customers. Merchants or their local agencies can apply this to grow their businesses smartly. So, be prepared to spend some time every week, and allocate some Google or print ad dollars to getting to know these new ad products — they are here to stay, and they will be a bigger and bigger way to acquire customers and amplify digital word-of-mouth.” (Perry Evans, Closely)

3. Engagement can’t happen until a merchant develops trust. “Social media needs to be viewed by small business as a platform to engage the local community. I see many small businesses overwhelm viewers with their service offerings instead of including suggestions on recipes, lawn care, or pet development. This helps to develop trust, and that requires time.” (Dana Ward, near9)

4. Don’t focus on follower counts. “Businesses should gauge success by what impact their social activities have on reputation, customer engagement, and retention rather than just the number of followers. Having 500 engaged customers who are ardent fans could be better than 5,000 who followed your business because you gave away an iPad. The audience will be different by location as well. A benchmark social media following for a restaurant in a downtown metropolis will be different for a restaurant in a smaller town. We use social media to drive audience to landing pages on the company’s website. Another measurement of success of social media is how much referral traffic increases from social media to the website.” (Chris Marentis, Surefire Social)

5. True growth requires consistency. “Our most successful customers combine consistent online presence and current social media streams. It is critical to provide correct opening hours, phone numbers, and addresses on online directories, apps, and maps. Correct information on local directories also significantly boosts online visits. However, merchants should not expect their business will explode thanks just to social media and digital marketing. Location, customer service, and products will always be critical to their success.” (Victor Landau, Spotistic)

6. Not every post will drive calls. “We advocate a 40-40-20 strategy for content. Of the content on social media, 40 percent should tie back to the business and the value it brings to customers and prospects, including links to blog posts, interesting product information on the website, etc. Another 40 percent is in-the-moment content — real-time and relevant. This 80 percent of content includes engaging with existing customers, such as responding to inquiries and calls for help. Social cannot always be about the business. That’s why 20 percent of the content should be dedicated to the community a business serves, partners, news, and links to interesting, relevant articles.” (Chris Marentis, Surefire Social)

7. Facebook isn’t Craigslist. “There is a digital media platform that can and often does result in immediate action, although there’s not a social aspect to it, and that’s Craigslist. Post an offer and get a response, right? Many businesses view Facebook as a glorified classified ad tool and therefore expect instant results, but Facebook is not Craigslist. Still, today’s Snapchatters, Facebookers, and Instagramers are tomorrow’s business owners, which bodes well for social media as a marketing platform for years to come.” (Dana Ward, near9)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.