As Merchants Flock to Social Media, How Can Community News Sites Keep Pace?

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communication and promotion in social media

No one should be surprised that SMBs are pouring more and more advertising dollars into social media. The most recent numbers, from Borrell Associates’ 2016 Advertising Survey of 7,564 regional, local and neighborhood businesses, are here and here, indicating that more than 62% of SMBs have now bought Facebook ads, and 90% have a social media presence.

Newspapers — the biggest sector of local news — are indeed in the “crosshairs” as SMBs move more of their message spending from traditional media to social. But what struck me most in the survey were the specific conclusions of merchants and their marketers.

  • A marketer for a real estate rental firm did say “Social media is becoming a bigger and bigger player in the game,” but then emphasized: “I think you need a well rounded mix of everything.”
  • A legal services advertiser: “Give us more knowledgeable [sales] representatives who can suggest options backed by knowledge and data.”
  • An insurance agent advertiser: “Learn about your customer and what their needs are and then fulfill them. Stop trying to just sell a standard package to everyone. Establish credibility. Become a marketing partner and someone who can be counted on.”
  • Another respondent: “I run this business myself and am not savvy with social media. I wish I could find someone I trust to improve our presence at an affordable price.”

So, yes, SMBs are turning to Facebook and other social platforms more and more. But they’re doing it, the Borrell survey shows me, not only because they’re getting good results but also because they have better buying experiences.

Check out Facebook’s SMB outreach. If you’re a busy local merchant who has to carefully watch how you spend every advertising dollar, would you be tempted to go for that pitch? Knowing that SMBs are so rate-conscious, FB takes merchants to a page on “Billing Basics” that’s likely to answer every cost question they have. How many local and community news publishers can provide answers that are so thorough and yet quickly and succinctly delivered?

Keep in mind that the entire FB pitch is done online – which takes minutes instead of involving an in-person negotiation (maybe on or maybe off the rate card) with a salesperson who likely doesn’t have all the answers that the merchant can get from FB’s online prompts.

Jim Brown, the VP of sales and marketing at Borrell Associates, said that what local merchants wanted most is marketing expertise: “Keep in mind that there are 4 P’s to marketing [product, price, promotion, place], and advertising is only one piece of the puzzle. Facebook in particular does seem to have struck the right balance between simple, cost-effective and ostensibly results-oriented.”

I took my questions to Clare Carr, Marketing Director at the audience analytics firm

“Thanks to their ability to precisely target an audience, Facebook, and other social media platforms, have dominated the direct response market in the past few years, which is why I’m not surprised to see such a positive response to the question regarding Facebook ad’s effectiveness.

“However, direct response can be improved even further by increasing brand awareness and engagement. Especially for brands trying to reach a local audience, partnering with media outlets that have strong community engagement can create that “halo” effect. Media companies, meanwhile, must continue to make engagement and understanding their audience a priority so that marketers will consider more than a comparison of click-through-rates when thinking about where to spend marketing dollars.”

The same message comes from a major newspaper publisher, GateHouse Media, which publishes 120 dailies and 530 community sites. Here’s what Peter Newton, GateHouse’s Chief Revenue Officer and CEO of its subsidiary of its Propel Business Services subsidiary, says, as reported by Forbes.

“’One of the biggest things SMBs need is advice, not just a product or service,’ Forbes’ Sachin Kamdar quotes Newton as saying. “‘Small and medium-sized businesses want information that can help to guide their digital marketing strategies, and they want that information from people they trust — people that get the nuances of SMB businesses.”

“’We’ve invested a lot in training our local salespeople on digital marketing capabilities and the value we can deliver with our audience, specifically. One of the benefits of digital marketing is that it can put an SMB on the same playing field with much larger companies and brands. Traditional media doesn’t have that opportunity. The key (for us) is delivering the right audience.’”

If the same message is coming from both the sell and buy sides of advertising, maybe it’s more than a slogan. Maybe it points the way toward a best practice for how community news sites can stay in business in especially challenging times.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.