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Is Social Media Right for Your Business?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011 by Mike Cheley

Evaluate your resources and your audience.

In today’s always connected, always plugged in – and dare I say “status update obsessed” society – selling social media packages have become all the rage in the Internet marketing industry. The popularity and reach of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Foursquare (to name a few) have paved the way for a revolution in online marketing. Initially, a means to stay in touch with friends and family, social media sites are now being used as tools by Internet marketing firms to promote a client’s brand – to help sell their goods and services. In fact, a new industry of service providers has emerged to help marketing firms and individuals manage multiple social media efforts at the same time. While this evolution is great news for industries selling the dream of taking a brand “viral”, it presents an interesting question that every small to medium-sized business owner should be asking, “Is an investment in social media right for my business?”

While attending a party last week, I heard someone that works in Internet marketing say to a local business owner, “if you’re not Tweeting and don’t have a Facebook page, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for increased revenue.” I sat there thinking to myself, “Did this marketing “professional” just imply that Twitter and Facebook accounts are “must haves” if business owner “x” wants to increase revenue? I then began to wonder, “What would this thinly veiled sales pitch sound like if the marketer knew that business owner “x” represented a chain of hospice facilities?” Now, call me a pessimist, but it just doesn’t seem plausible that the target audience for a hospice facility would be shopping end-of-life care on Twitter or Facebook. In my humble opinion, business owner “x” would be better served spending her hard earned marketing dollars on targeted local search advertisements.

Unfortunately, many of today’s small to medium-sized business owners are running their businesses with limited resources. Whether the resource limitation is cash, personnel or a combination of both, when considering how to allocate a marketing budget – more specifically, whether to invest in social media as a marketing vehicle, there are two things business owners need to understand: (1) the resources necessary to generate relevant, original and quality content, and (2) their target audience. Jumping on the social media bandwagon without reflecting on these two issues could spell the difference between a healthy ROI and an ROI they’d prefer to forget.

If you are a business owner thinking about diving into the social media arena, it’s important to understand how much your efforts will rely upon your ability to generate quality content. Remember, the key to any successful online marketing effort is your capacity to produce fresh, new content that peaks your audience’s interest on a regular basis. This is not only true for the pages of your website – it will hold true for any social networking tool you leverage in a social media campaign. Recycling postings you find on the Internet, posting endless “top 10” lists and the “here’s an interesting article” approach to generating content will only take you so far. If it’s not original or doesn’t resonate with your audience, keeping a loyal following will be difficult.

One of the things many business owners (and some marketers) fail to remember is that writing online content is a skill and that generating content takes time. While it’s safe to say that almost everyone can write, not everyone is capable of writing in a manner that engages, sells or does your brand justice. When deciding if you’re ready to generate relevant, original content that your audience will want to read, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I have someone on staff that can write? Will this person be able to generate content in addition to doing the job they were originally hired to do? How much more will I need to pay them for this added responsibility?
  2. Am I ready to hire a part-time writer on a weekly basis – someone that can sit down, interview me and generate content based on our discussions?
  3. If I’m going to write the content myself, is it the best use of my time? If my time is worth $60/hr. and I spend 12 hours per week generating content, will my time spent writing generate at least $720 in increased revenue?

While I’ve presented a few questions that are important to consider from the perspective of resource allocation, it’s far more important to fully understand your target audience before committing to a social media campaign. While it’s fun to fantasize about your brand going viral on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or your blog, you need to be realistic about the habits of your target audience. You need to be connected enough with that audience to understand how and where they go for information. Asking yourself some, if not all of the following questions, could go a long way toward helping you ascertain if your marketing budget should be heavily invested in social media programs:

  1. What types of products or services do I sell? Are there online portals or professional directories more suited to promote my business? If you sell end-of-life hospice services (like I mentioned earlier), are you really going to spend thousands producing a YouTube video in lieu of PPC advertising?
  2. What’s the average age/gender of my target audience? If your target audience is great grandmothers who lived through the depression, Tweeting your insights 12 hours a day might not be the best use of your time.
  3. Does my target audience spend a lot of time online? If so, where? Can I find statistics to support my beliefs one way or the other?
  4. Does my demographic actually make purchasing decisions online or do they feel more comfortable with face-to-face interactions? If the latter is the case, should I be spending more money creating traditional marketing materials (i.e., brochures, flyers, tear sheets, etc.)

At the end of the day, making the decision to invest in social media marketing comes down to an understanding of your target audience and the resources you’re willing to commit.  Don’t let yourself be strong armed into a costly marketing package by a salesperson promising you the holy grail of Internet marketing just because everyone else is doing it. Take your time, think about your target audience and what you’ve read here today.  If your target demographic uses the Internet to check email only, your marketing dollar and sanity might be better served by pursuing other marketing vehicles. If however, that demographic is heavily involved in the social networking/media space, by all means, do everything you can to catch and maintain your audience’s attention by planning and executing a social media strategy that resonates with your ideal customer while working within your comfort zone and budget.

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