I am not a social media expert. In fact, I’m not even sure what that is. I guess someone may claim to be a billboard expert, or a television advertising expert, but those are usually only the people selling those mediums. The people using and buying those mediums are generally using many different advertising mechanisms. We’re called marketing experts.
During the past six years, as social media has become an increasingly interesting part of the marketing mix, I have avoided pushing social media services to our clients (through my marketing firm, SupportWerx), and I’ve avoided writing much about social media. Why? Because there was no real knowledge yet. Just a lot of conjecture backed by enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is good, but it’s a risky thing to sell. So I watched, tested, tested some more, and waited. And now, I finally have a few opinions about social media that I believe are worthy of sharing.
Social Media is Not for Selling. It’s for Prospecting
If anyone thinks that working in social media will get them immediate sales, they will be sadly disappointed. Social Media has not proven to be a good driver of sales. But it has become a fantastic prospecting medium. If you think about the sales cycle, the beginning of that cycle is prospecting, followed by increased awareness, then leading to trust, then a purchase, then on to cultivating loyalty. Prospecting has always been a critical part of selling. Unfortunately, most small businesses just open the door and hope that the prospective buyers will show up, or go to trade shows and wait for prospective buyers to walk by. Social Media provides sellers with an opportunity to cast a very wide net, a wide net from which they can cultivate a small percentage of prospects who will ultimately become buyers.
Social Media is a Numbers Game
Direct Marketing Catalogs are being replaced by the internet, but until the early 2000s, catalogs were the way direct sellers sold to purchasers at home. Do you know what the average direct marketing response rate was? Two percent. In my consumer direct marketing days, we would mail two million catalogs every six weeks, and we expected 98% of them to go straight in the trash. Only 2% would result in an order. But with those numbers, we were able to generate significant sales and profits.
It turns out that social media statistics are similar. An excellent social media campaign will yield between 1.5% – 2% actual buyers. That means if you have 1,300 Facebook fans and you’re not doing Twitter at all, you may get 19-26 orders. And not right away (the cultivation time is extended on social media).
To reach the volume of followers that leads to sales, you need to at least be on both Twitter and Facebook. Your initial goal should be 10,000 followers in each environment. Your long term goal should be no less than 50,000 combined followers and fans. Playing around with social media followings in the hundreds or even the low thousands is like holding your breath while trying to set a sprinting record.
Master the skills required to build relevant audience, because that is the first, most vital, element of a successful social media campaign.
Social Media is a Content Sport
It is challenging to do social media well, because your social media followers expect more from you than posting pictures of your latest products on your timeline. Shopping today is about entertainment, and your buyers and potential buyers want you to entertain them. For some people this comes naturally, and for others it is work. Even if you are comfortable networking in large social environments, if you’re not confident about expressing yourself in writing, social media can still be a chore.
What types of content must you share on social media? In addition to sharing anything that helps someone feel closer to your brand – from the products you sell to stories about your employees to what’s going on in the office, shop or store – you should also share other content that is relevant to your brand voice. If you are deeply concerned about environmentalism and environmental concern shows up in your work, then you would probably also share links to articles in mainstream newspapers and blogs that address the topic. If you have a passion for food and you’re known for providing yummy treats for customer events, you may want to share food articles. If your golden retrievers are always at your shop and customers know they are an important part of your design process, you may want to include articles about animals.
Though there are likely some customers who are loyal to you solely due to your products, your most dedicated customers are committed to you for a deeper reason. If you reflect on it, you’ll know precisely what that reason is. And since those reasons have everything to do with your personality, your business culture, and your brand, you can differentiate using the emotional attachments you have formed. To accomplish this in social media, you will need to surf the internet looking for relevant, interesting content and share it.
Content development also includes all the friendly chatter that helps create bonds between you and your prospects. Thanking them, retweeting and sharing their posts (when it makes sense), and acknowledging their comments are all essential aspects of effective social media interaction.
Social Media Only Gets Them to the Door
Imagine throwing a party, inviting the whole town, hiring a valet parking service, and rolling a red carpet out from the street to your front door. Then imagine your guests stepping out of their cars, handing over the keys, walking up the red carpet, opening the door, and finding . . . nothing. Or a big mess. Or hosts that don’t seem to expect them.
If you offer a terrific social media experience, but are not prepared to offer an equally excellent store, studio, or website experience, your social media efforts will be wasted. Your prospects will be all dressed up with no place to spend! Make sure that you have the tools in place to assist your prospects with making a purchase as soon as they are ready.
Social Media Helps Cultivate Loyalty
I’ve always said that the best customer loyalty program is a fantastic relationship. Sure, customers appreciate birthday coupons and best-customer-only sales, but what they really appreciate is feeling good about the companies they buy from. Social Media can contribute to customer loyalty by keeping the conversation going after the purchase and helping your business remain top-of-mind. The same information sharing and social interaction that works for prospects also works for customers.
You Don’t Have to do Social Media
Social media is optional. Prospecting is not. If you have solid, effective, constantly managed prospecting programs in place that don’t rely on social media, then you may be able to save your Facebook activities for weekend chats with your friends from high school.
If you’re not on social media, your customers aren’t likely to miss you. Yet. As long as you have a good website (a website is not optional), regular contact with your customers, and a strong selling strategy, that’s all you need.
But if you’re like 95% of small business owners, you’re not prospecting enough. You’re just waiting for someone to call or walk in the door, and working the occasional trade show. If that’s the case, social media could be a huge benefit to you. Social Media is one of the most exciting prospecting opportunities we’ve ever seen. It’s not magic, and it’s certainly not free, but social media can produce tens of thousands of prospects for a small business. If you are prepared to maximize the value of those prospects and turn a small percentage of them into buyers, you will certainly benefit.
If you are interested in outsourcing your social media, my SupportWerx group is now offering social media packages. You can learn about them here.