Business development · 12 July 2016

Making social media marketing work for micro businesses

There are a dizzying number of options available when it comes to social media marketing
There are a dizzying number of options available when it comes to social media marketing

With the number of worldwide social media users recently surpassing the 2.3bn mark, and the range of channels available to micro business marketers constantly evolving, it can be difficult to know where to start. Business Advice, in partnership with Yell, spoke to four business owners who have made social work for them to hear how they’ve done it.

Our online sales and marketing for small businesses series has reached its final step and, despite its growing importance, too many small firm leaders are still scared of social media marketing. “Only 13 per cent of small business websites have associated Facebook and Twitter accounts,” Yell’s marketing director Mark Clisby told Business Advice when we asked him about the outlook for small firms in the space.

Yet For Planned Market Research founder Thomas Parry, LinkedIn and Twitter have quickly become invaluable to his business, following experimentation with various platforms. “Instagram is difficult for an organisation like mine – both in terms of knowing how to use it and due to worries about confidentiality.”

In contrast, Chris Witham’s business Lucid Synergy lends itself particularly well to these visual communication. The creative agency he founded in 2009 after a career of freelancing is the ideal contender for platforms like Instagram, which is one of the most effective channels he has found for reaching out to potential customers.

Yet despite his success with this, he emphasised that the changing nature of the social media marketing world means there is a need to guide against complacency. “Twitter used to be good, but isn’t as effective for my business anymore. As a small business owner you have to try out at least a few different platforms – there has to be some trial and error involved,” he said.

“My strategy is to look at everything as it comes along. Do some research, test it. The things that work stick with – the things that don’t, leave it behind.”

Playing around with different platforms was cited as vital by Elaine Burns, co-founder ecommerce fashion and lifestyle platform Wear Eponymous, too. “We’ve been fortunate. My business partner Alan likes looking at different apps and is happy testing things out,” she said.

Small business owners who leverage social to its full potential have something else in common too: they don’t expect miracles, and realise that to make the most of the tool they have to be willing to put the time in. “Every different social media platform, from Twitter and Facebook, requires a different way of doing things,” said Clisby.

“We all expect to have things instantly. If you’re on social media, you need to respond almost straight away,” said Witham. “You’ve got to be really involved to be really good at it. I do outsource some social but it’s still important to understand how it all works.”

And in the complicated and ever-evolving world of social media marketing, it’s no surprise that there are caveats to this. “I’m disciplined with social. You can overdo it, so you need to be careful,” said Witham.

The sentiment was reiterated by Burns, who learned this lesson the hard way. “We decided to have a Twitter party, and the event itself worked really well. But we didn’t realise that by sending out invites as tweets to lots of different people, we were accidentally spamming our followers’ timelines. It took a customer complaining that we were getting on her nerves to make us realise.”

She has now established guidelines for the amount of social media noise her company should make. “Post regularly, but don’t spam. Once a day for Facebook and two or three times for Twitter is enough.”

For Clisby, the next challenge for small firm owners who think they have mastered the basics is measurement. “It’s a key one and I don’t think it’s something really well understood in social. Small business owners can find it hard to quantify the benefit from social campaigns, because leads might come through searches and pay-per-click [PPC] even if the brand awareness stems from a social media campaign. While the platforms boast about the measurement tools, that doesn’t get translated into lead and ROI terms.”

One business owner who has been quick to realise the value of data in the social media marketing space is Roddy Campbell, the founder of disruptive room rental startup Vrumi. “We tend to try and measure everything,” he said. “We will give Instagrammers specific codes or links back to a page to track activity.

“As far as my strategy goes, if you can account for 80 per cent of marketing activity and how it’s spent and 20 per cent is brand awareness that you believe is having impact, then that’s alright.”

With the social media world an inherently uncertain space, the desire to keep testing things and adapting them as circumstances change is key. Before you launch headlong into whichever channels make sense for your small firm, think carefully about whether you can invest enough time in doing it right – otherwise, you’re better off getting someone else to manage it for you.

Most importantly, don’t forget the social. If you’re going to post something, you need to be prepared and engage with the discussion that ensues. And if the worst happens and you get negative engagement, focus on the positives – the last thing you want is a protracted Twitter row.

Don’t forget to check out our three previous features: “How content marketing can turbocharge awareness of your brand“, “Thinking about your company’s online identity” and “Cracking SEO from the beginning to acquire customers“.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our online sales and marketing feature series. If you have any specific questions then please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and we’ll get our friends at Yell to answer them.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

Business development