Last Thursday, I attended the regular small business networking meeting arranged by my local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses. By the end of that meeting, I was fuming. The focus of my anger, that evening’s talk entitled Five Things You Must Do Now on Social Media.
I was angry at the length of the talk; at these events contributors are supposed to give presentation of around 20 minutes, the speaker talked for over an hour. However, I was even angrier at the content of the presentation.
The speaker, like me, was a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Yet in her talk on the latest hot topics in social media marketing there was not a single mention of strategy, of objectives, of monitoring activity or of return on investment. There was also no mention of the potential hazards of using social media as a marketing communications channel.
I therefore dug out my textbooks and looked at what experts in digital marketing had to say on the subject of social media. I referred to Dave Chaffey’s book Digital Marketing (Dave also runs the excellent Smart Insights website) and the SOSTAC method advocated by PR Smith. These two individuals are probably the most renowned academics working in the field of digital marketing.
PR Smith uses the acronym SOSTAC to define the process of creating a digital marketing plan. In fact, it is such a useful system of planning development, it can be used across marketing planning. It stands for Situation, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Action, Control.
Social Media is a single communications channel. It is a tactic not a strategy. It seems that some operating in the field of social media marketing have forgotten this and treat their speciality as an overarching marketing strategy. It isn’t and it should not be treated as such. By all means use social media marketing in your business but that activity should be the result of a careful analysis of your businesses market position and the attributes of your target audience. So,if I was promoting a fashion brand to teenagers, social media would be a priority communications channel and I would likely want to invest heavily in it. If I was promoting stair lifts to pensioners, I would prioritise more traditional forms of marketing communication. It seems some marketers operating in the field of social media have developed a myopic view of communications which may be of little use to many small businesses.
Then there was the title of the talk, “Things you MUST do”. Sorry, but that is plain wrong. It infers that the activities MUST be carried out by all businesses. Surely a better approach is to carry out those activities which best fit your business model, your client base and your available resources.
The speaker had previously worked for a major motor car manufacturer and had now set up their own social media consultancy. The talk was to small businesses most of whom were either one-man-bands or had fewer than five employees. There seemed to be little recognition from the speaker as to the resources available to the speaker’s former employer than to the attending audience.
I will quickly list the five things the speaker highlighted:
- Using Live Video
- Becoming a LinkedIn all-star
- Asking for emails
- Spending some money as organic reach was dying on social media sites
- Getting creative.
The idea that small businesses would be able to produce suitable Live Video seemed a stretch. Having organised press conferences and media events, I can attest to how difficult it can be to produce successful content on a recorded basis, let alone live. Sometimes the most confident CEO can turn into a blathering idiot the moment a camera is thrust in their face or a microphone pushed under their nose. If you are planning such an event, it is always best to have someone with sufficient media training to run the event and to prompt nervous participants. In my old career, I worked with the likes of Lynn Faulds Wood, John Stapleton and Carol Smylie. These are broadcast journalists and presenters who could expertly direct those not used to such exposure through an interview. This is an important skill which many small business people will not have.
The live video idea was mentioned for things like product demonstrations and launches. It is always worth remembering Murphy’s Law; if anything can go wrong, it will. I have seen hilarious examples of content from product demonstrations that have gone horribly wrong. At least those will be remembered. What is far worse are dull, boring demonstrations which do not stick in the mind.
Live video content is not as easy as it appears, particularly if you are doing an activity such as product demonstration. Channels such as QVC tend to use employed product demonstrators to give a professional gloss to product launches and ‘how to guides’.
Dee et Al. (2007) argued that social media was increasingly important in influencing consumer perceptions about brands. They argued that there was a big difference in what was appropriate content depending on factors such as age demographics, gender and the type of product. They found very few product types which had popularity in all market segments e.g. movies, cars and restaurants. In short, you need to carefully analyse your target customer segments and design appropriate content.
Microsoft, who part own Facebook, increasingly expect businesses using that platform to pay for the promotion of commercial content. They are also adamant that consumers must be able to interact with the brand content. They advise:
- You must understand your customers motivations for using social media. That content must match the topics they already discuss and match the life stage of those networking.
- You need to express yourself as a brand. A logo and a brand name are not enough. You have to develop a brand personality which includes a side of the brand not normally seen.
- You must understand the consumers motivations for the use of social media and mirror motivations.
- You need to create and maintain good conversations. Those discussions must resonate with the audience and once started a conversation must be followed through. I follow a number of small business networking groups on twitter. the bad ones are where people end up tweeting about their dogs, the weather or their holidays AND DON’T STICK TO THE SUBJECT OF THEIR BUSINESS.
- You have to empower participants. Let those who network with you express themselves through your brand. This could be through the use of apps or widgets
- You need to identify and nurture online brand advocates and use reputation management tools.
- You have to follow the golden rules of Social media
- Behave like a social networker
- Be creative
- Be honest
- Be individual
- Be conscious of your audience
- Update regularly
One firm which is at the forefront of the use of social media for marketing is Ugg, the sheepskin boot manufacturer. They identify brand fans and give them opportunities to work for Ugg. They use celebrities as brand advocates and they pay a number of bloggers and vloggers to develop a brand community. These bloggers don’t only write about Ugg products but they discuss wider ‘youth’ issues such as music and wider fashion trends.
Ugg are very careful that the brand advocates match their brand image. They were furious when Oprah Winfrey promoted their boots on her television channel as she was outside their young fashion-conscious demographic.
In Digital Marketing, Dave Chaffey discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using social media to develop viral marketing campaigns.
He argues that social media, used correctly, can be a relatively inexpensive viral agent to speak to a large audience and that it can be a good tool for developing customer referral through electronic word of mouth. However, he warns that for that activity to be truly productive you already need to have the ear of major market influencers. This can be evidenced in Ugg’s use of celebrities and paid bloggers.
Chaffey also argue that social media can be a high risk marketing communications strategy. It requires significant initial investment to develop the ‘viral agent’ and to seed the communications programme.
He also warns that many users of social media see the use of portals such as Twitter for commercial purposes as a misappropriation. People use social media to socialise and during such times do not want to be pestered by brands.
It is often difficult to develop appropriate content for social media channels. It has to engage the audience and encourage sharing.
Then there is the need to seed the viral activity through the use of key influencers, This can backfire. For example, several sports personalities have received criticism when they have promoted products through social media without mentioning that they are being paid to do so.
If a piece of social media goes viral, it can break one of two ways. It can generate a positive reaction or it can be negative. It is extremely difficult to judge which of these two paths a viral campaign will follow. There may well be a need for ongoing and vigilant reputation management.
In conclusion, on its own, social media may not be a sufficient strategy for small businesses. You need to back it up with more traditional marketing communications activities. You need to look at your customer engagement ladder. For many businesses, social media should be focussed on the retention of existing customers than on new customer acquisition. At best, it is a route to turn existing regular customers into brand advocates.
Social media and other online activities only work well when they are part of a wider marketing communications mix AND you have the time and resources to commit to the social media channel. You need to decide whether social media is going to be a continuous activity or whether it is going to be part of individual campaigns. If continuous significant ongoing investment is required. You also need to balance investment between individual online tools and monitor the return that the investment brings in. There is no point in having a hugely successful piece of online content if nobody buys your product.
I believe many smaller businesses see social media as a quick and easy fix to their promotional activities. It isn’t. It is a tactic which requires careful consideration of viral content and you need to attract key social media influencers. If those things are not achieved, intensive investment in social media can be a huge waste of time, money and effort.