An all-too-common question I get from startups and small businesses is “Which is the right social media platform for my business?” Is it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or one of the other 200 active platforms vying for attention these days? The right answer is that not all of these are worth your attention, but it’s probably more than one.
The “Tyranny of the OR” is a concept from the business best-seller “Built to Last,” by James C. Collins (Stanford Business School). Too many executives believe that things must be either A or B, and can’t be both. The reality is that most businesses need to embrace the “Genius of the AND,” meaning they should use and monitor more than one of the available platforms, based on objectives.
If you are in the realm of the 47% of small businesses who still ignore social media, you need to read the new book by Dave Carroll, “United Breaks Guitars.” It highlights the story of how United Airlines in 2008 paid no attention to social media as Dave’s story of his crushed guitar and poor customer service went viral around the world. United Airlines is still recovering from that debacle.
Thus your objectives for social media should at least include monitoring your online reputation on the three top platforms, and hopefully taking the minimum actions to turn any negatives into positives for the rest of us. Of course, the right approach is to be proactive along one or more of the following lines:
Reputation management. You can’t ignore the fact that Facebook alone now has over 900 million users who may be talking about you, and there are a dozen other platforms per Wikipedia that have over 100 million users. You need to protect and grow your brand, so the first step is to know what’s going on, and the best defense is a good offense.
Build your brand and expert visibility. Engaging in social media and blogging on a regular basis is a low-cost way to achieve visibility, and become the “go-to” person for that topic and the voice that people trust in your industry. That’s how you brand yourself as an expert in your niche and make your company the one that others seek out and turn to. Customers today trust those they know and those they see others trusting.
Increase customer leads and conversion. With 98% of the population now using social media, at least 30% look at business profiles on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn before buying any product or service. Of those, approximate 70% said they wouldn’t deal with a new company if it didn’t have a social media presence. You need to be there.
Maximize customer retention. It’s a well-known axiom of business that efforts to retain existing customers have tremendous payback, compared to the costs of attracting new customers. Courting them with ongoing updates and special offers through their social networks is a natural way to keep their loyalty.
Proactive customer service. Without social media, companies must rely on incoming calls and letters to address customer problems and concerns with products and services. Why not ask them for feedback before there is a problem, and watch what they are telling their friends, both good and bad?
Keep up with the competition. Last year, Emarketer estimated that Facebook’s revenue from advertising was $3.8 billion and that could be $5.2 billion in 2012. Almost 40% of small businesses that sell on Facebook say it is their sole sales channel. Ignoring what your competition does is sure to limit your business longevity.
So what are the best social media platforms for small business, according to these industry leaders? It never hurts to look at where the big boys are. According to some recent data from Inc. 500 companies, the top three are Facebook (74%), LinkedIn (73%), and Twitter (64%). I recommend that these are the point of entry for every business.
For the new platforms and all the rest, that’s where tracking and testing comes in. Set some objectives, pick a likely platform, set some measurements, and do a 30-day trial. If you don’t get results, it might be a mismatch for your target market. If you see progress, double down and add even more content or focus to continue the positive momentum.
So there is no one magic social media platform for any business, just like there has never been just one marketing channel for any business. The best marketing programs today for small businesses are the “genius of the AND,” including traditional print and video advertising, complemented by proactive efforts in a selection of the new social media domains. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.