Utilizing and Assessing Social Media Options

A recent study found less than 40 percent of polled small businesses have a company website. About one-third said they would have a site if more resources were available. Both time and money are perceived as obstacles in launching a website.

Today, there are many free or low cost tools available to small businesses that offer website capability. These include Microsoft Office Live, Intuit Websites, Yahoo! Web Hosting, Google Sites, and Weebly. For a business startup or a micro entrepreneur with a nonexistent marketing budget, these tools offer a means of getting started with an online presence.

Small businesses can utilize a range of social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, in support of a web presence. The opportunity for market reach is significant, as shown by an estimated 50 percent of all Internet users on Facebook. Technologies, such as blogs, podcasts, and social networks, support a rich media toolbox readily accessible to all business types.

Innovation on the Four P’s to the Four C’s

Marketing is traditionally described in terms of the 4 P’s – product, price, place, and promotion. John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing points out the social media-infused approach to marketing extends promotion to include the 4 C’s – content, context, connection, and community.

Content means educating, being authentic, and adding value. Context implies filtering, aggregating, and providing meaning to electronic information bombarding consumers. Connection allows interaction, collaboration, and networking with others. Community brings together customers, suppliers, and partners in sharing information, collaborating, and building relationships. Communication and customer service are two additional C’s that should be at the forefront of all businesses.

How does a small business pursue the 4 C’s via the use of social media? The first step is to put together a marketing plan that outlines each type of social media and its strategic use appropriate for the small business. A common complaint is the amount of time required to maintain a social media presence. This will hold true when a social media entry or response serves no strategic purpose where goals and objectives are not defined.

Utilize and Assess For example, the strategic use of a microblog (e.g. Twitter) should remain consistent with the overall communications of the business through informing, reminding, and/or persuading messages. A company can offer a timely discount through “tweets” or posts (e.g. “Stop by between 2 pm – 3 pm today to receive 25{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} off a mocha latte”), which are strategically sent to those signed up to receive messages.

These tweets may be sent to wired or mobile devices, so the market reach potential is significant. A generic tweet (“We sell coffee”) may do more harm in terms of customer loyalty, as existing customers may tire quickly of these tweets and start feeling spammed.

It is important to put in place appropriate measures to assess return on investment (ROI) associated with the use of social media. This includes tracking time and costs with maintaining a technological presence. It is important to benchmark and track key factors for each tool in a social media toolbox. These may include factors such as: unique and repeat visitors, number of comments, links from external sources, and use of discounts and coupons.

Finding the AP

Small businesses have an unprecedented opportunity to expand market share, build customer loyalty, and enhance competitive advantage through the strategic use of today’s technologies. A few years ago, Twitter.com had only a few thousand visitors. Estimated followers now range between 6 and 10 million worldwide. As technologies emerge, it is important for small businesses to assess their strategic relevance.

Unfortunately, women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) lag in the use of social media technologies. Another recent study found that WOSBs place a high value on customer service and loyalty, yet use of social media tools remains low. The study found that only 25 percent of WOSB respondents had a company website and 24 percent fail to use social media tactics for their business.

The Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech has launched a Technology Toolbox for Small Businesses group to explore the use of social media for marketing and promotion. Monthly meetings are open to all entrepreneurs and small businesses in our community.