Real Talk: Organic Engagement and Growth in Social Media

social media small bizThe recent article in the New York Times, “The Follower Factory,” got us thinking about talks we’ve had over the years with small business owners. We’ve had more than one difficult and honest discussion with clients about how far social media and on-line engagement can take a small business. We’ve also had some difficult and honest discussions about whether or not Twitter engagement will become sales. Short answer: NOT.

Bottom line: If you’re going it alone, be willing to put in the work with consistent, creative, planned (and sometimes spontaneous!) posts. You really need to enjoy social media to put in the work without reaching burnout within a few months.

Here are some of the totally understandable and true responses we’ve gotten from clients:

But look at <fill in the national brand here>! 

  • Yes! That fun “looks totally organic” viral video was great and got people talking. But it wasn’t spontaneous and it wasn’t viral by accident. Remember the first time you saw a flash mob video and thought it was “organic”? It takes a lot of planning to do those spots, and armies of employees and fans are encouraged, even paid, to talk it up. Sometimes it works and the product or name-brand gets its money’s worth; more often it fizzles and they try again.

I bought an ad! I boosted on Facebook! Why aren’t people clicking? Liking? Visiting? Buying? Showing up in my store?

  • This is tough because small businesses don’t usually have large marketing budgets or even designated marketers. Buying ads is great for local businesses when done thoughtfully and with preparation. The ad needs to be clear, attractive, targeted, and polished. Then placement needs to be considered, and as you probably know, the better the placement, the more expensive the ad price.
    • Boosting an ad or post on Facebook is popular, and it seems like such a great deal! Be forewarned: Facebook has been adjusting its algorithm for business pages. For small businesses, we STRONGLY recommend not paying more than $1-$2 per day. And to start, boost for a week at the lowest rate. Ask target area friends to pay attention to how many times they see your ad. It can turn out that you are paying for page views from the same people over and over. Facebook has improved this somewhat over the years, but it still happens. A risk with boosted ads is overexposure. The last thing you want to do is have customers unfollow your page because they’re annoyed with the 12 times the ad or post has shown up in their feed. And worse, they may unfollow completely.
    • Ads on online publications can be colorful and link to your chosen website. This is a great boon as it doesn’t require readers to plan to check you out — they can just do it. However, the downside is that most people just don’t pay attention to ads when they are reading, and the relatively new “reader’s view” can remove ads altogether. We recommend sponsored posts and dedicated newsletters for our clients if they want to advertise with an online publication. A sponsored post can be used again and again to promote your business, and a dedicated newsletter is focused and detailed. One caveat: Only about 20% of newsletter recipients open their emails, so make sure the subject line includes your business name!
  • So why aren’t customers streaming into your business after you’ve done all the right things? Well, as you probably know from your own life, we are all busy people! How do YOU prioritize your time and spending? For small businesses, word-of-mouth and community engagement (read: face-to-face) are still king. Participating in your community will make people WANT to stop in “just to say hi” and they’ll remember you are there when it comes time to purchase a produce or service. Combine that with smart on-line engagement. Mention other businesses in your social media posts. Celebrate the community’s achievements on Facebook with a sincere and positive contribution. Let your friends and neighbors help you spread the word. Put yourself out there — because it really does end up being YOU.

Why can’t I just buy followers? Fake it ’til you make it, right? 

  • Sandler & Wald Social Media has never participated in this practice, even when asked to do so. And just NO.

Is there anything I can do that won’t break my budget?

  • One low-cost tip we like to encourage clients to take advantage of themselves is sending out press releases* about accomplishments, awards, sales, community service, and milestones. It’s free and YOU control the content. Some publications have started charging for press release uploads. And while this guarantees placement, it may not be in your budget. Sending a press release and one or two gorgeous photos is a maybe yes/maybe no, and in this content hungry time — that’s a good bet! Also, running a blog on your website or on the side is a low-cost way to keep customers updated and allow for personal observations or anecdotes about your business. In addition, it’s one more place you can post those press releases you’re writing.
*This link shows some VERY basic styles. Ask fellow businesses what they’ve used for best practices in your area.



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