Small business owners often doubt the value of a social media strategy. They question the return on investment – or ROI. When Facebook or Twitter activity doesn’t immediately translate into higher sales, it’s common for business owners to lose faith. This is usually based on a misunderstanding of what social media can and cannot do.
In May, 2017, Carol Fowler, CEO of TheSocReports, was featured on the “What Works For Biz” podcast to explain why social media matters to the bottom line. The following is a transcript of her discussion with host Greg Miller:
Miller: Are you using social media to generate leads, build brand image or generate sales? Marketing through social media is the second most used tactic next to email. That’s not surprising considering that 59% of Americans are social media users. Pew Research says three out of every four Facebook users are on the site daily and that’s more than 46 million people. Other social platforms have millions of active users too. Today we’ll talk with a social media expert about what are realistic expectations from participation in social media for business purposes and how to go about realizing those expectations.
Welcome to “What Works For Biz,” insights and ideas offered by successful business owners and entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Greg Miller of Intelireach, a marketing company for making businesses more visible and memorable to those seeking your products and services online. With me to discuss getting the most out of social media is Carol Fowler, CEO and Founder of KloboMedia which creates social media and content strategies for brands and individuals. Previously she led content development at Viewpoints which is now known as PowerReviews, a ratings review generator for brands and retailers. And Carol oversaw news media operations for several years at the CBS, FOX, and WGN television stations in Chicago.
Welcome to the program, Carol.
Fowler: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Overview of TheSocReports
Miller: Now I know the work you do for brands and individuals is based on an actual report you produce which is called TheSocReports. Can you give me an overview of what that’s about?
Fowler: Sure, TheSocReports is a social media analytics product primarily for personal brands, but we also have small business customers and essentially what we do on a weekly basis is basically give a report card to our clients on how well they’re doing in social media. And the whole idea that’s different and better about TheSocReports from the myriad of other measurement tools out there in the social space is everything we do is geared toward helping our clients improve. It’s not just like this number in the abstract; we show them how their activity is tied to the results they’re getting and show them how to move closer to where they want to be.
Miller: And I’m assuming in order to be effective you have to work with these reports over a fairly long period of time, don’t you?
Instant results are unrealistic
Fowler: Well, yes and no. What we found is the average subscriber sees an audience lift of about 15% in the first 12 weeks. So you probably need to stick with it for about 3 months. But you know, the larger message in participating in social media is there’s no magic bullet or quick return that you’re going to get from it. You know, I advise businesses that you have to consider it kind of like investing money in your 401k. It’s the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do – that the results are going to pay dividends if over time done correctly.
Miller: We know that because there are several vibrant social media platforms with huge volumes of people using them that there, you know, is that sense that businesses need to be everywhere on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and maybe Snapchat or Pinterest, for example, is that a misguided notion?
Start small with social media
Fowler: It is. That’s probably the one thing that causes businesses hesitation in getting involved in social media is because it’s so overwhelming, and they kind of feel like, “I don’t have the resources to feed this monster and devote myself 24/7” to not only posting content but answering questions and responding to customers and so forth.
It really is better to identify one platform – maybe two – that reach your target audience and then just be the best you can be on those one or two platforms. The major brands, the major household names, of course, they’re everywhere. They have the money to hire an agency or outside help and in some cases, several agencies, to manage all their social accounts, and it’s in their interest to be everywhere because maybe they have customers in all of these target markets.
Facebook is usually one of the platforms you want to be on, just because, as you mentioned in the open, so many people are on Facebook – and they spend a lot of time on Facebook . 80% of the people who are on social media are on Facebook. So you know that’s where your customers probably are, but each business is a little bit different.
In order for these social media platforms to make money they are restricting reach of content you seek to share, and they’re forcing you know businesses to advertise.
Miller: Are there ways to get around that or should a business expect to have to pay to put themselves in front of their prospects and customers?
Paid social media should be part of small business strategy
Fowler: Well, you probably will have to pay a little bit, but the good news is is that you can reach a lot of people fairly inexpensively. And the reason that Facebook is so wildly profitable is because it has an amazing ability to put a bull’s-eye on your ideal customer. You can tweak the advertising to narrow in on exactly the person you want to reach, through a method of demographic targeting and location targeting and interest targeting. We manage the Facebook ads for several clients, and I think it’s tremendously fun to be able to kind of push and pull levers and hone in on the audience. There definitely is an art to creating that target – but once you do, for maybe ten or fifteen dollars a day, you can reach thousands of people who are right in the sweet spot of your audience.
So I don’t think it’s a negative thing. I actually think it’s a positive thing, but it needs to be combined with organic content. In other words. you can’t just rely on paid advertising; you need to have an organic presence that’s the cake. I consider the paid to be the icing on the cake, so yes, you can serve cake everyday, and it will probably be will be tasty.
And a few people will want to try it. But once you put the icing on the cake and make it all pretty which would be the advertising you’re really going to experience the true reach of Facebook and it drives an awful lot of traffic. It can get results. It can drive sales if done the right way, but you do need a strategy.
The keys to a successful social post
Miller: Now in studying how people respond to these social media posts, you’ve said in the past I know that any post with more than 20 retweets or 10 Facebook shares were predictable. What are common characteristics of those posts?
Fowler: Yeah, it’s really fairly easy to connect the dots between posts that are the most popular because they do, as you say, share common characteristics.
Probably the most important thing you can do when creating your social media is include visuals. A post with a photo, a gif, a video, some sort of graphic is about 75% more likely to be shared with someone else. That’s no coincidence. Literally, there’s so much going on and there’s so much noise in the social base, you have to bring attention to your post and the easiest most effective way to bring attention to your post is with a visual.
If half of your posts contain a visual that you have uploaded, then you’re in really good shape and you’re setting yourself up for success and that’s what it’s all about it’s like if you’re going to go into your social media – just set yourself up for success. To some degree, your messaging, your contents are going to have to be there, but there are certain basic practices you need to do.
Others, I’ll touch on quickly. On Twitter, you absolutely need to use hashtags ,and it may just be a hashtag with the name of your city. You don’t have to overthink your hash tags. I live in Chicago so if I’m posting content that has something to do with Chicago or has to do with the Chicago business I always put hashtag Chicago (#Chicago) because people all over the world are searching for content from your city.
If you have a Twitter profile as a business, you should have the hashtag and in your city name in your Twitter profile because people all over the world are going to be looking for interesting accounts to follow in your city – so hashtags are important.
Linking to outside content is very important, particularly if you wish to be a thought leader. You have to share content around the web that you find interesting. That’s how you’re an interesting dinner partner. I use the analogy that if you want interesting dinner conversation, you talk about things you’ve read and seen and find interesting. Same goes for social media.
And the fourth thing I will say that’s important in terms of best practices and associated with highly popular content are @-mentions. On Facebook you need to tag other pages. On Twitter you need to @-mention other users. All of those people will be instantly notified that you have tagged them in a post and will be much more inclined to share it with their friends and followers and that’s how your content gets organic reach.
Social media strategy starts with goal setting
Miller: Okay that’s good advice. A research AYTM research study and AYTM means “Ask Your Target Market.” This research firm found that only 25% of social media users were inclined to make a purchase on the platform. Then when business-to-business marketers were asked by Demand Metric, another research firm, on whether their return on investment was paying off, they had expressed disappointment. Only 30% saying that I was driving brand awareness and just 24% saying that it was generating leads.
Do you think these expectations for return on investment are misguided or maybe just sort of out of line?
Fowler: A lot of companies struggle with what’s the ROI which you referred to in your question. I’m a big believer that you can’t monetize what you don’t measure. I don’t think enough businesses, if I have to fault businesses on one thing, is I don’t think enough business owners go into social media after setting goals.
You have to have a realistic expectation of what you’re going to get out of social media and then go about measuring it the best way you can. Now in many cases you may just want brand awareness. Maybe you’re a new business or you’re looking to get people more familiar with what you do. There’s nothing better than social media for that and you don’t have to spend a dollar on it in terms of paid traffic.
Brand awareness for small business is valuable
Fowler: You can use social media to just make people aware of what you are offer, what you do and that obviously is harder to measure. That’s what I call a soft goal. What you want to do really is specify hard goals, and it may be that you want to drive traffic to your website. Or maybe you want people to sign up for a promotion. Or maybe you’re an e-commerce site and you actually want to drive sales.
Maybe you’re trying to promote an event, you know, you’re a nonprofit and you want to get people in the door for an open house.
Maybe you’re an individual, and you want to get a job. And you want to start using social media to promote the fact that you’re an expert in a particular field.
Maybe you’re a consultant and you want to create content that shows that you have a particular expertise in a field.
Whatever that is it is essential to really understand how social media is working for you.
Don’t complain about ROI before setting targets
Fowler: After setting those goals and after really putting thought into how you’re using social media and the proper platform you’re on – if you’re still not seeing the results, then I think you have every reason to complain about the ROI. But in too many cases people complain about the ROI, but they haven’t said goals to begin with, and it’s like, “Shame on you!” Don’t complain to me about not being sure what social media is doing for you because in most cases, you haven’t really specified at the outset what you want to get out of it.
First build awareness, then sales
Miller: It’s a hard thing to track in social media and people are looking for instant sales, but you’re not likely to get that right away.
Fowler: Well, most businesses have websites certainly and you need to have your website connected to Google Analytics. Google Analytics will tell you where your referral traffic is coming from. You can get Facebook in the ads account to generate a pixel. You can put the pixel on your website, then Facebook will tell you a lot about who is coming your website and maybe if people are coming your website and then they’re leaving or they’re not signing up or they’re not buying anything, then Facebook can “retarget” them with ads in other places. There are techniques you can use to really be savvy about how you’re using social media.
Of course, I’m biased in this because it’s my business and I feel like there’s a tremendous amount of potential if you’re willing to really get serious about it. If you kind of participate around the edges and you don’t have consistency or maybe you don’t have the resources to have a dedicated person working on it, you probably aren’t going to get results that knock your socks off. Let’s just be honest.
Being consistent and active matters
Fowler: You have to be out there all the time. Getting back to what we advise our subscribers, on Facebook, you need to be posting at least once a day and that includes weekends.
Choose a social media scheduling tool (like Sprout Social)
Fowler: Luckily there are scheduling tools out there and monitoring tools that you can that you can buy pretty inexpensively. I recently became an agency brand partner for Sprout Social. That’s the tool I use, and there are others. But I think Sprout is better for a few reasons which we could do another show on that if you want, but there are tools to allow you to create your post in one sitting and schedule one a day throughout the week. Then it becomes kind of a weekly task that you do that gets your name out there and takes advantage of all of the conversation going on in the social space. So once a day on Facebook.
Twitter requires you to be a lot more active. If you just posted once a day on Twitter, you probably would not get noticed. Twitter really requires you to post 5 or 6 times a day, but again with a scheduler until you can do that and it’s not all original content. Share and retweet other people’s content, you can comment, you can reply.
I’m also a big believer that you should thank every new follower who follows you. Again, with a tool like Sprout or others out there that’s very easily done in a matter of minutes. I set aside either the very beginning of the day or the very end of the day to go through and thank the people who followed me that day. Most accounts are not going to be overwhelmed with new followers. You should wish to have that problem of having hundreds of new people following you.
Think of social media tools as a business expense
Fowler: So yes to your original point that you have to be consistent, but you just make it a priority and then you seek out and get tools just like anything else you do in your business. If you keep your books you probably have software that helps you keep your books. If you do payroll, you probably have software that helps you do your payroll. You need software to help you do your social media because you’re not Superman or Superwoman.
Some people are able to pull it off by just going onto Facebook themselves and then logging into their Twitter account or maybe then logging into their Pinterest account or whatever. I salute you if you’ve made that work, but for the rest of the world, there are tools out there that you can use to make it a lot easier.
Social media is designed to be addictive
Miller: We can talk about this forever, but I wanted to get to a story I saw recently on “60 Minutes” where they talked about how every new feature that Facebook and others were rolling out are intentionally designed to make the use of social media more addictive and essential in our lives.
Do you see risks there that deserve our attention whether consumers or businesses?
Fowler: Well when you say risks, are you saying the risk of using social media can harm your business?
Miller: Well, I was talking about this as being addictive.
Fowler: Are you saying that at some point you know there are other things in life which are to be valued? Well, I do worry about people who spend so much time on Facebook. The latest statistics I’ve seen show the average person spends 50 minutes a day — 50.
That’s almost an hour of every day, and that’s average so there are people out there spending hours every day on Facebook. That’s crazy.
I’m on Facebook because it’s my job, but I’m not on it constantly. I might have the browser window open on my desktop, but I notice a lot of my friends are active on Facebook during the middle of the day now. Likewise they probably have the browser window open. Are they looking at a constantly? I can’t imagine because they all have busy jobs. A lot of them are in the news business or in, you know, related fields or in technology businesses that I know they have demands on their time and they’re in meetings and so forth. But that’s sad.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Facebook is doing things that constantly make you want to stay on the platform — and all of the notifications and all of that.
Part of your strategy should include a social media break
Fowler: I encourage my clients to take vacations from social media. I think you need to plan when you go on a vacation for real with your family. Take all the pictures you want, but upload them when you get back. Don’t constantly be on your Instagram. Don’t constantly be on your Facebook telling everybody what a great time you’re having. I encourage people to post when they’re going on vacation on all their social channels, “Hey, I’m taking a vacation. I’m going to be off the grid. See you when I return.” That way they know everything’s okay — or particularly if you’re one of these people who are on constantly, your friends may worry about if you don’t hear from you. Instead, just announce, “Hey I’m going to get away from my phone” and you’ll come back a renewed person.
There is nothing like unplugging like that and enjoying the time away from social media because it is demanding and is particularly demanding if you’re wasting time and if you’re not strategic about it and you’re just kind of hanging out and using it.
Make global connections
Fowler: I do worry that there are aspects of it that are unhealthy, but by the same token I love social media because it’s connected the whole world in a way that it was not connected before. I get the biggest kick out of getting followers like in London. A lot of people in the UK are into social media, and I have several followers there — people that I correspond with and in other parts of the world. It’s a very cool to think the world is really united and that’s really Facebook’s goal is to connect the whole world and they’re pretty close to doing so. They’re still not allowed in China but who knows? Maybe that will change one day.
Facebook is up to almost 2 billion people already. And that’s the original point. I know Greg you have a business audience and business owners listening to this podcast, you can’t ignore the reach of Facebook and the rest of social media, but particularly Facebook. You owe it to yourself to think about how you can take advantage of that very powerful platform.
Miller: Well, Carol, you’ve been most insightful and interesting to talk to. Thanks for being with me today.
Fowler: It’s been great to be on the show and like I said, social media is what I do and I work with a lot of people to help them get the most out of it. It’s really a pleasure.
Miller: If you would like to talk with Carol Fowler about how to get more out of your efforts in social media she can be reached at TheSocReports.com.
Summary of steps for creating a small business social media strategy
Miller: Her message is worth noting. For participation in social media to pay off, you need a strategy that includes:
- Specific goals
- Content worth following
- Someone or a staff dedicated to the task
- Scheduling tool to help you meet publishing demands
Then, by measuring activity on your website and in social media you’ll be able to determine whether your investment is paying off.
Thanks for listening to “What Works for Biz.”
If you have an interesting business, you would like to share on the program, contact me, Greg Miller on my website at WhatWorksForBiz.com.
TheSocReports believes social media isn’t an art. It’s science. Like a meteorologist tracks the weather, we monitor trends and data in social media. TheSocReports analyzes performance and metrics, compares users to their defined competitors, provides tips, education and suggestions based on activity and inspiration. TheSocReports empowers customers through a blend of personal training and data science to help them succeed in social media by seeing what they’re doing and eliminate the risk of a marginal online presence.