According to a recent report conducted by Pitney Bowes, in their SMB Owners Report May 2011, 68% of respondents are choosing email marketing as a new advertising tactic and 54% say they are choosing social media. In fact, 76% of small businesses responded by saying the ideal marketing mix is a combination of traditional media and digital communications. One of the main reasons for the shift is the inexpensive entry to market through these digital channels.
Small businesses are always looking for inexpensive, yet effective ways to market their products and services. Usually, they can not compete with the large national chains or mega brands that can afford to saturate the market with huge marketing campaigns. It is critical for small business to get creative and find less expensive ways to get their message to the public. Factor in a shaky economy that has not rebounded like many expected by the middle of 2011 and it is more important than ever for small businesses to leverage digital channels to promote their business. It can be significantly less expensive to develop a mass email campaign compared to dropping a physical mailer or flyer to the same number of recipients. With technology today you can create robust graphics and aesthetically pleasing emails at little to no cost.
Social Media channels like Facebook and Twitter are another inexpensive way to reach a massive audience. It is free to set up the channels themselves, and while I do not pretend to think they can be managed effectively for free (I would recommend a social media expert managing any small business’ social media presence) it is still much less expensive than traditional forms of media. Facebook has approximately 700 million users now and you can target by age, location, and interests when marketing to those millions of people. Twitter is an excellent tool for customer loyalty programs and can really help small businesses increase their customer base through “digital” word of mouth advertising. If you have a Twitter account and you haven’t tweeted out a coupon deal or special discount to all your Twitter followers, you are missing a great opportunity to make a strong move in creating new business.
The numbers don’t lie and the statistics are eye opening. Small businesses are using digital communications to supplement (and sometimes replace) their traditional advertising programs in larger numbers. The reasons are simple…digital media is now a proven advertising platform and inexpensive compared to traditional media.
According to a study conducted by Webs, and reported in a recent Media Post blog, “Currently 69% of small business owners surveyed by Webs are using social media — including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogs — at their companies; another 13% said they plan to begin using social media in the next three months. In terms of specific platforms, Facebook was the clear leader with 68% of small business owners saying it is the social media tool they use most for their businesses.” These are encouraging figures for marketers who have been promoting the usage of social media sites as an effective way to promote products and services.
On the flip side of these numbers lay the real challenge small business owners face with social media marketing. How do you effectively manage these social media channels to get the most out of your advertising dollar? Unfortunately, the study also uncovered that “Of the small business owners surveyed by Webs, 59% said social media has “not met” or only “slightly met” their expectations as a marketing tool, and 43% said they currently allocate 10% or less of their marketing budgets to social media.” How to bridge the gap between channel presence and channel success is the key for all businesses leveraging social media as a means to promote their brand, specific product, or services. The study has encouraging statistics that illustrate businesses both large and small see the need for a presence in social media. However, just like a company website or even a physical store, the iconic “If you build it, they will come” does not apply.
If you want to be successful in leveraging these social media channels, which by the way have captive audiences in the multi-millions, you need to plan out a specific strategy. Here are just a few things to consider before jumping head first and opening company pages or accounts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for example:
I am simplifying the process here, but only to illustrate why it’s not a surprise 59% of small business owners feel social media marketing has “not met” or only “slightly met” their expectations. You can not expect success without a plan of action and too many small business owners, as evidenced by the aforementioned study, are willing to use social media, but have no strategy to make it work. It’s all in the planning once you make a business decision to branch out into new markets or new marketing channels. Be prepared to take action once you create that social media presence and you will find success tapping into the 600+ million people who use social media channels in their every day lives and who fit your customer demographic.
As companies evolve in their ability to analyze web traffic, it is becoming increasingly important to branch out to as many areas as possible to reach customers. Understanding how different sources of traffic interact with your website is equally significant in where you allocate your time and resources. Simply looking at bottom line traffic volume from various sources of traffic in Google Analytics (GA) is not enough. Numbers don’t lie, but they don’t always paint the most accurate picture either. Just because someone visited your site from an organic search, doesn’t rule out that they were influenced to visit your site from another channel.
A perfect example of this scenario lies in how social media impacts direct web traffic. In a recent study conducted by ForeSee, http://www.foreseeresults.com/news-events/press-releases/social-media-low-impact-on-web-traffic-2011-foresee.shtml it was concluded that “Less than 1% of website visits, on average, come directly from a social media URL. This finding suggests that the direct impact of social media is minimal, but also that the true value of social media cannot be quantified only by examining the traffic coming directly from a social media URL.” In simple terms, if you have a presence in social media, you probably do not see much traffic in your GA data related to social media traffic sources. Does this mean you should abandon your efforts to build your social media presence? Absolutely not, considering that 18% of website visitors acknowledge being influenced by social media to visit the site, according to the ForeSee report findings. That is a significant gap in the numbers, but does not indicate any sort of disconnect with visitors. In fact, it is closely in line with how people use social media – they are there for social interaction but can still be influenced by companies with solid social media marketing strategies. When it is time for those visitors to find a company, their previous exposure to your company in social media influences their decision to visit your site. They may do a search on Google to find you, and in the raw GA data Google organic gets credit for the site visit, but it was your social media presence that truly drove that visitor to your site.
Where it gets real interesting is how visitors influenced by social media interact with a website. According to the ForeSee report, visitors to websites influenced by social media are more loyal and satisfied customers, and they spend more than visitors who were not influenced by social media. When you factor this knowledge into the 1% statistic mentioned in the research, 1% becomes a more meaningful number.
The value of website visitors varies between sources of traffic. Establishing a presence across all aspects of the web provides companies the ability to reach out to all types of visitors. It is important to understand the symbiotic relationship between the different sources of traffic to your website. Keep that in mind the next time you are reviewing traffic sources and matching that up to your external web presence. Overall visits from your social media channels are most likely lower than other sources of traffic, but can be greater in terms of value to your bottom line.