Guide to Social Media Marketing For Startups & Small Businesses – Part I

Which social media platform is right for you?

This blog post is part of a series focusing on emerging brands, startups and small businesses that are just beginning their marketing/PR efforts. 

How are we defining a small business? Although the Small Business Administration typically defines a small business as less than 500 employees, this series focuses on businesses that are even smaller than that.

Photo by Mike Petrucci
Photo by Mike Petrucci

 

By now, social media is so ubiquitous that it feels like an everyday part of one’s life, no different than email (which, umm, why has no one disrupted this yet??). Yet the majority of small businesses (or even Small to Medium Business – SMBs) still lack basic social media strategy, with some lacking even a presence.

This series will focus on which social media platforms are optimal for a small business brand. This is NOT for social media advertising (which will come later) but for organic marketing on social media. We’ll discuss content, advertising and integration in later blog posts.

This particular series will focus on U.S.-based small businesses/startups that caters to consumers (not B2B), and that don’t have the budget to hire folks like us. They’ll have to start scrappy and do it for themselves.

With all of that out of the way, which social media platforms should a brand new small business catering to consumers focus on? Given that the small brand will have to DIY their social media marketing, and resources are extremely tight, only one or two platforms can be tackled for optimal ROI.

 

Photo by William Iven
Photo by William Iven

Facebook 

Facebook is still the #1 platform in the U.S. and will likely remain at that top spot for a while. There are few businesses and brands that Facebook doesn’t make sense for. However, Facebook is now pay-to-play (gotta justify that stock price!) so if you aren’t routinely “boosting” posts, then you’re SOL. Even spending $5 on one post per month will see your engagement skyrocket, compared to not spending any money at all. Does this suck for brands with extremely limited budgets? Absolutely. But we all knew that the free ride wouldn’t last, especially when Facebook went public.

While $5 for, say, a weekly post won’t break any budgets, it can add up. Unfortunately, depending on organic reach is a thing of the past. How can a small business get around having to pay-to-play? Hashtags have become as critical to audience growth on Facebook as it has on Twitter and Instagram. So #hashtag the #shiz out of that #ish (<–don’t actually do that – that’s really dumb). Another way to grow an audience is to tag/mention other pages.

But ultimately, content is still king. Videos can still “go viral” without plugging in your credit card number. And sometimes, a brand can just get plain lucky. Look at the Kohl’s Chewbacca mom video for proof of that. Treat your customers well and you might be surprised how they will reward your brand on social media.

 

Photo courtesy of FreeStocks.org
Photo courtesy of FreeStocks.org

Twitter

For many B2C brands, Twitter will be as important as Facebook. We have found Twitter to be the best platform for local brick & mortar businesses, in particular. The best businesses that thrive on Twitter are still ones like Kogi taco truck (the brand that revolutionized local social marketing on Twitter), that can tweet out a location, or a special deal, for customers who might be wandering nearby.

Be warned, however. Twitter has become a customer service platform, with customers routinely tweeting complaints to brands. B2C brands in particular bear the brunt of Twitter complaints. If you don’t have a way to address customer service complaints on Twitter, you’ll be digging yourself a hole that will be difficult to crawl out of. Even before you set up your Twitter page (or Facebook, for that matter), make sure you have customer service response plan in place. Whether it’s merely responding to a tweet with an email address to contact, or actually addressing issues directly, have a plan and don’t be caught unaware. Unlike Facebook, you can’t delete or hide criticisms on Twitter. It’s the most transparent of platforms.

 

Photo courtesy of Toronto Eaters
Photo courtesy of Toronto Eaters

Instagram

If you have even a somewhat visually appealing store or product, then Instagram is your best option. The engagement on Instagram is significantly higher than any of the other platforms; however, that doesn’t mean it translates into sales. If you’re suddenly rewarded with hundreds of likes for your photo, don’t get *too* excited. Instagram is not great at driving sales or traffic, primarily because it doesn’t easily allow for links. But what it’s great for is showcasing your brand in a visually compelling way.

The businesses that it’s particular great for: Consumer products, especially fashion brands; entertainment brands; stores such as bookstores and consumer goods; travel and luxury brands; restaurants/food brands.

Because so many Instagram users will take photos of your business, it’s important to acknowledge them (favoriting/liking their photo, via the heart icon, is a good start), and then engage and occasionally reward them (we’ll talk about engagement and rewards later).

When regramming a user’s photo/video, be sure to tag them and credit them (better yet, ask for permission first. Most users are more than happy to see their photos be picked up).

There are so many ways to be creative on Instagram. Leverage the layout, for instance, with a photo collage. Use the video function to drive traffic outside of the app, etc. It’s one of the best marketing platforms for any brand that can take a simple photo.

We’ll discuss the other social media platforms in part II of our series. Check back on bethechangepr.com/news. Hit us up on Facebook or Twitter as well. 

5 Ways PR is Easier Than Ever For Small Business

Small businesses like our favorite neighborhood bookstore, The Green Arcade, have more PR opportunities than ever before
Small businesses like our favorite neighborhood bookstore, The Green Arcade, have more PR opportunities than ever before. Photo: Change Communications

We PR pros like to kvetch about how media relations has become infinitely more difficult, thanks to the digital age (and it really has, given that the ratio of PR pros to journalists sometimes feels like 1,000 to 5 – no, really, it’s bad). But for small business brands and SMBs, digital media has ushered in a significantly easier PR landscape. Now, more than ever, PR has gotten easier, cheaper and more effective, for small businesses to leverage.

No More Gatekeepers                          

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You don’t need to spend big bucks to wine and dine media, or even try to figure out how to get a hold of them. Now, anyone who discovers you can spread the word about you. Brand ambassadors abound, and are more than eager to share how great your business is. Media used to be the gatekeepers to the precious social currency of knowing what the hot new businesses were. In today’s world, social media has broken down those exclusive gates and anyone can discover you and share the good news.

Free Crowdsourcing Makes You Better
Online critics make it imperative for your product to be great  – this is a good thing! While many businesses complain about companies like TripAdvisor or Yelp (and many of the criticisms are very valid), the silver lining is that online reviews can force businesses to just plain be better. Doing business better and creating better products (whether that’s a physical product or a service) can turn haters into fans. Bonus: you have free, built-in crowdsourcing and virtual survey results! You no longer need to pay a market research firm to do this for you – just read your

online reviews and see where the pain points are.

Can’t Get the Media’s Attention? Write it Yourself

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Content marketing has always existed in PR – it’s just been christened with an annoying new term. If you can’t get a reporter to tell your story for you, do it for yourself. Blog posts and social media postings can help you explain your business, tell a great story and are often an easier way to get a reporter’s attention. Creativity is your currency and clever viral posts or memes can have a life of their own that draw even more attention.

Who Needs Billboards When You Have Facebook?

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While it’s true that you have to have a certain ad budget for social media, which no longer offers brands a free ride, you don’t need to break the bank anymore like you used to when you had to take out television or bus stop ads or billboards. You can spend as little as $100 on a Facebook promotion and get it amplified. Our client, Tiger Pistol, has seen small businesses generate massive ROI on budgets under $500 for entire campaigns (this handy dandy report from BIA/Kelsey that uses small biz case studies from Tiger Pistol is worth a read). Plus, you get access to insightful data on your customers that you wouldn’t get from a magazine ad. Analytics still have a long way to go to compete with SEO analytics but it’s improving.

Social media has created options on the ad spend front. Google AdWords is incredibly costly, though certainly still very effective for many businesses. Social media advertising has emerged as an equally effective, and less expensive, option.

Proliferation of PR Means Lower Costs

PR costs have gotten less expensive as the industry saturates. While this isn’t necessarily a good thing for firms like ours, it definitely helps small businesses reach out to more people who can help them market their brand. From solo freelancers to boutique shops to specialists, there’s a plethora of affordable PR options for small businesses.

While social media is no longer the level playing field for brands that some thought it might be (given that it’s the new advertising), digital media has created many more affordable options for small businesses to better market themselves and generate great PR. There’s no excuse anymore. Go do it.

Don’t want to do it for yourself? We’re here to help, and we love small businesses. Contact us today.

 

 

How Social Media Became the New Advertising

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By now, we all know the mythic origin story of how Facebook started out as a platform for college students to scope out who was hot in their PolySci class. It has since exploded into a massive brand-saturated network with more users than many small countries. What used to be a way to keep in touch with your friends has now become the biggest advertising platform in the world. Instead of being bombarded by what your cousin’s boyfriend’s sister ate for lunch, now you’ve got every brand big and small clogging up your newsfeed. With branded videos, sponsored posts and any kind of meme imaginable, brands are the new Facebook, and social media is the new advertising.

Issues of user experience aside, it also now means that Facebook and its ilk (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) are no longer interested in providing a free ride to brands. Regardless of your size – whether you’re Coca-Cola or a mom-and-pop corner liquor store – you’ve got to pay-to-play. Social media is no longer free, and the easiest way to break through the noise is to plunk down advertising dollars.

Even if you’re only “boosting” your post (Facebook’s new euphemism for advertising) for $5, you’ll see a major difference in reach. Without the boost, a page with 230 likes can see their post viewed by 9 people. With the $5 boost, the numbers climb to 100 (source: our experiment). That’s small potatoes to a big brand but it makes a big difference to a small business, the kind that were initially wowed by Facebook’s reach.

No longer the venue to level the playing field, social media has become the digital age’s equivalent of a freeway billboard. Get those dollars ready.

Social Media Marketing Beyond Facebook

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If this image is all too familiar to you as a brand marketer, it’s because Facebook has finally killed organic reach and the “free ride” is over for brands. This has been occurring for the past year so it should come as no surprise to anyone managing a Facebook page.

Originally, as businesses posted on their page, people who “liked” the page would get the business’ posts on their feed. This was organic, and companies had to get people to like them so that these users could see their post. Now, according to this Business Insider article, “the ad agency Ogilvy was reporting as far back as February of 2014 that only about 2% of users were seeing companies’ Facebook posts.” Essentially, Facebook has taken out what was organic about their site for businesses, and turned it into a money making machine. Like any advertising tactic, Facebook ads do well for some brands but not for others (Noah Kagan has an excellent, comprehensive post on how his Facebook ads have performed).

That’s why it’s critical to look toward other social media services to market your business, so that you’re not completely dependent on Facebook and its whims (this goes for any platform). Forbes recently published “Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2015” and it predicts that Twitter’s new business advertising model will increase in popularity, Instagram will become essential for image-based social media marketing and social media marketing will finally be embraced as a core pillar of content marketing.

While Facebook once hooked its users (and still does), many younger users are beginning to move away from Facebook and turn to other social media platforms: Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, even Ello have emerged to steal away the hearts and minds (and ad dollars) of youths.

With new platforms come new concerns, but sometimes, being the first to market on a platform can push sales. Universal Pictures stated that millions of people viewed their first Snapchat ad for the film “Ouija” and FOX released a 6-second “tweaser” on Vine for “Wolverine.” Both engagements were successful for the films in reaching a younger (under-25) demographic.

Ultimately, brands and marketers need to stay on the forefront of what their audience do on their free time. Fads come and go, so brands need to keep up and play along with them by being present on many platforms and open to new opportunities. In doing so, if one rises or falls, your business will thank you for not only being on Facebook.

By Brian Liberman

 

 

PR Winner of the Week: Eat24

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Ever since food delivery site Eat24 posted their hilarious Dear John letter to Facebook, marketers have been waiting for the site to come crawling back to reinsert food photos in between baby pics and your high school frenemy’s mom’s status updates. But that’s not happening just yet. Eat24 recently posted another witty post about life post-Facebook, and it all seems to be just fine.

What those people who are weirdly furious about Eat24’s shunning of Facebook don’t seem to grasp is that Eat24 has not, and is not, suggesting that all brands leave Facebook. They’re just saying that their $1m strategy didn’t work for them. Marketers like to post comments in articles about Eat24 that it must be because their strategy was flawed. They cannot seem to understand that Facebook advertising simply does not work for every brand. We’ve seen that firsthand ourselves. Yes, it takes time. A lot of time. And yes, it takes money. Now it takes a whole lot more money. But the whole point of Eat24’s anti-Facebook strategy is that it’s not the right platform for them, and it’s not the right spend of that money that they clearly have. And that’s totally okay. Relax, marketers, this isn’t indicative of any larger trend and you’ll still get to bill your clients for your strategic Facebookery.

While we’ll still argue that Facebook continues to remain the top platform to reach the biggest audience, it’s not for every brand. The changes to the “algorithm” and the way that fans can now see (or not see, as it were) brand pages means that strategies have to change, and those new strategies might not include this particular platform. Instead of decrying Eat24’s marketers as “not strategic enough,” they should be praised for recognizing, via their own data, that their Facebook strategy is simply not the best fit for them and exploring other ways to engage their customers.

Facebook is clearly not going anywhere. Brand advertisement spends will likely increase due to Facebook’s changes. The big, major brands will keep spending and the upstarts and emerging brands like Eat24 will explore other options. Even if Eat24 does come crawling back to Facebook, it doesn’t mean that their experiment shouldn’t be lauded. They’ve got lots of people talking and their business seems a-ok. They’re disrupting the marketing status quo by going against the top advertising platform without making any absurd proclamations. Their blog posts are funny, never defensive or offensive, in line with their brand identity and engaging their users. And that’s how you do PR right.

 

 

Don’t Be Fooled by the YouTube Views

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In an industry based solely on getting a message out to people, new technology has turned the PR world upside down and which way out. With the ever-growing social media presence in PR, things are not as simple as they once were, and we’re not just talking about the increased use of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram among PR professionals and brands themselves.

Unlike the advertising business, where attention is bought, PR is the act of getting earned media attention, but the “earned” part is suddenly not so black and white. If you see a Youtube video with thousands of views, you would immediately think that this video is getting attention for a reason. Maybe it’s awesome, maybe it’s hilarious, maybe it has cats, or maybe someone paid for view counts.

Indeed, places like Swenzy and GigaViews allow people to buy YouTube viewers, instantly boosting their videos. Other popular sites to do so include socialsbox.com and viewsaccelerator.com. The same can be said for Instagram. With the use of Instaliker, LikeBooster and +Like, Instagram users can simply buy both followers and likes, which boosts their pictures and in turn, their credibility. It’s time for the general public to recognize all the tricks and shortcuts that are going on.

In an industry that is supposed to help individuals, causes and companies gain attention, is this unethical? Is boosting your viewership through money turning PR into nothing more than another form of advertising? Many have argued that buying up video views or followers is deceitful and unethical. PR is supposed to be strategic and tactical, but these services that allow people to buy attention could become a detriment to the industry.

Despite the many legitimate critics and the many bad PR professionals who saddle the profession with a negative reputation, PR is supposed to be authentic and truthful (don’t laugh, we really believe this). However, one could also argue that it’s no longer about having great content when no one can view it in the first place without paying to play. With Facebook charging brands for posts to be seen by their fans, and YouTube being nearly impossible to grow organically (without the addition of cats, of course), someone has to game an already gamed system.

So don’t look at a video’s view count or an Instagram account’s astronomical number of followers, look at engagement and how many people are sharing that content, and how many people are talking about it. Nowadays, that seems to be the only true barometer of “viral” success.

By Jacquelyn Matter

The End of Facebook’s Free Brand Ride

On the heels of Eat24’s awesome blog post decrying Facebook’s latest changes to brand pages and the end of the free brand page ride, many brands are wondering just how much they’ll have to pony up to get their posts served to their audience.

While Facebook hasn’t exactly been free for a long time for most major brands, small businesses and startups are obviously the most affected by the death of the organic reach. Brands will have to add an amount that could be anywhere from $10 to $1,000 a day just for their posts to be seen, let alone liked or shared. So much for Facebook leveling the playing field.

Does this mean that brands will take Eat24’s cue and flee what has become the most cost-effective brand advertising platform? Not yet. Frankly, there really isn’t a better alternative to the flexibility and reach that Facebook offers. While Twitter looks to be the frontrunner, their ad effectiveness is still unproven (and we’ve used it with diminishing esults). Snapchat is too nascent, Vine is too quirky, Pinterest too limited in demographic targets. Until the new Facebook comes along, the MySpace killers will continue to call the shots, and we’ll all have to open our wallets for the pleasure of Facebook’s company.

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