Social Media and the Small Business

Social media can make all the difference for a small business and yet for the majority of small business owners I’ve spoken to it is simply another frustrating stressor.

As a business owner you need to be focused on what you know will get you that a return on investment. You barely have time to eat lunch let alone to figure out how to optimize (whatever that means) your LinkedIn Page or whether you should be on Instagram.

You keep telling yourself that you’ll figure out social media once you grow a bit bigger. But let’s be honest, we both know that once you grow bigger you’ll have a whole new set of concerns around ROI and once again, social media marketing will not make the cut.

It’s the small business owner’s dilemma: you know you need to invest in social media but every minute you invest in trying to set up your unproven social media strategy, is time away from tried and true activities that you know will net a given ROI.

Moreover, getting that ROI from social media is much more difficult than it was a few years ago. In the age of the algorithm and content saturation it’s no longer enough for you to simply have a LinkedIn Page, Facebook Profile or Twitter handle. To really see ROI you need to be in the right place at the right time serving up the right content for the right audience.

This typically leads to a business owner hitting a total breaking point and making one of the following very un-strategic decisions:

  1. Delegation: ask your most millennial-looking employee to get your company on social media then get irritated 6 months later when they leave and you realize you don’t know any of the passwords.
  2. Throw money at it: Invest in a service that the sales person swears will fix all of your problems by means of an intricate proprietary algorithm powered by flying blue monkeys (you have a suspicion that you got that last part wrong but it was only $29.99 a month and surely it must do something helpful)
  3. Avoidance: Forget social media. Just forget it. There’s no time. It’s all too much. We’ll figure it out later.

What these 3 points have in common is a desire on the part of the small business owner to solve what they feel is a problem without educating themselves as to the actual nature of the problem. But I get why this occurs. Social media feels overwhelming and when you already have a full plate as a business owner it seems impossible.

The problem is that for social media to actually benefit your business, you need to be directly involved in the strategy at least in the beginning. Social media allows you to communicate to your customers and potential customers. It’s a way for your build up a community that you can tap into throughout your sales cycle. The right social strategy can provide a much needed cushion when you experience dips in sales. But that can only occur if you set up your strategy to do that ahead of time. And that takes your commitment to work with a trained professional who can provide the following solutions for you:

  • Education as to how your business goals could benefit from social media investment. Every business is different and you need to know what’s attainable and what’s not.
  • Realistic assessment of needed investment based on the goals you want to set (some industries are harder than others!)
  • Setting clear performance indicators pegged to your ROI goals that you can monitor to know how you’re doing at any given time.
  • Creation of social media plug and play process that you and your employees understand and can follow.

As the daughter of a small business owner I know all too well the sheer enormity of this task. So here’s the thing, if you’re not in a place where you can invest some upfront resources (your time and money) in a strategy then make the ROI- motivated decision to stay off of social media. BUT, so that you’re not going back into avoidance, create a calendar reminder with a link to this blog post for next quarter when you’re going to do a ROI-motivated reassessment of that decision.

With the right strategy social media CAN be a game changer for your small business. 

Personal Branding- Your Insurance Policy When Life Gets Tough

I stood in front of my students a few weeks ago to talk to them about creating their personal brand strategy. This is a semester-long project I’m having them do. It was a bit emotional for me given that just a few days previously my full time position had been downgraded to contractor work and I’ve found myself suddenly in the position of turning back to my personal brand to get me to the next step in my life.

It’s made me reflect on how it all began…

We talk a lot about personal branding in the marketing world. Some people really dig the opportunity to talk about how great they are but that’s never been my thing. I’m most comfortable being the geek behind the scenes who makes it all come together. I love empowering others and building communities. I don’t relish the spotlight.

BUT it is no longer enough to send in a resume and hope someone will notice. That’s particularly the case with my background. I’m not the person with a marketing degree and 6-8 years experience working with brands and agencies. I’m the grad student who spent time in Belgrade talking with nationalists to understand what made them tick. I’m the girl passionate about understanding why communities come together and what internal psychology fuels that sense of group identity.

And I’m the PhD student who stumbled into social strategy by accidentally leading a grass-roots revolution at the University of Virginia to reinstate their first female president.

My first job in social strategy was at UVA while still a grad student because they figured it was better to bring me into the process rather than have me outside at the gates. That ended up being my out once my advisors made it clear that my research on public opinion and social media just wasn’t going to be supported (that was 2012… have a feeling they’d be singing a different tune now)

January 2013 I knew that I needed to leave and get into the private sector if I wanted to continue to follow my passion of harnessing social analytics to understand how individuals participate in communities. So that’s when I started my blog, ramped up my Twitter and Linkedin accounts and got rolling.

That’s how my personal brand was born. Out of crisis and out of necessity.

It was this that I worked to communicate to my students, particularly those currently working or leading start-ups. Your personal brand should be something that you can use in your job BUT it should be more than your job. It’s your opportunity to think about what makes you YOU. What makes you unique?

I broke them into groups and it was probably a class more akin to psychology than marketing as they talked with each other about who they are as a person and then shared that to the class. We learned that one student is a single mom another a veteran. One guy spoke up with a lopsided grin and said that there was nothing that made him unique and that he was in fact rather stupid and easily distracted but he said it in a way that made the whole class laugh. We encouraged him to run with that- and by the end of the class he had begun to think about how he could actually leverage that bit of him into a full strategy.

That’s what personal branding should be. It’s not about the humble brag. It’s about introducing yourself and entering different communities to share your story and engage with theirs. As humans we want to build relationships and we want to help each other. Creating a personal brand allows that human attribute to translate online. It’s why we embrace each other when we meet IRL. We know each other and are rooting for each other. That’s the power of the personal brand.

I’m Suzie. I’m the girl with the red hair. I’m quirky and caring. I am at my best when I’m building and creating new opportunities for engagement. I work to translate this passion and personality online through my blogs, engagement in groups, and participation in conversations. It’s honestly who I am.

I’m Suzie. I’m a kick-ass strategist and I’m on the market. Tweet, DM, InMail me- let’s talk.

Here’s Why Your Facebook Strategy Is Obsolete

Facebook’s goal is to make it impossible for brands to not include paid posts in their content strategy. That’s not breaking news. You would have had to be living under a rock not to notice this trend with their two algorithm updates last year. Many strategists, including myself, have written posts on how to update strategy to combat this. In general the advice has been to increase the number of posts as well as the confusing debate over whether it’s better to post photo memes or links to photos. The overall message is to keep doing what you’ve been doing as long as you incorporate several additional tips and tricks.

No more.

According to a report released this week by Simply Measured, the top 10 Brands on Facebook are seeing their total monthly engagement fall by 40% since last year despite increasing their posts by 20.1% during the same period. This image taken from the SimplyMeasured report says it all:

credit: SimplyMeasured

credit: simplymeasured

Let’s think about what this means.

Accordingly to SimplyMeasured, these top 10 brands have a collective audience of almost 358 million. The list includes some of the social media superstar brands:

  • Disney
  • MTV*
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Starbucks
  • Harley-Davidson*
  • Intel
  • BMW
  • Ferrari
  • Tiffany & Co.
  • Audi USA

All of these brands have dedicated social media teams and spend millions of dollars in campaigns.

Moreover, all have received accolades at various times for their work in social media. In March of this year, Mercedes-Benz received the AM 2014 award for Best Social Media Campaign. Starbucks and Disney are consistently touted as cutting edge in social media adoption and Intel, as always, leads the way on employee advocacy via social. MTV and Harley-Davidson are outliers in these results as their level of engagement increased over the past year. Although when the report focused on per-post engagement MTV joined the rest of the brands with a significant drop (38.05%) For such  social media juggernaut that’s a huge number.

The fact that the results are so uniform (with the exception of Harley-Davidson) tells us that this is more than a blip. Something on the foundational level has shifted and we need to call every one of our assumptions about Facebook Strategy into question.

In many ways this shouldn’t be too surprising. Facebook strategy has always been simpler to craft than Twitter and it’s been around far longer than Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine. So a lot of the discussion out there centers on best practices such as when to post rather than an underlying discussion of the nature of the social network. The focus has been on content rather than interaction. The prettier the better. That’s one reason 4 of the 10 brands are automotive companies.

But thanks to the algorithm changes no matter how pretty your content brand page reach for unprompted posts is now often under 3% according to a report last December by Ignite Social Media Agency.

It’s time for a reboot. We need to start thinking about Facebook in terms of a social network as opposed to a broadcasting platform.

Facebook was built around individual interaction and as much as they punish brands for posting content, when an individual posts or shares a page’s content the game changes. According to a Stanford Study published last year, on average 35% of your Facebook Friends see your posts. Of course debate immediately ensued over these results and I have no desire to open it here. Simply consider this- the number of people who see posts when they come from an individual is dramatically higher than when a Brand’s Page posts it.

There are additional benefits to tapping into the social network side of Facebook. A recent report from Kentico found that “69% of the consumers surveyed say a company’s educational information is more credible when discovered through a friend or family member”. So by building relationships with customers and encouraging them to share content from your Facebook Page a brand not only gains exponential increase in reach, it also knows that that content has a higher degree of credibility.

Bottomline: The changes to Facebook’s algorithm necessitates a fundamental reboot of Brand Page Strategy. As strategists we must move strategy away from using Pages to broadcast content and instead use them to build relationships with the audience, encouraging them to share and interact with the content.

The MASN AT&T Fan Photo Flop or How NOT to Run a Social Media Campaign

Social media has revolutionized the broadcast media industry. In the current age of DVR and Instawatch subscriptions, it allows shows to provide incentives to their fans to watch in realtime. It gives them the opportunity to use the energy of “super fans” as champions of the show. Bravo famously started the model but it’s spreading across the industry. In 2013 for the first time Nielson included social rankings in their end of the year top telecasts lists. Capitalizing on your viewership via social media is absolutely the way forward and every network is scrambling to figure out how to get a piece of this incredibly valuable pie. There are all sorts of opportunities for sponsors to get involved as well. And it’s not like it’s that difficult- at this point the trail has been pretty clearly blazed.

This is why I am so incredibly frustrated by the current “AT&T Fan Photo” flop on MASN.

Like many in the DC, Maryland, Virginia region, I’m a major fan of the Washington Nationals. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, or MASN as it’s commonly known is the official provider of TV coverage. The Nationals have a pretty active fan base on twitter and have done a fairly good job capitalizing on it over the years. MASN, on the other hand, has left it pretty much to their anchors prerogative. Their color commentator, FP Santangelo is a constant presence on twitter, interacting with fans and in particular the numerous parody accounts such as Jayson Werth’s Beard (don’t ask…). But I’ve always felt that they could be doing way more.

So this year when the introduced the “AT&T Fan Photo” feature the strategist in me got a bit excited. It’s fairly simple— fans are encouraged to tweet in a photo of themselves using #masnNationals for the chance to get it shown during the live broadcast. Definitely not an original or even that exciting feature, BUT, at least seemed to demonstrate that they were adding some social components to their overall strategy. And, I thought, it’s probably a good idea to start off with a super simple well trodden approach- I mean it’s not like they can screw up fans sending in photos.

Boy was I wrong. It’s absolutely ridiculous how badly they’ve missed the mark on this.

In the second half of the game the photo gets displayed on the screen with the AT&T logo above it. But it’s just a photo- there’s no caption to it. AND the announcers aren’t given any background on the photo- like zilch, nada. So each and every time there’s an awkward pause while they try to think of something interesting to say about it. Also the photos aren’t even that great. Nats fans are often decked out in their gear and the photos are across twitter to prove it, yet somehow MASN manages to get the most boring photos. Last night hit a new low- which is why I finally decided to put together this post. The photo was of a couple sitting in their backyard and one of them had a nats hat on. THAT WAS IT! And to make it worse- the commentators made poked a bit of fun at them- not in a nasty way but I know that if I were those fans I probably wouldn’t be tweeting in my photo anytime soon.

So the realtime featuring of the photo is clearly a flop. But certainly they must be taking advantage of this content on their social media streams and website right?

Wrong. They don’t even tweet it out on their official account. And looking through the website I couldn’t find any mention of the contest. This Fan was really excited about having her photo up but she had to resort to taking a photo of her TV screen to tweet it out! And MASN didn’t even RT her tweet!
Screenshot 2014-04-25 12.50.23

If I were AT&T I would be royally pissed off at the way this social strategy- if you can call it that- has crashed and burned.

MASN has a great opportunity to interact with fans- and they’re getting paid for it! Yet apparently they can’t be bothered.

Here’s what they should be doing- and I can’t believe I even have to write this list:

  • Up the quality of the photos- say you’re looking for the biggest fan of the game and give a wacky photo like the one below as an example:

Screenshot 2014-04-25 12.10.54

  • Tweet out the photo from the @masnNationals account, feature it on the Facebook Page , and (duh) the Instagram Account
  • Put the photos up somewhere easily accessible on the website. It’s a surefire way to increase the web traffic to the MASN site since, if you’re a diehard fan, you’re sure to send the link to everyone you know that you’re up on the site! Think of how crazy fans go when they’re on camera at the park.

Yes I realize that I’ve spent an entire post ranting about one regional sports network. But I have a feeling that MASN is not the only broadcaster attempting to get in on the social media side of TV and totally missing the mark. The frustrating thing to me in this case is that it would take so very little for them to turn this into a decent campaign. All they needed was to invest a bit of time in talking with a social strategist and planning out the execution.