I confess that I was not initially going to include social media in this series about using data to better market your business, but you voted it in. For many businesses, particularly small ones, social media is often the first and perhaps only marketing tactic used. It makes sense – no cost to set up and already familiar to many. After two years running my business and business social accounts, I have some thoughts.
This is not a definitive guide to developing a kick-ass social media strategy nor turning your social audiences into a money-making machine (sorry.) There are too many platforms and too many ways to use them to your business advantage to cover in one piece. I advise on using data for decision-making and the impact of the whole marketing mix, I am not a specialist in implementing this way of marketing.
But I am hard-wired to always ask if something is effective. Ask why. Map out what good looks like. Determine which data or information backs up or challenges your thinking. If you have read my other pieces, then you will know that what follows will not be complicated. I just want to challenge some of the popular opinions about social media and share my experiences of social media as a micro business owner.
Not really. Factor in the time that you spend creating content, conversations, or procrastinating on a platform. If you manage your own social media, attach a cost to it by working out how many hours a week you spend on all business-related social media activities including idle scrolling. Multiply that by your hourly rate. Surprised? You may already keep track of sales that come via your social media channels. If that revenue exceeds the cost, happy days, the time you are spending is worthwhile.
But it is not that simple, especially when you are starting out by building audiences and then raising awareness. You may have a business like mine where the time it takes someone to convert to a customer is months or years. In these cases it is a good idea to have some way of measuring progress, setting dates to evaluate how it is going and deciding how long you are prepared to, or can, wait for a payoff.
There are ways to be more efficient with time spent managing social media. I turn all notifications off, have set times for checking in on each platform. I post new content and respond to comments on previous content before browsing. I set a timer and scroll down a few thumb movements working my way back up. If you scroll down, you never reach the end these days. That did used to happen, early on.
Automatic schedulers help but may affect reach depending on the platform – I stopped using them for LinkedIn for that reason. Outsourcing saves time but is only commercially viable if you can bring in more revenue than you spend on the person you hire, in the same timeframe. But make sure to account for how much more efficient and effective they may be than you though if you hire an expert in a platform or implementation.
I have not outsourced my social media, but I have done for other business tasks with amazing results. I know that my success on the platform that does bring in business for me is largely related to my personal presence and native participation in conversations. It is not one size fits all and is also linked to the sorts of products or services you sell. I can see a day when I will change what I do because I have changed what I sell.
If you are a social media specialist reading this, I am not doubting your abilities to drive an impressive great return on investment from social media management. But that return needs to be compared to other activities. If your client has never tracked networking success, for example, then they have no way of knowing where their great social return sits relative to the return on other marketing activities that they could do.
But easy does not mean useful. What is a Facebook Like worth in terms of revenue? Metrics that the social platforms make available for free are not necessarily the ones that mean business success for you. They are awarded to keep you and your audiences on their platforms for longer, to maximize the social platform’s business success. In short, evidence of engagement is not return on investment, just a signal that you may be heading in the right direction. Do not chase the wrong measure.
If you continue to keep increasing the size of your audience across these social platforms you may increase sales just by the law of large numbers. Only if most of your audience really are sales prospects though – do you know if they are? If not, how will you find out? Remember that an individual being in your network is not permission granted for you to market to them if that is your approach to finding out.
The social media metrics that I personally care about most are the number of sales that come from each channel and the number of new conversations. I value recommendations too because they live on my profile and site as social proof. I have not made a sale from Twitter or Instagram, so why do I still bother with those? One reason is that I know there is not much crossover in audience, I am reaching new people on there.
Maybe. But how much can you influence reach without paying? There are lots of guides for each platform about what, when and how often to post. And dozens of hacks that you can use to improve your stats. But these are rules of thumb that have been put together by looking at how thousands of posts performed. Averages. Running tests of your own is the only way to really know what works best for you.
There is the catch. You need to be consistent with your content on a social platform before it will work at all, but you also need to test to learn more about what specifically works for your business. Tests need to run for a decent time before you can trust any findings. I, like many people, started on the platforms familiar to me – LinkedIn and Facebook. Without really knowing if my prospects were there at all.
I focused on one platform at a time for months, tested. That gave me the confidence to ditch Facebook without FOMO. I maintain Twitter and Instagram even though neither lend themselves to showcasing analytics because I can reach different businesses there. But I do not invest as much time so as not to reduce my efforts on LinkedIn. I need to know more about these platforms, but they are not top of my list.
True for some businesses, but not for mine. It depends on what you do, how you do it and who for. My last three sales came from LinkedIn which may not sound a lot, but it was most of my annual revenue. A great return on investment but it took consistent activity for months before I got there. I have figured out that there are other useful ways to use social media that are not directly about getting sales.
I try out content to get clues about what topics resonate and with who. I use polls to directly canvass opinion – not many people answer but it is better than my guess. I get involved in community conversations about being a freelancer and a small business owner. Reputation-building stuff, leading to trust and maybe collaborations or referrals further down the line. Brand building. Not sales-y stuff, so it suits me.
I hope that I have shown that a data-driven strategy does not need to be hard. Even if you do it yourself, social media is not free when you consider the time that you invest. If you only take one action from this, do that calculation.
Step back. What platforms are you on, why? Is what you do based on things you know about what works best, or has it evolved from where you feel comfortable? Does it drive sales? Does that not matter because there are other benefits? What do you need social media to do? If it does not currently deliver, can you sketch a plan? Set goals.
This piece outlines a general process for how you can move from information or data to making a decision. Without getting into the weeds of what that data is or how to use it.
Social media feels public but there are privacy and compliance issues to think about, especially when you start to store information and market to people. I am a strong advocate of data governance and compliance, but not an expert. Try these:
These pros are human experts in this whole area. Check them out:
My next two blogs will be along similar lines but about search and sales, as voted for on my social media platforms. Things to think about and try to get found online. Ways that you can use your sales data to learn more on how your business works. If you want to see these for sure, why not sign up to my mailing list?
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© Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2020