Social media and small business – what are the common pitfalls, and how to transform clicks into customers.

The past five years have seen social media make a steady march into mainstream business strategy. More than 90 percent of small and medium businesses in Australia are on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, however, pundits warn that many businesses aren’t making the most of the digital enterprise opportunities.  The biggest risk is simply doing nothing, according to a leading expert in leveraging social media for business.

“Wherever customers go, businesses are sure to follow,” Pitch PR’s Stephen Sealey tells us.  “Take Facebook as an example. How many companies can really afford not to try to build a presence on this platform when at least half the population is using it?  “Just as customers in the last decade expected you to have a website, now they equally expect to find you through social media.”

But launching or refreshing your businesses’ social media presence requires more than a Millennial with a smartphone.  With ever-tightening margins and greater demands on time and resources, owners and operators need to ensure that social media supports broader organisational strategy and has an impact on the bottom line.

Successful social media engagement provides a unique opportunity for regular conversation with current and future customers on at a platform they have chosen and at a time that suits them. Today’s consumers have a strong voice and expect it to be heard, which is why the two-way nature of social media is so compelling for both businesses and customers.

Use benchmarks around reputation, relationship and new customer leads to assess and refine your social media engagement strategy.

“Social media can keep your product or service top of mind in a less sales-focused environment and provide genuine information and entertainment that is seen as real value by your audience,” Mr Sealey said.

Maintaining an active presence on social channels also generates valuable insights and information about potential customers and can direct traffic to your website or place of business where the real selling takes place.

Start with a goal in mind – it could be as simple as building a social media management capacity within your team or it might be around gathering data about a particular customer segment, or creating opportunities to engage with new and existing customers. Think about metrics like reach and engagement as well as sales.  When selecting which social media platform or platforms to focus on, consider the resources you can dedicate to social media management, as well as the demographics of your target markets.

“Large corporations like Qantas have the resources to operate on many different channels and their customers expect them to do just that,” Mr Sealey said. “That means using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and more.  “Smaller companies may also benefit from multiple platforms, however, more does not have to mean better, especially if you don’t have the resources or expertise to manage multiple social channels.”

The latest Sensis e-business report shows Facebook remains the most popular social platform for business, followed by Twitter and LinkedIn.  Different platforms attract different demographics, so find out which sites your best customers are using and follow them there.  “If you sell fast-moving goods to a young audience and have frequent sales, then Twitter might be an option,” Mr Sealey said.

“If you are a service provider or residential community, Facebook would be best, and B2B companies might focus on LinkedIn.

“Facebook is still by far the largest channel and people tend to spend the most time using it and will scroll backwards to see what’s happening on their newsfeed, so we generally recommend it as a great starting point for social media.”