The social media challenge

Recently while my morning bus was idling at some lights, my eyes were drawn to a huge moving billboard featuring a new car that wanted to be friends. Facebook friends. I couldn’t imagine why. I visited its page out of curiosity & I still can’t.

It would be a brave marketing professional to suggest leaving social media out of any promotional campaign at the moment, such is its popularity. But the challenge with social media seems to be measuring return on investment (ROI) & applying appropriate strategies.

Promoting something on social media isn’t free. There’s a time cost (it can certainly drain time), an opportunity cost (could the time have been better spent?) & potentially risks – as there are with any public dialogue. What’s the best strategic approach?

The passive approach

Justifying this level of involvement with social media seems a no-brainer to me. Encouraging users to ‘like’ your web pages or share them via their favourite social networking, social news or social bookmarking sites is incredibly easy. Users have the chance to spread your messages for you. And spread links.

An advantage is that people treat information from friends differently to marketing messages.

Tools like ‘Add This‘ make it incredibly easy. Copy some simple javascript to insert a row of social media icons in the footer of your pages. Add This will even detect your user’s recent activity on various platforms and show the icons most relevant to your user – a very clever feature!

Asking to be ‘Liked’

Contrast this with a more active approach – setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account – then dedicating time to actively push out messages to build up a following. It’s labour intensive. People are electing to receive messages from your organisation, much like subscribing to an enewsletter. Only in regular little bites.

Facebook friends aren’t really a valid measure of success (in life or business).  You might think of Facebook friends or Twitter followers as you would email or RSS subscribers. You wouldn’t boast about sending out a message to 2,000 email addresses. ‘So what?’ your boss would say.

How many opened your email? How many clicked through to your site? How many of these downloaded your report, bought your product or met your target goal?

Think you can’t track that with social media? Of course you can. By tagging links shared & setting up Google Analytics goals you’re well on your way to measuring ROI (if you can monetise goals). If you can measure it for a direct email (& a lot of sophistication is expected of direct mail evaluations) there’s no reason you can’t measure if for social media & start to compare the cost vs benefits of social media marketing vs paid ads, SEO, offline marketing, emails & other promotions.

Awareness

Often people justify quoting ‘friends and followers’ numbers because their campaigns are about raising ‘awareness’. Awareness seems conveniently removed from direct action. But there’s still much that can be measured. How much unprompted discussion is going on about your campaign on social media? Free tools like www.socialmention.com allow you to get a feel for conversations around keywords you nominate.

Save time, use money

Another valid strategy is social media ads. Forget about the slog of building up a following, Facebook ads give you incredible control over the demographic & preferences of your audience. You can put your message in front of people who wouldn’t choose to ‘like’ you, instead of preaching to the converted. 

Curb your enthusiasm

I love social media. It’s revolutionised the web & is a great space to be involved with. Judging by the euphoria it’s been embraced with, the challenge for many campaigning with social media, is remembering to apply the same strategies and evaluation principles used in other business decisions. The tools are available.

DIY, until you need some help

Today’s post is about how I managed to turn a simple computer upgrade into a week’s lost work and the equivalent cost of a brand new machine. And though I may have also ground another layer of enamel off my teeth in frustration, it got me thinking.

As a small business owner or sole trader you’re often expected to juggle all sorts of skills that would be the responsibility of specialists in a larger workforce. You’ll often manage your own books, market and promote your own services, manage your tax – the list is long and if you’re a sole trader it may be unwritten and endless – everything’s your responsibility.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t outsource. For some things it’s a necessity. Knowing where to draw the line is the art and science of running a business.

Whether you decide to throw time or your money, at your problems, neither approach is wrong. It depends on the stage of your business and which you have more of.

It also depends on your skill set. BUT how well can we judge our own skills in areas we’re not familiar?

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

Here’s the rub – not being a subject expert, it’s the things you don’t know that you don’t know, that’ll hurt you in the end.

I like to think I understand how to put PCs together. But the reality is that I do to a point. (After laborious investigations, it seems my hard-drives don’t like my new motherboard – thanks to Geeks 2 U for eventually coming to the rescue).

Knowing when you’re beaten

We all have our specialities and we all live in a world of incredible complexity, that’s mostly hidden from us.

IT folk probably know this better than most, but as someone who works in the publishing industry, I see it too. Publishing information on the web or in print is a process and you get better at it the more you do it. If it’s your job and you do it for many years, you can expect to learn a thing or two.

At face value it looks like the sort of thing everyone could do for themselves. And it is. But if your specialty is somewhere else, don’t be afraid to ask for help!