Social Media Strategy for Small Business 2013: A Totally Honest Look at Social Networks

We Weigh the Pros and Cons of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest So That You Don’t Have To

Pros and Cons of Social Networks

Oh, social media! You saucy little minx, you. We know we’re supposed to worship at your feet for your ability to reach our customers and prospects (mostly for free!), but you can be exhausting, confusing, and time consuming. What’s a small business owner to do?

Never fear. The marketing gurus at Amsterdam Printing are here to provide the pros, cons, and final “verdicts” on the “Big 5″: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest. In this thorough post, we’ll help you understand what they are, what types of businesses they can work well for (or not so well), and the pros and cons. We’ll also provide some “further reading” resources in case you want to delve deeper.

Weigh everything, and then YOU decide which ones to focus on in 2013. Note: interesting stat: 43% of small business owners spend 6+ hours per week on social media.

Facebook

At first blush, it seems hard to debate whether your business should be on the largest social media network on the planet (one billion users, and counting). But Facebook’s hugeFacebook logo popularity could also be seen as a “con” for small businesses. After all, how can a small business compete with all the big-name brands with deep pockets and full-time social media staffs (think Macy’s, Coca-Cola, Apple)?

Let’s not rush to judgment in either direction. Here’s the 411 along with the pros, cons, and verdict (as we see it).

Facebook describes itself as “a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.” You can send messages, take part in instant messaging, and share pictures and status updates with your “friends,” which is the name for your Facebook connections. Facebook has personal accounts and business accounts. For the purpose of this post, the pros and cons below refer to Facebook’s Business Pages.

Pros

  • Potential wide reach. Your audience is bound to be part of the one billion users.
  • It’s free to set up.
  • Business pages were designed with a company’s needs in mind, and Facebook appears committed to making improvements to its Page Insights (its name for analytics), which provide details on things like the demographics of your fan base.
  • It’s easy/intuitive to use, especially if you already have a regular profile (which you probably do).
  • Status updates can go much longer than Twitter’s 140-character limits.
  • It’s easier to have engaging conversations between fans on Facebook than it is on the other “heavy-hitter” social media network, Twitter.
  • Facebook advertising is cost-effective and allows for incredible targeting opportunities. Don’t believe us? Just check out these four advanced target techniques. Worried about ROI? Facebook is too, which is why it’s launching an ROI sales tracking tool for online retailers.
  • You can now schedule your status updates right from your page’s Timeline.

Cons

  • Facebook’s much-maligned EdgeRank algorithm. Here’s the short of it: only a small percentage of your page’s fans (16-20 percent) will have your status updates appearing in their newsfeeds.
  • Setting up ads can be overwhelming and even confusing if you haven’t done it before.
  • Time. Like every other social media network, you — or someone in your organization — needs to invest some time in order to gain traction.
  • Getting fans. It can be a chicken and egg conundrum. You can’t start having real engaging conversations or lots of likes and shares until you have some critical mass. But getting fans can be a whole other promotional issue. Hint: we recommend running ads to build your fan base. It’s cost-effective. Of course, you should be promoting Facebook throughout all other media, too (e.g. your website, email signatures, newsletters, etc).
  • You’re left wondering if it’s all worth it. Just how much are you selling? Just how many “fans” make it back to your site and buy your products or inquire about your services? While Facebook is committed to providing more powerful analytics and sales tools to measure ROI, at the end of the day, many small business owners are left wondering just how much sales they’re getting from advertising and simply having a page.

The verdict: Facebook is just too popular to ignore, and it’s likely many — if not most — of your customers will expect you to have a presence. This is especially true if you’re a b2c enterprise. Need inspiration? Choose a few popular brands, like Oreos or Target, and study how they engage their fan base.

But what if you’re a b2b business? If you’re willing to invest the time, Facebook can work really well for b2b enterprises, too. In this post, HubSpot talks about how b2b companies can and should use Facebook to generate leads, network, create an “industry insider” community, and more. Know that as a b2b business, you’ll likely have fewer fans than your b2c counterparts, but that’s OK. If you’re providing quality content and your fans are engaged, that’s still good. Need inspiration? The best bet is to follow b2b companies that are doing it right, like GE and Oracle.

All that said, and regardless as to whether you’re a b2c or b2b business, you need to build it right and you need to make an effort if you want to see Facebook work. If you don’t have time, interest, or know-how to set it up, then outsource these tasks (and you can outsource the advertising as well).

But we recommend that someone from your organization be in charge of creating status updates and engaging with fans (because who else knows the ins and outs of your business better than you and your employees?). The good news? If you sit down once a month for a couple of hours, you can schedule all your updates for the next 30 days (we know businesses that do this to great effect). From there, you’d just need to check in a couple of times a day to monitor activity and respond to any comments or questions.

Further Reading:

10 Ways to “Solve” Facebook for B2B Marketing
How B2B Marketers Can Succeed on the Big 6 Social Media Networks
A Simple Breakdown of all Your Facebook Advertising Options

Twitter

Tweet, tweet! Who woulda thunk that a little blue bird and pithy 140-character updates would capture our hearts so much? According to Twitter, you can “instantly connect to what’s most important to you. Follow your friends, experts, favorite celebrities, and breaking news.”twitter logo

“Instant” being the important word here.

Twitter is fast, instantaneous, fun, perfect for smartphones (even more so than any other social network, including Facebook) and allows people to easily, and instantly (have we used that word enough?) connect with friends, journalists, news outlets, and celebrities (Kim Kardashian, anyone?). And it continues to grow, with well over 500 million accounts at the writing of this post (and 200 million of those accounts are considered “active”). It’s a force to be reckoned with. Or at least carefully considered.

Pros

  • Platform has stayed consistent over the years. While some things have evolved on Twitter, like the ability to create custom header images, Twitter’s very essence — the 140-character “tweet” — hasn’t changed. (Just talk to Facebook junkies about how they feel when Facebook messes with the look and feel of the newsfeed.)
  • It’s free.
  • There are new branding and advertising options being rolled out and launched for businesses.
  • Potential for wide reach.
  • Third-party apps exist, like Twuffer, that allow you to schedule tweets.

Cons

  • While the basic concept of writing messages that are no more than 140 characters is easy to get, some of the other aspects can be confusing to new users (e.g. like what it means to start a tweet with the “@” symbol and someone’s twitter handle).
  • One word: noisy. This is one reason why Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm makes sense. EdgeRank filters the messages and tries to determine the messages you’d be most interested seeing in your newsfeed. Twitter just gives you all the tweets from your followers as they’re happening. Yes, you can use third-party apps like HootSuite to filter tweets and you can set up lists. But it can still be a very noisy medium.
  • Companies, large and small, are still struggling with how to successfully create promotions on Twitter. Just ask McDonald’s about its epic Twitter fail from a year ago.
  • Getting followers can be challenging…and just how engaged are your followers? Is there any real, meaningful way to measure this?

The verdict: Unlike Facebook, Twitter isn’t a “must” for small businesses, which is good news. The key is you have to like the medium and enjoy being active on it. So what types of small businesses could benefit from being active on Twitter? Studies show that some of the biggest Twitter users are teenagers and twenty-something women. If you have an audience that caters to this demographic, you’d be smart to pay attention to this medium. Ditto if your customers are smartphone users. We’d also say if your business caters to a techie crowd of early adopters, then it makes sense to have a presence. If customer service is a cornerstone of your business, a Twitter account can be a great way to answer questions, field complaints, and keep people up to date on issues (but this also requires a dedicated person or team of people to monitor Twitter).

Further reading:

8 Best Practices for Using Twitter for Business
Twitter for Small Business (from Twitter itself)
Copyblogger’s the Ultimate Guide to Twitter Marketing
Twitter for Business Webinar
The Current State of Social Networks (interesting graphic on Twitter)
The 9 Worst Ways to Use Twitter for Business
How to Attract Customers with Twitter
Studies show that Twitter usage among young adults is growing.

LinkedIn

Having officially launched in 2003, LinkedIn states that it’s “the world’s largest professional network on the Internet in over 200 countries and territories.” It has over 187 linkedinmillion members worldwide, “including executives from every Fortune 500 company.” It’s the place where you’ll find fresh-faced college grads building their profiles alongside seasoned CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, managers, and every other job title you can think of.

That said, is it for everyone? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  • The basic level is free. You can pay for an upgrade to unlock more features.
  • The platform has stayed fairly consistent and is intuitive to use. It doesn’t require a huge “time sink” in order to have a presence.
  • You can have a personal profile and also a profile for your company.
  • It’s very much geared towards b2b mindsets. LinkedIn is more about connecting fellow business people with one another, rather than connecting businesses with consumers. We’re putting this in the “pro” column since so many of the other social networks lean heavy towards b2c.
  • LinkedIn connections generate leads and sales. Marketing Profs writes about a survey of b2b marketers conducted by Webmarketing 123 and notes the following finding: “44% have generated leads via LinkedIn, and 23% have won sales via the platform.”
  • Networking is still the best way to find a job, a survey discussed in Forbes suggests, and LinkedIn creates an easy way to virtually network and connect. In an article on using social networking to find a job, Mashable cites this stat: “Employers are using social networking sites to pre-screen candidates, and 92% of recruiters use social networking sites to find talent.” While recruiters might browse Facebook and Twitter to get a sense of who you are personally, LinkedIn is the place they’re going to look to get a sense of who you are from a professional standpoint.
  • LinkedIn Groups can be a great way to find support, get answers to business issues/questions, and showcase your expertise (e.g. by answering questions/giving “free” advice).

Cons:

  • One of its pros could also be seen as a con: this is a b2b community. So if you’re, say, a restaurant owner or massage therapist, you won’t be using LinkedIn to get new business; you’d use it more to connect with complementary businesses, find employees, and network with fellow business owners.
  • It’s the least “social” of the networks we’re profiling in this post. Think about it. When’s the last time you hung out on LinkedIn on a Saturday? Or when’s the last time you’ve posted a status update to LinkedIn while you were watching a football game? The answer is probably never. People are much more likely use Twitter and Facebook for social interactions of that nature.
  • It’s less obvious how to “work” LinkedIn and leverage company pages.

The verdict: if you operate in a b2b world, then we recommend having a LinkedIn profile. People will expect you to have one, and if you take the time to understand how to use the platform, you stand a decent chance of getting a lot out of the experience. We’d recommend creating a company page as well (it’s free, and, again, it’s another place to have a presence).

If you operate in a b2c world, while it’s not as vital to have a profile, we still recommend creating a basic one. Once it’s set up, there’s not much more you need to do except field connection requests. And if you enjoy networking or connecting with like-minded business owners, LinkedIn can be a great way to meet people and find support.

Further Reading:
How to Use LinkedIn for Business
How to Find a Job on LinkedIn
B2Bs and B2Cs Winning Leads, Sales via Social Media
5 Tips for Creating, Managing, and Promoting a LinkedIn Group
2013 Power Boost! 5 Ways to Rock Your LinkedIn Profile & Company Page

Google+

People had such high hopes when Google officially launched Google+ in late June of 2011. google plusIt was supposed to be the Big G’s answer to Facebook. At first blush, it looked promising: a clean, uncluttered feel. Circles, circles, circles! Oh, and hangouts. Was Facebook finally about to get a run for its money?

As of December 2012, Google reports, “Google+ is the fastest-growing network thingy ever. More than 500 million people have upgraded, 235 million are active across Google (+1′ing apps in Google Play, hanging out in Gmail, connecting with friends in Search…), and 135 million are active in just the stream.”

Is it hype or for real? Only time will tell. The question is, what are the pros and cons for individuals and businesses?

Pros

  • It’s Google. This can’t be stressed enough. The King of Search is carefully tying in the whole Google+ experience into everything it does, from creating Google+ Local pages (read more about Google+ Local in one of our blog posts), to encouraging the “+1” integration across all websites, to making sure Google+ status updates show up in organic searches. You can’t underestimate the power of Google.
  • You can have a personal profile and also branded pages (officially launched in fall of 2011, after much confusion).
  • Google appears committed to Google+ in ways it wasn’t to Wave or Buzz (remember those?).
  • Trying to reach men? They’re here (71%).
  • Enormous possibilities.

Cons

The verdict: Jury is still out. It won’t hurt you to have a personal profile and business profile (even if you’re not active). As the landscape becomes clearer and if Google+ indeed evolves into a major player, you can easily jump back in. But if you’re limited on where you can spend your social media time and budget, we’d recommend some of the other platforms before Google+.

Further reading:
Google+ for Business — from Google
Infographic: Who is Using Google+
How to Use Google+ for Business — from HubSpot
5 Reasons Google+ is Worth it for SMBs
Is Google+ Worth Another Look

Pinterest

It launched as a closed beta in March 2010, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2011 that you might have started hearing about it. By the end of 2011, the buzz was off the charts, and by Pinterestearly 2012, everyone seemed to be talking about this hot virtual pinboard. But was it all hype?

Apparently, not. By February 2012, Mashable reported that Pinterest was driving more traffic than Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn combined. And it’s not just traffic: Pinterest has been reported to drive more sales than any other network. By May 2012, Pinterest had raised 100 million dollars and had a $1.5 billion valuation.

In October 2012, Bizrate Insights published findings from a study, and one of many notable takeaways was this: “69% of online consumers who visit Pinterest have found an item they’ve purchased or wanted to purchase as compared to only 40% of online consumers who visit Facebook.” As for the demographic? Think women. It’s been reported between 72 and 97 percent of Pinterest users are women.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But is it right for all businesses? Actually, that question would have been moot six months ago, since Pinterest didn’t even have business pages until November 2012.

So let’s consider the pros and cons

Pros

  • As we showed up above in the stats we cited, Pinterest drives traffic and sales. A lot.
  • Once you “get it” — and there is a learning curve — it can be fun.
  • If you’re trying to reach women, you’ll find them on Pinterest.
  • If you’re in a visual business and have lots of great photographs, this is a fabulous, free place to showcase them.
  • Pinterest is wonderful for b2c businesses, especially those with strong visuals (think photographers, designers, home builders, landscapers, florists, etc.).

Cons

  • Hello, learning curve!
  • Noisy. It’s a constant, seemingly endless stream of visuals, and it can be overwhelming.
  • Pinterest requires time. To stay relevant and to really drive traffic, it helps to post and pin regularly.
  • More of a struggle for b2b businesses.

Verdict: If you have a highly visual b2c business and women make up the core of your audience, then Pinterest is most definitely worth your time. And that’s an important word: time. Pinterest will require your time, great photos, and some thought on how to get your stuff and message out there without looking spammy or too in-your-face. Also! Pinterest is most definitely about being social and being engaged. It’s just as important for you to comment on other people’s pins and pin their pics to boards you create, as it is for getting people to do the same for you. Which is why we warn about the time sink aspect!

If you’re in a b2b business, you’ll need to decide if Pinterest makes sense. It’s really a case-by-case situation. Because Pinterest does take time, it might make sense to invest your time elsewhere for now and wait to see how Pinterest plays out. That said, if you enjoy Pinterest and get it, you could position your b2b business as a success story.

Further reading:
Pinterest Marketing — from Pinterest
Pinterest Marketing: What Marketers Need to Know to Succeed
How to Set up Your Pinterest Business Account
A Guide to Pinterest’s New Business Accounts
35 Statistics that Fuel the Battle Between Pinterest and Google+

So tell us: which social media networks are you involved with? Why did you choose those particular networks? How are they working out for you?

Allison Rice

About Allison Rice

Allison on Google+
This entry was posted in Small Business Marketing, Small Business Resource, Social Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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