I’ve had a growing interest in how small, local businesses can use social media to grow their local customer base, and with geo-local social networks like Foursquare on the scene, I see the social media marketing game as changing for local businesses. It's becoming more and more important for these businesses to get on board with a social media marketing plan that allows them to become more active within the local community and engage patrons and prospects alike online.
I recently read a very interesting post from Don Powers at his blog entitled “Going Local – How do You Use Social Media to Boost Local Business?” He talks about a large contingency of individuals and businesses who are not online - and that probably the largest segment of this group of people are local businesses. This certainly does not surprise me.
The unfortunate truth is many local businesses are inherently resistant to marketing themselves through online channels. They may be accustomed to more traditional means of advertising and believe that it’s “doing just fine” for them, they may not have the time or resources to devote to it, or they just don’t understand it (which we all know is one of the biggest reasons people tend to resist change of any kind – lack of understanding or knowledge. It’s human nature.)
- How many people in my town, and more importantly in my target audience are actually using social media?
- I don’t have time to tweet, blog and Facebook - I’m running a business!
- I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work – we have not seen any increase in customers through our doors since we stared tweeting.
- I already advertise in the local paper and radio and that seems to be doing just fine for us.
These are all valid objections, but as savvy marketers we should be prepared with valid answers. Here are mine:
- There are loads of market research tools out there that will help you identify local prospective customers who are themselves using social media. Now, it may turn out that social media is not the right channel for you to reach out to your target audience – and that, as Stuart Smalley would say, is OK. Social media is not for all businesses – but it’s certainly worth taking a hard look at to make sure you’re reaching your customers where they are and not leaving additional revenue on the table.
- Social media marketing does take time – and if you’re willing to put time and hard work into growing your business, you should also be willing to put time into building your social media presence. The work doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders – you can hire people who can help, or even involve a current employee who has an interest in and knowledge of social media.
- What kind of plan did you have in place for using social media before you started using it? Planning your social media strategy is a major factor in its overall success and should include who, what, when, why and how you will be engaging in social media. Also, are you talking with people or broadcasting at them? Is the conversation one-way or two-way?
- Doing just fine in what regard? Bringing in just enough customers to keep you busy and profitable? As I mentioned before, social media is not for all businesses (see #1); but the fact of the matter is social media will cost you much less than traditional media channels like print, radio and TV. Plus, when executed properly, social media is a way to generate inbound leads – customers who are finding you rather than you finding them.