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Small Business Planning: Why Start-Ups Can’t Tweet, Blog, Digg and Stumble All Day Long

All industries survive by dint of a mutual agreement that certain things matter.

The arrangement seems to go that if enough people start to say the same thing in unison, theories become facts and pretty soon gospel. In this regard, digital marketing is worse than most: after all, it’s our job description to broadcast information, so telling other people to do the same thing is really only fueling our own credibility.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, for almost all but the largest businesses, this is a habit we need to curb.

A recent Forbes article commented, “despite their dedication and belief that social media is the Hail Mary of small business owners everywhere, more than 60% of small business owners say they haven’t seen any return on their investment from their engagement online. None.”

Here’s why…

How Spreading Yourself Too Thin Affects the Whole Brand

If you’re a thriving multinational, sure it’s worth having a social media department with dedicated employees for Pinterest, Facebook, Google+ and the myriad other platforms competing for our attention.

But let’s face it – this is the exception rather than the rule. Most small businesses will have one employee taking care of digital strategy with, if they’re lucky, an intern or two filling in the gaps. As a result, the advice of nearly every industry forum and website has them posting on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, blogging regularly, and then in the latter stages of exhaustion using LinkedIn, Digg and StumbleUpon.

This punishing assault course of social media sharing generally results in platforms with few followers and poor engagement. Businesses are going through the motions without really seeing the benefits these platforms have to offer. Social media is undeniably one of the greatest inventions of the modern age, principally because it unites us across time zones and geography, a factor that offers powerful incentives for big business trying for forge a global presence.

Now if you’re an electrician based in a small town, how is this going to help you?

Rather than putting two hours aside to build a Google Circle, you’re going to see a far better ROI from flyer dropping and clever local advertising.

Choose Wisely: Select One or Two Platforms Right for Your Niche

If you’re a law firm or an accountant, for example, I would say having a Facebook page is next to useless.

While the logo adds a certain trust factor, the likelihood of real brand engagement via Facebook is slim. Your clients are professionals with busy lives, whose trust is not likely to be won via the younger demographic and lighter tone of Mark Zuckerberg’s platform.

The point here is to understand which niches favour which platforms.

Twitter, for example, might work well for a law firm. The fast paced environment offers perfect fodder for news updates and legal gossip, while the transparency of the follower networks offer a useful competitor analysis activity for understanding how your rivals are approaching brand engagement.
LinkedIn would be an even better fit: here’s a superb B2B platform used by CEOs and business leaders. Running effective campaigns on these platforms alone takes a commitment which can be a strain on a smaller company. So manage your resources wisely, and use your marketing time doing something which is going to pay off.

Plan Your Strategy for 5 Minutes, Then Execute For 15

If I’m working with small business owners, firstly we decide whether it’s even worth them using social media. If they’re in the service industry – plumbers, electricians, tree surgeons and so forth – the chances are we’ll go for a Google Places campaign and skip the social media altogether.

If, however, they’re a small business with a product which is available via their website, then the scope for using social media is a lot wider. What I tell these folks is this: put aside 20 minutes per day to work on your social media. For the first five of those, sit and think about what you’re going to do.

If you’re on Pinterest, ask yourself what images you’re going to share and who you want them to reach. If you’re on Google+, figure out which circles you’re disseminating today’s information to; if they’re not wide enough, spend time building the circles before posting today’s links. Those fifteen minutes can then be spent using the platforms to intelligently put your brand’s message out there.

Over time, your accounts build serious followers who can see the commitment, patient and methodical, you’ve put into running your feed. This kind of approach is enormously effective besides the more commonplace scattergun method in which brands post sporadically over multiple accounts.

In all these cases, I reiterate the message not to get distracted.

Stick to one platform for your daily twenty minutes until that platform is making you money.

Is Social Media Paying for Itself? If Not, It’s Costing You Money

Of course, whether or not social media is paying for itself is a difficult thing to measure.

But on some level, the efficacy of intelligent social media outreach does become visible over time.

Increased website traffic and engagement would be one good example, increased sales and newsletter sign ups would be another. My message is that small business owners need to be realistic about their time on social media sites and come to a firm conclusion about whether it’s helping or hurting the brand.

Time, after all, is money, and the only reason to be proactive on social media is if this is going to build your brand and ultimately translate into revenue. As the world descends into a chaos of tweeting and sharing, +1’ing and stumbles, it’s time to slow down a little and recognize the Faustian pact these platforms offer.

I think it’s time, as digital marketers, we put our clients first once again and keep them from wasting days, months and years of their lives on attempting a global branding strategy inappropriate for their business.

What do you think? Where does your Social Media energy go – and have you seen a good return on your investment?

About Piers Moore-Ede

Piers Moore-Ede is a writer and journalist, as well as the owner of London based content marketing and search firm Barefoot.

37 thoughts on “Small Business Planning: Why Start-Ups Can’t Tweet, Blog, Digg and Stumble All Day Long

  1. I like your tip of choosing one or two platforms. I’ve personally never been interested in creating an account on any and every platform, and I don’t think Facebook is going to do much for me as a freelance writer. I particularly like how you pointed out that different platforms are better for certain people, like Pinterest might be best for an interior designer.

  2. THANK YOU for confirming my instinct that one doesn’t need a lot of social media presence to effectively make your business (or in our case, ministry to hermits) available to those who will want it and respond to it. I’ve never seen the point of Facebook – it completely mystifies me. But a good blog? Many of our people really want that kind of sharing.

  3. I like LinkedIn to stay in touch with current and past business associates. It is nice to have an easy way to reach them if I think there is a way we can help each other. Also, a serious LinkedIn profile is a nice place to point people when they ask who I am and why am I able to write the stuff I do on my website and blog. Facebook I reserve for family and friends as a place to share personal pictures and keep in touch. The people I write for have busy lives and a lot of work to keep them busy. I doubt they spend much time on Twitter or Pinterest.

  4. Piers, thank you for sharing the great points that you make. I believe that many small business owners would benefit from what you are saying, especially since it is easy to get lost or sucked in to distracting activities on social media.

    As for me, I am an author and coach that published a book for caregivers. I have been steadily growing my audience since the fall and social media has played a major role. I started with a focus on LinkedIn and Facebook which were my 2 largest sources for professional and personal connections. In October, after the release of my book, I created a Facebook fan page. I embarked on a personal strategy to build an engaged following and achieved my first 1,000 followers in 100 days without one dine of paid advertising. I have sold dozens of books with these followers and even signed on a new individual coaching client directly from a fb fan connection.

    Over the past month, I have moved to using Pinterest, Twitter, and G+. Engagement is growing. And, I am loving it. Again, I agree with most of what you said but also believe that investing dedicated time each and every day to social media audience building can be great for your business. More importantly, you can make some amazing and inspiring connections from around the globe. I am loving the journey!

    Go forward with energy and care,
    Michael

  5. Great wakeup for small businesses. Agree that thinking carefully if you should be in social media is the first question and second question, if so, limit where you are in social media. I, like you recommend one or two platforms at most unless you are outsourcing. I have on my website a free tool for businesses to calculate this – essentially where your audience is is where you should be (Danny helped me come up with this as my opt-in offer). Many forget that minor but significant detail. I love your emphasis on planning too. I take clients through a full plan so they can systemize as much as possible – make social media habit and as much as possible in auto pilot mode. Some things you can’t but much of it with good planning can be systemized so you are not distracted by all the bling calling you. Measuring results and asking whether goals were met and whether it is worth the time and money to continue are “must have” questions to ask. Social media gets a bad rap because it lulls you with the thought that this is easy and takes little time but in reality, it is much more complex and requires planning and a regular commitment of time. I wish more small businesses would read your article and assess if they should even be in social media and if they do, do it well in one or two platforms. I hate seeing talented businesses with so much to offer spend their valuable time in social media without getting results – that is costly in dollars and costly in loss of opportunity to truly help others.

  6. Piers, Great post! So often people think if they have a website, a Facebook, and Twitter, and the list goes on and on, that the phones should be ringing and business will flood in. Your point on picking what works for your business and building upon it is valid. Building the followers is key, and by limited your time to 20 minutes a day people will find they are more productive and focused on making it work.

  7. Great post! I like social media but I agree that we can spread ourselves too thin and spin our wheels. I wonder, though, if blogging is in a different category than other social media? It seems like effective blogging takes more time but has more potential to draw an audience.

  8. Great article Piers. I agree, people think you need to be everywhere but it’s impossible and actually hurts your business because you are spread too thin. I focus only on the platforms where my target audience is and for me twitter has been the most financially rewarding. To save time I schedule my tweets out for one week in advance but since I love connecting with my followers I tweet daily as well!

  9. Thank you, Piers, for your article.

    When you just start out, social media can be good as an additional means to establish/develop connections with people.

    When you are already an authority with fans, they will spread your stuff more if you “live” more in Social media, interacting with your fans.

    Social media platforms themselves as single assets can also be a good way to build/develop a business (there are projects with great success that get traffic only from Pinterest, or FB highly targeted groups that unite the fans in a specific niche).

    But anyway, there should be a strategy of utilizing social media. Just sticking 20 minutes daily to a social platform until it becomes profitable is not a strategy, but can be a part of it 🙂

  10. This is an excellent article! I think wanting to be on every social media channel has a lot to do with ‘peer pressure’, especially for small biz owners who want to build their brand or be seen. A good reminder, and great tips! I will be sharing this!

  11. Thank you for the article and the great advice! I’m narrowing down my social media targeting right now and this was very timely for me.
    Personally, I started using Pinterest to gather images to inspire and inform my graphic novels – a separate board for each story in development. To my surprise, I started accumulating followers in my target demographic: young women who love art, stories, and geek culture. Ha! But that’s because Pinterest is for visually oriented women with smart phones and tablets, and a significant subset is young and geeky 🙂
    I’m going to examine the target users for ALL the social media outlets now 🙂

  12. Really good share, thank you Piers. Social media is still so much in infancy and yet more and more platforms are added each moment it seems. So marvelous there is such variety and appropriateness for many to participate. Finding the right place and building a presence there is the challenge – nurturing/cultivating is a daily practice, as with growing anything: a plant, a child, a pet, a cause, a business, a social media platform. Happy engaging, all!

  13. This post really brings things into perspective! Social media is such a distraction from what I actually need to do (but that seems harder than scanning curators for good content for my fb page). I have been really limiting my social media time lately, and it’s been working – I get way more clientele from engaging as a human being!

    I think another thing that begs to be mentioned, is who is really benefiting from my work on social media, me, or the site itself? In many ways, the site itself is getting waaaay more traffic than I’ll ever see, and after reading this post about fb: http://www.booooooom.com/2014/02/25/end-facebook/… I’m starting to wonder if that is the best way to spend my sweat! Thanks again, I really appreciate your thoughts.

  14. GREAT advice…

    “Stick to one platform for your daily twenty minutes until that platform is making you money.:

    Few months back I was working with the investors and board of a $12m company. I looked around at the wealthy millionaires in the room who were all 65+. I realized, there’s only one way to reach these guys … and it ain’t social media.

    Love your article on going where the fish are… not where the fisherman are talking about fishing.

  15. I found this post very helpful! As I am just starting out and have been wondering which Social Media platforms I should be using, this was great advice. I know that I need to consider what message I want to get out and which platform would be best for me. Being new to this game it can all be a bit overwhelming. Thank you.

  16. What a relief to hear this viewpoint! As someone just starting out in an audience business and not yet on social media, I feel that you just marked several chores off my to-do list so I can focus on what matters. Thanks!

  17. I agree that small businesses especially have to choose wisely where to invest their time, money and efforts. Facebook is rarely the right place UNLESS there are groups interested in what you offer. Twitter is where influencers find and recommend you. LinkedIn is best for business and B2B. Pinterest can drive a lot of traffic if you know how to use it well.

    Business owners should consider hiring an experienced influencer to research where their target audience is active. (Because they can do this quickly across all networks and it would take you a lot of hours to do it yourself.) Then set them up on one of the most promising networks and teach them how to best use it. Once you have one under your belt then you can add another and build from there.

    I do recommend having an account on the major sites with a bio that directs people to where you are most active. Personally, I prefer that be YOUR site and not a site that collects your locations or another social network – but that is a personal preference.

    You can find social media beneficial – but only if you are focused on doing what will meet your goals.

  18. After recently becoming completely overwhelmed with trying to keep up with multiple social platforms, I narrowed my focus down to 2. After reading this article, it reassures me that I made a wise decision. Thanks so much for you insight.

  19. Thanks Piers – these are my sentiments entirely.

    Unless you’re looking to grow an online business, being involved in social media is very costly for small business.

    I’ve worked with a number of medium sized B2B clients in Australia who’ve built Facebook pages and spent time and energy there – after research, we found that less than 1% of their clients even used Facebook. It’s hardly the place they would do business. LinkedIn was their social media of choice – and still only less than 10% of their clients were using this properly.

    On the flip side, I’ve got friends with a happening cafe and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have worked brilliantly for them.

    So choose wisely. Know your customer. Know how they want to engage with you and then by all means jump in.

  20. Hello, Piers,
    I get this. I have always scratched my head about why I should slave over a “how to manage tweets” sheet. I have accounts at twitter, facebook, Pinterest, and tumbler, in addition to my blog sites. I only post to the blog sites, which automatically post my work to all these others. Then I check facebook for replies, and, yes, for anything from my family. My twitter replies come to my email inbox and I attend to them. All the rest I never worry about. They really do get a few hits and refer a few visitors to my blog site, but I hardly ever notice them.
    I wonder, though, if a presence at once place can dim my reputation at another. For instance, does a twitter account make me look too frivolous for a serious Linked-In reputation?
    Thanks!

  21. Piers, your post brought back memories of where I was when I changed career tracks and thought I had to be omnipresent on all social media platforms!

    It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed a proper strategy and much of my ‘marketing and brand building’ time was heading for Covey’s useless time quadrant.

    I decided to focus on the 2 platforms where I knew I would meet my qualified prospects based on their behavioral preferences. So LinkedIn and a fun yet educative Facebook Page are my main areas of activity. However, I have built a strategy that ensures that I am also present on Twitter, G+ and of late on Pinterest without spending too much time on them. The end goal is to get a prospective client to reach out to me by getting them to my website.

  22. Piers, that was a great post to share. Thanks!
    It has straighten out so many confusions.
    I’m adding that 20 minutes investment in my schedule, I’m hoping it will help. 🙂

    Besides, which Social Media would do you suggest for a Self-development coach of Women Cancer Patients?

    • Samra, do you mind if I give my ‘two-penny worth’ in reply? I have 2 suggestions. Firstly, 80% of users on Pinterest are women, and Pinterest is a very supportive platform for women experiencing things like that, so your target audience are most likely to be there.

      Search on the platform for ‘breast cancer’ and you will see individual pinners who are on their own ‘cancer journey’.

      There are also more informational boards with general info about fighting cancer or support for women who have it (cancer-fighting diet advice etc). If you follow many of the above, at least 50% will follow back, and their followers will see your pins too. Post some good quality info of your own and you will soon get 100’s of interested followers.

      The 2nd idea would be Twitter. Again if you search for ‘breast cancer’, you will find organisations such as ‘breast cancer care’. They have over 100,000 followers, who will be your target audience. Follow them and start re-tweeting their content which will get you noticed. Also tweet comments and information which will help their followers, and use their account name in front of your tweet (e.g.@BCCare) to draw their attention to your tweet). They are likely to then re-tweet your message to all of their 100,000 followers. Hope that helps. Good luck.

      • OMG, Anne! Thanks, Thanks a lot!
        By molding the phrase and it’s meaning, I got to say that was a Million-penny worth suggestion! 😀
        And it was badly needed, Aye!

        I was trying to reach my audience via facebook before and It wasn’t going so well.
        Now, I have a better plan. Thanks to you. 🙂

        You have given a proper call to action, Anne. 🙂

        And I would love to share the outcomes with you, where can i reach you? 🙂

        • Hi Samra,

          Many thanks for the reply, and I’m very pleased it was helpful!

          Yes it would be great to hear how you get on, thank you. You can get loads more free information about how to use Pinterest effectively, from my newsletter – just leave your email address at http://www.pinprofitpro.com.

          My contact details are contained in those newsletter emails (you can unsubscribe at any time you want).

          I look forward to hearing from you.

  23. Great post. I know that most pros in my industry have little to no social media presence. Sometimes I feel I’m buying that large tract of land 30 miles outside of the city center in hopes the suburban growth will make my property super valuable.

    In other words, I feel like my social media is an investment to produce future returns. I’m trying to be consistent, surgical, and realistic on the returns, but if folks find me, I went them to find exactly what they need to find.

  24. Great article Piers.

    I completely agree that it’s essential to be ‘strategic’ about Social Media marketing and choose the platform according to your target audience.
    Time and energy is in such short supply for small businesses/solo entrepreneurs, so it makes sense not to waste it.

    I read a study somewhere which said that most businesses say they do not experience a significant result from social media but they actually don’t measure results. Possibly part of the same study you mentioned.
    The difficulty lies, as you said, in measuring the results of the efforts. Deciding what your goals are before you start, and how you will measure reaching them (or not) is the key.

    I agree wholeheartedly with other comments here about Pinterest. I’m probably biased because I train businesses how to use it (:-) but I am becoming even more impressed with it (for visually-rich businesses with the right target audience) because the CEO’s seem really savvy about their business users and are keen to help them get the best effect from the platform. For example, they have recently done extensive research into the type of audience using Pinterest and their interests, and are experimenting with putting content in each user’s feed tailored specifically to them. This can only help businesses reach their target audience much more easily. It’s also the 4th largest traffic driver to business websites and has the highest spend (above Facebook & Twitter) if someone does click through to buy a product.

    Also once good content is posted it can take on a life of it’s own, circulating ‘ad infinitum’ gaining heaps of targeted followers without any more time input. (I have just gained 75 new highly relevant followers without having posted anything for weeks!).

    I would say though that the most important thing to do on any social media platform is to have a strong ‘call to action’ to get as many users as possible clicking through to a website, in particular a signup page, therefore capturing them to continue the relationship, otherwise if/when they ‘unfollow’ you’ve lost them.

  25. Excellent article! Great advice. Timing couldn’t have been better. Am starting out and wasn’t sure which route to take on the social media highways. I can see clearly now the rain (of confusion) is gone. Thanks for sharing!

  26. Thanks to ALL of you who so thoughtfully responded, I am delighted you all enjoyed the piece. To those who pointed out about the importance of blogs, I agree entirely. Writing a thoughtful blog post, at whatever intervals your schedule allows for, is something that increases the spread of the net you’re casting in Google, and establishes a tone and style which can help emphasise key aspects of your brand. As an SEO, I also like them for their internal linking opportunities, too.

  27. Agree about plan for 5 and execute for 15. The trouble I have is that the distractions on social media are so high. I have found myself going on social media for a very specific purpose (send _ a message about _) and then several minutes later I haven’t done it and sometimes even forgotten why I came in the first place! I’m planning to use Buffer to reduce this likelihood. Also, if I can get in the groove with a social media habit + plan, then I can schedule out posts all at once. Why I haven’t done this so far, is that my posts are usually in the moment ideas, thoughts. A solution I am considering is to add it to a habit already in place. For example, in the morning, I start off with some reading and writing and I could add 5 minutes to jot down posts. If I’m writing the posts away from social media, I won’t have the same distractions.

  28. There are so many different opinions about how to deal with social media that its hard to decide which is the best way. some say stick to one platform while others say you need to be active all over the place. Its kind of like you feel you may be missing something if you leave any platforms out.

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