In times past, a business might get away with ignoring social and digital media as a marketing tool to spread the word about their products and services and still be successful. These days you don’t have to look farther than the typical waiting room, customer line or restaurant table to find irrefutable evidence that things are very different from the way they used to be. What’s this evidence? Nearly everyone you see is clutching a smartphone, complete with mobile internet connection and a tractor-beam-like grip on the attention of the human who owns it. It is not uncommon to see a family of four sitting around a restaurant table completely forsaking one another in favor of whatever stimulation their mobile device screens are offering at the moment.
The always-on nature of the internet and social media platforms has changed everything —from how and when people do work, watch tele- vision, listen to music, communicate with friends and family — and it permeates almost every area of life. It should come as no surprise that these wired-in, always connected people include your current and prospective customers. As a business dependent on sharing your products and services with the market, it is more critical than ever to find effective ways to make regular and positive appearances on their smartphones. And the sooner you start, the better since this trend promises to increase.
According to Aaron Benner of the marketing and advertising agency Boire Benner Group, honored as the North Country Chamber of Commerce 2016 Small Business of the Year, it can be very difficult for businesses to keep up with the fast pace of change. “In the past decade, and especially within the last five years, there has been tremendous change in the way you are capable of marketing and the variety of opportunities to do it,” he described. This issue of BEST PRACTICES tapped Benner to shed some light on these opportunities and highlights some of differences between new media and traditional media as platforms to use for marketing and sharing the story of your business.
Traditional Media Isn’t Going Away
Thirty years ago, marketing and advertising was more straight-for- ward. Some would argue that it was also more business-friendly. Traditional media commercials were placed on platforms like tele- vision, radio and print based publications like newspapers and magazines. The game was easy. The more money a business had in its marketing budget, the more frequent and prominent the advertisements could be. According to Benner, what it took to win the advertising game back then was to be the one who could break through all the noise and get people’s attention. “For the past hundred years, success in advertising was defined by who could scream the loudest. What they were actually saying to consumers mattered less than how often or how loud they said it.”
Not too long ago, if you wanted to watch a program on television, you knew you had to make yourself available on the particular day and time the network told you they would air it. You also knew that part of the price you had to pay for the privilege of watching a show was being forced to sit through three or more minutes of interruption in the form of commercials several times during the program. Without an alternative, that was the acceptable norm. Today, viewers can stream shows from the internet when and where they feel like it or pay for subscription services to completely eliminate the commercial interruptions. The widespread availability of television, radio and written publications streaming online completely changed the traditional marketing and advertising game.
Consumers are less vulnerable to having their attention trapped by their entertainment channels and more savvy about allowing themselves to be exposed to commercial content. As a result, businesses need to think harder than ever before about the content of the messages they send. This is particularly true for traditional media. Benner suggests that traditional media channels are best used to sell a particular product or service. “You can still get good results from traditional forms of marketing,” he advised, “It is important to make sure that you have a focused message and are targeting a specific group of people with that message.” Benner suggested that the former practice of throwing money into an ad spot and spending very little time on the content of the messaging is not effective. “Where marketing is really changing is that today it is all about telling your story as a business. Tell people why you do what you do and get them connected with that so that they want to be a part of it,” he explained.
New Media Tells Your Story Better
Prior to the social media and smartphone revolution, very few individuals outside of celebrities had the means to tell their personal stories to a mass audience. Today everyone has access to social media as a platform, and the entire world wide web as a potential audience. With such power readily available, consumers are no longer content with being sold to — or screamed at — by brands and businesses. They are used to interacting with content by sharing what they like, making comments, talking with other fans and making it much more personal. This phenomenon is precisely why businesses can no longer ignore social media. “What business owner wouldn’t want the chance to get to know their customers better?” quipped Benner, “The opportunities to interact with your current and potential customers today are like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” he added.
Social and digital media as a marketing platform is worthy of further inquiry beyond the scope of the quick read currently in your hands. Not surprisingly, the internet is an amazing resource for learning more about effective strategies for using the web to reach customers. Locally, the Small Business Development Center offers publications, and the North Country Chamber of Commerce and other business support agencies occasionally offer workshops that can jump-start the effort. Despite how daunting it might seem to dive into marketing with new media, Benner suggested all businesses can (and should!) start small and grow.
The landscape of digital and social media platforms includes familiar players like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, but the fast-paced change of trends in the digital space means that there are new arrivals and departures all the time. A great place for any business to start is Facebook, which Benner affectionately referred to as “the 800- pound gorilla” of the pack. “I believe that Facebook is pretty much for every business in some realm, whether you are trying to reach consumers or other businesses. They have the users, and everyone’s eyes are on them,” he added.
In addition to reaching customers 24/7 and around the world on their mobile devices, social and digital media marketing offers businesses incredible data about the effectiveness of their efforts. Facebook, as one example, offers analytics that allow a business to examine demographic factors like the age, gender, and location of the people who interact with the brand. This in-depth analysis of marketing efforts gives business owners the power to see for themselves what types of content resonates with the specific audience they are trying to reach. Benner believes that this kind of information is invaluable to his clients. “We have gotten useful information for a lot of clients on how to evolve their business from social media,” he explained, “When we put something out there and look at the response, we can tell from that information whether or not what we are doing is the best allocation of resources for our client. Without that kind of information from social media efforts, we would still be playing a guessing game about what was working. Social media is the way to connect with your customers,” he concluded
AARON’S TOP TEN TIPS FOR BUSINESSES USING FACEBOOK
10 – Know your back story. Why did you get into your line of business
in the first place? What makes you different? Keep these values in mind when creating content for your Facebook page that will connect with your audience.
9 – Be curious about your audience. If you’re going to connect with them, you need to find out what they like, what problems they have, and what they find interesting, challenging, and fun. Write most of your posts with them and their needs in mind, keeping in mind these often aren’t directly related to sales for your business.
8 – Haters gonna hate. Let go of the fear of negative comments or reviews on your Facebook page from customers with a bad experience or an axe to grind. You can’t please everyone, and neither can your competitors. There is more to lose from staying out of the game than there is by allowing someone to vent every now and then.
7 – Be open to change. Technology has dramatically changed most industries in the past decade, and that includes marketing and advertising. If you’re still doing the same things you’ve always done, you’re missing out.
6 – Crawl, walk, run. Set reasonable goals for how much time you can spend tending to your Facebook page. It is better to start with a goal of one post a week and stay strong than to tear out of the gate and fizzle out in a month or two.
5 – Content is key. Get out a calendar and brainstorm a list of possible topics for each week or month in the coming year based on what your audience might be thinking about – think broadly like back to school, holidays, seasonal trends.
4 – Images are not optional. Posts that contain only words are easily glossed over. At a minimum, find an image or photo to include with every post so the text you took the time to write has a better chance of being read.
3 – Don’t post just to post. If you get to the point where you have nothing useful to post, but you just want to put something out there because your plan tells you it’s time to put something out there, then you need to re-evaluate. Once you start putting sub-par content up, it is hard to recover.
2 – Don’t post just to post. If you get to the point where you have nothing useful to post, but you just want to put some- thing out there because your plan tells you it’s time to put something out there, then you need to re-evaluate. Once you start putting sub-par content up, it is hard to recover.
1 – Just start. Stop overthinking it and do it. The first step is always the hardest. Take that step today and see where it takes you.