Social media marketing is a useful promotional tool. In fact, many businesses gain notoriety using sites like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
But when Facebook and Instagram went down for a day in March 2019, the unpredictability of relying on such audience-reach platforms quickly became evident.
"Social media really changed the game for independent and small businesses to compete with larger brands," says Tom Yesowich, CEO of ELXAI, a smart home technology provider.
"However, these platforms are private companies, and they can completely flip the script at a moment's notice," says Yesowich. "Legislation changes, social outcry, algorithm updates or just an internal change of heart can lead to branded pages or tactics becoming obsolete."
Is Relying on Social Media Marketing Risky?
If your company relies heavily on social media marketing, you're taking a significant risk, believes Justin Bailey, co-founder and chief technical officer at Vimvest, an app that helps you invest, save and give.
"Social media companies are dealing with internal incentives, strategies and shareholders," continues Bailey. "If things are going well, incentives between the two businesses are aligned. This can change any day, though, making the relationship with a social media marketing 'partner' unpredictable at best."
Social media platforms are in no way legally obligated to their users, notes Nathaniel Pitoniak, a criminal defense lawyer.
"Nothing obligates tech companies to provide their users with due process, even if their guidelines attempt to provide a patina of fairness," he says.
Social Media Marketing Alternatives
While social media will likely remain a viable option for delivering messages to your target market, it may be in your company's best interest to diversify marketing efforts.
"Building a brand from the inside out requires that you use a variety of marketing tools," says Deb Kwiatt, marketing communications manager for Wellness House, a nonprofit that provides psychosocial care for people with cancer. "There are many creative ways of reaching an audience."
The customer journey is no longer linear, adds Molly Phillips, director of client strategy at Roar Media, an integrated communications agency.
"It's important to reach consumers through a variety of channels to reinforce brand recognition and drive conversions. Each channel supports the others and compounds, almost exponentially, the results for your brand."
Here are six alternatives to social media marketing. The more of these marketing options you use, the better your chances of reaching new clients and keeping existing ones.
1. Company Website
Your company website is your own digital real estate, and you dictate what appears on your site. So you may want to consider making driving traffic to your website a goal.
"I've found that a strong online presence through a well-developed SEO strategy and implementation can be more effective than social media," says Ziad Jalbout, founder of Making You Smile Cosmetic Dental Studio.
Custom at-home hair color company eSalon puts a great deal of focus on their website. This includes an "Ask a Colorist" module that enables visitors to communicate directly with a colorist and have their questions answered within 24 hours.
"We see a good mix of new and current clients using this service," says Francisco Gimenez, the company's co-founder and CEO. The company has also recently developed a site for Spanish-speaking customers.
"Our Spanish site is the first phase in our internationalization strategy," says Gimenez. "We'll be rolling out localized sites in Germany, France and Spain throughout 2019."
Using live chat on your website provides another effective way to interact with visitors and convert them to customers.
2. Digital Advertising
For Stewart Guss, an attorney who owns a personal injury law firm, digital advertising offers him more effective avenues than social media to reach potential customers.
"Google Adwords PPC [pay-per-click] marketing is an option," says Guss. "Likewise, programmatic digital advertising affords massive opportunities for targeted creative digital outreach, along with flexible targeting of your potential audience."
Display advertising is another effective digital marketing technique, adds Phillips.
"While not always the most effective for clicks and conversions," she says, "display can drive a tremendous amount of awareness for a relatively inexpensive cost."
Though social media advertising is also available and can be relatively inexpensive, the leads generated from social media campaigns are generally not as qualified as those from search-based marketing such as PPC, believes Mac Fadra, managing director of National Stem Cell Centers, which provides regenerative medicine and stem cell therapy.
"I've discovered that social media marketing generally requires retargeting, nurturing, marketing automation and other enabling mechanisms to evolve these leads into paying customers," says Fadra.
You may also want to consider digital radio, suggests Phillips.
"This platform is surprisingly accessible, even for small businesses," she says. "The listener base for platforms like Spotify, Pandora and iHeart are highly segmented and addressable."
3. Email Marketing Program
"A well-run email marketing program will consistently outperform the organic reach of your social media posts," according to Benjamin Hordell, founding partner at DXagency, a full-service marketing and strategy agency.
"With email, your brand has 100 percent share of voice and avoids the clutter of social media feeds," says Hordell. "Emails can deliver news, offers and any information you want to give your customer base. You can even add a 'viral' element to your email program by including a referral program to encourage email forwarding and subsequent list growth."
In your email marketing campaigns, "focus on providing value through great email content, unbeatable offers and memorable event," says Dan Grech, founder of BizHack Academy, which provides advanced digital marketing courses. "Potential customers will feel compelled to share their contact information and stay in touch."
It's important to reach consumers through a variety of channels to reinforce brand recognition and drive conversions. Each channel supports the others and compounds, almost exponentially, the results for your brand.
—Molly Phillips, director of client strategy, Roar Media
"In addition to email, also focus marketing efforts on collecting cell phone numbers for text marketing and phone calls," says Grech. "Email, text and phone calls allow you to keep in regular, more direct contact than social media."
4. Thought Leadership Content Production
Producing written and video content can help make you and your company a go-to expert in your field much more effectively than social media.
"The consistent production of organically discoverable, high-quality content encourages new and existing audiences to interact with your products and services, while simultaneously offering SEO benefit for years to come," says Bailey.
Content can be included on your website, as well as content sharing websites and that of complementary businesses.
Also consider producing advertorials (native advertising), advises Gimenez.
"We use content marketing platforms to promote our advertorial articles that are placed at the bottom of articles on major sites," he says. "These advertorials explain to readers what eSalon is and how it works. Readers click from the advertorial to our website."
5. Word-of-Mouth Referrals
"I've found that one of the best ways to reach customers has been and always will be word of mouth," says Lior Rachmany, CEO and founder of Dumbo Moving + Storage. "If you can incentivize this, then you have a great business model. Offering commissions or discounts to customers who bring new customers to your business is a great way to grow your business."
If it fits your industry, consider using affiliate marketing, adds Eric Hagee, general manager at 2 Sons Plumbing.
"Affiliate marketing offers a great way to use other networks for your company's growth," Hagee explains.
6. Listings on Industry Sites
Most industries feature a variety of sites where your company's services can be listed, offering a much more targeted approach than social media.
"Such industry sites allow you to speak directly to your target market," says Yesowich. "These include neighborhood review sites, industry referral sites and 'find a pro' sites. Many of these platforms allow you to post photos of work and include links."
Google My Business and Bing Places for Business are also platforms that enable businesses to create listings that can be found by potential customers online.
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