Social media has become a crucial marketing tactic for practically every business. But for small businesses just entering the social media scene, it can be overwhelming to figure out not only which platforms and strategies are right for your business but whether you should be using social media to build brand awareness or generate revenue.
It turns out that while most businesses use social media for brand awareness, these activities end up having a significant and lasting impact on a company's bottom line both by generating new customers over time and fostering customer loyalty.
Building Brand Awareness
In early 2014, social media management company Spredfast commissioned Forrester Research to derive insights for its report, The 2014 State of Enterprise Social Marketing. The firm's research revealed some interesting information about how companies are using social media. While every business wants to increase its sales, many of the companies surveyed don’t see sales as the primary objective of their social media marketing efforts. According to the report, the top three social media marketing objectives reported by companies are:
- Building brand awareness (39.2 percent)
- Building brand preference (29 percent)
- Driving direct leads or sales (15.2 percent)
Experts seem to agree with the report's findings. “While social media can be useful for generating revenue, its real strength is in helping businesses—especially small businesses—build their brands online,” says Laura Roeder, founder of both social media marketing education provider LKR Social Media and Edgar, a social media scheduling app that catalogs social media posts for users so they can be re-used for more traction over time. “I always think of it as increasing the ‘know, like, trust’ factor, because it's the perfect venue for building emotional connections and lasting relationships with your audience.”
While driving sales may not be the primary goal of social media activities for many businesses, that doesn’t mean that social media marketing doesn’t impact a company’s revenue. “Even a small business with a limited budget can use social media to effectively find new followers, demonstrate their expertise and develop long-lasting customer loyalty,” Roeder says. And these relationships and lasting customer loyalty often have a significant impact on a company's revenues.
“There are plenty of other ways you can generate revenue for your business,” Roeder says. “Social media, on the other hand, is one of the only ways—and certainly the best way—you can continuously build your brand, build your audience and build the type of relationship between the two that allows for long-term, consistent success.” As she explains, these relationships ultimately lead to more customers, which drives revenue growth over time.
Driving Sales Versus Attracting an Audience
The difference in your results will lie in the type of content you share, the strategies you use and the way you engage with your audiences on social media. A business interested only in generating leads and driving sales, for instance, might focus solely on sharing links to landing pages or promotions, or they could resort to gimmicks in an effort to generate leads without really thinking about whether these tricks offer any value to their audiences.
On the other hand, a business focused on building lasting brand recognition will share informational content, curate third-party content from industry influencers and actually engage in meaningful discussions with its audience. And while the sales-focused tactics may result in a few customers in the short term, without consistent relationship-building efforts, that short-term success will soon fade. But when you build relationships and foster loyalty, acquiring each new customer takes less and less time, and eventually, customers start coming to you with little to no additional effort on your part.
Whatever objectives you choose to focus on for your business, you need a plan to help you achieve them. “The important thing to remember, especially as far as developing 'know, like, trust' is concerned," Roeder says, "is that social media is only a tool—it isn't a solution in and of itself. Like any other tool, it's only as effective as you make it.
“Do you need a big budget to find new followers and customers on social? Absolutely not—but you do need a plan, and you need the discipline to see it through with consistency,” she adds. “Social media isn't magic. It isn't marketing steroids. It requires time, effort and, most importantly, patience. If you have those, it can be just the tool you need to build the audience you want.”
Patience Is Key
Roeder says it’s easy for businesses to immediately compare themselves to others in the social media sphere and think that there’s some secret sauce they don’t know about. “Really, the biggest difference between you and those other businesses is that they have a head start,” Roeder says.
“The time you're investing in social might feel like a wasted effort now, because you're working at it nonstop and seeing only a trickle of results,” she explains. “There's no magic button, though, and there's no overnight success—just slow, consistent growth.”
If you want to generate leads, earn new customers and grow your company’s revenue, making a consistent effort to establish and foster lasting relationships with your target audience will have a substantial impact on your company’s growth in the long term.
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