Marketing your business used to be easy. You’d have a special offer, so you’d create a flier, email or print ad for it—TV and radio, if your budget allowed—and send out the information en masse. Depending on the success of the ad, you might see extra foot traffic in your storefront or visits to your company website where you could sell more products.
Then social media happened. Now, instead of just being able to pay for guaranteed coverage, you have the added distractions of social media crowd think—where the opinions of hundreds of friends could impact how your brand’s message is received. While this can add the need for extra resources—manpower to monitor the conversation, faster customer answers, and so on—it also allows for more targeted advertising and marketing, and the ability to measure your success more effectively.
The question, of course, is which methods are best for your business? For any business looking to use social media as its primary channel for marketing or advertising, there are three main options: paid (involves buying ads and media slots), earned (reactions to your marketing efforts, with features and blog posts elsewhere) and owned (your own content used for inbound marketing tactics).
Let's take a look at the two methods where you have the opportunity to reach a wider audience while you’re still building your own presence: paid and earned.
The Paid Method
The paid model, using social advertising methods like Facebook Sponsored Stories, LinkedIn Ads or Twitter Promoted Tweets, can offer mixed results:
- Cost. Like its offline counterpart, the cost of marketing or advertising on social media can be prohibitive for many small-business owners. While Facebook offers a low entry point (you can advertise for as little as a dollar per day), Twitter’s Promoted Tweets can be more expensive (a campaign my previous company ran needed a minimum $15,000 investment to get started). LinkedIn Ads is more affordable, with the option to set a daily budget based on your finances.
- Effectiveness. This is where the biggest critique of social advertising comes in. While you can start with a fairly low budget, especially on Facebook, the real benefit comes when you spend more money. When using the various ad filters to determine the cost of the campaign based on your target audience—demographic, locale, income and spending, etc.—it soon becomes clear that you’ll need to increase your budget to have any real impact on getting your ads or sponsored stories seen by the general public. This, in turn, can limit the effectiveness of your ad. After all, if it’s not seen, what are you paying for?
- Analytics and measurement. One of social media’s true advantages over traditional advertising is in the area of measuring your success. Real-time analytics can showcase optimum publishing times, identify key market opportunities you weren’t aware of, and offer you the flexibility to adapt campaigns on the fly, based on current results and campaign goals.
The paid model offers both pros and cons for small-business owners. Yes, it can be cost-effective, but you often need to have a larger budget than you may be comfortable with or can afford to really see results.
There are other social ad options—Google Pay Per Click, for example, and Stumbleupon Paid Discovery—that offer alternatives to the “Big Three” social networks. However, as Google continues to place focus on quality content over paid results, the paid model may eventually make way for the earned one.
The Earned Model
Prior to social media, the most effective marketing method for many businesses was word-of-mouth. Referrals from friends and trusted colleagues were more effective at driving new sales because of the inherent trust factor involved in these relationships.
Word-of-mouth is still valid, but the dynamics have changed. Instead of the close, one-to-one relationships of friendships and fellow workers, social “influencers” have gained the trust and loyalty of your customers, and these influencers can help your business when it comes to putting your name on the lips of their followers.
And that's where the earned model comes into play. By developing relationships with key influencers in your niche, and having the potential for your brand message or product to be shared and/or endorsed by them, you can help build a level of confidence and interest in your brand, which will lead to more customers, more sales and more advocacy.
However, this approach needs to be handled carefully and correctly if you want to have any chance of success. These five steps should help you set things up:
- You need to understand who your core customers are and who influences their decisions when it comes to making a purchase.
- Based on that data, you'll identify the people who can help your brand shape that decision. Software tools like InNetwork, Tellagence, Traackr and Webfluenz can help here.
- By working with the companies providing the above noted software, you can plan an influencer outreach campaign that makes sense for both your brand and the influencer(s) in question.
- Next, you'll work with the influencers to determine the right approach for them as well as that of their community.
- Be diligent when it comes to answering questions, providing samples and support, and taking feedback for improvement.
By working with influencers as partners as opposed to just another marketing tactic, you’re showing that you understand your customer and their preference for unbiased thoughts and opinion vs. a standard push marketing approach.
While it may take more time, the preference for this type of “advertising” vs. more traditional display ads is clear. And it’s that preference that could make all the difference when it comes to choosing your preferred social advertising channel.
Read more articles on social media marketing.