You hear a lot about the success of big consumer product companies are having with social networking. P&G, for example, discovered that Facebook could pump new life into a stable but decidedly staid product, Pepto-Bismol. Business Week wrote about it here in March.
Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) and those not so explicitly consumer oriented have found social success a bit more elusive. Among midsize businesses, for instance, 38% have a company Facebook page, but less than a quarter uses it to generate new leads and sales and less than one-fifth use it for internal collaboration or customer retention, according to a recent study by the SMB Group.
The 2012 study shows overall use of social media is up from 44% to 53% among small businesses (1-99 employees) and up from 52% to 63% among medium businesses (100-999 employees) year-over-year, but it also reveals a widening gap between SMBs that are using social media in an informal, ad hoc manner and those taking a more planned, strategic approach. Here is how can you make social strategic in your organization and avoid common pitfalls.
Start by making a commitment to use social media strategically and link it to goals for revenue growth. Strategic users, the study found, also were more likely to have already integrated social media with existing business applications and processes. CRM, customer support, and product development are the three that most quickly come to mind.
After that, you want to avoid five social media pitfalls SMBs trip on. Kevin Casey, writing for Information Week, elaborated on them. To summarize what he found:
1. Not enough time. A lack of time was the clear number-one issue for small businesses, with 62% citing it as a roadblock to effective social engagement. Midsize businesses are similarly pressed.
2. Too many social networks. The time issue compounds as the number of social platforms grows. Facebook still leads the pack of social sites used by SMBs but its lead is dwindling as more companies add Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others to their social networks. That also complicates strategy development and execution.
3. Hard to measure. Nearly half of midsize firms report being unable to accurately measure the value of their social media. Small businesses voice similar concerns. Why define and execute a strategy if there is no effective way to evaluate progress?
4. Ill-fitting tools and services. Yes, social monitoring and management tools are emerging but many are not designed for SMBs. They don't want a comprehensive command center but something easily deployed that covers all of their social activities in one simple toolset, including metrics.
5. Confusing social sentiment. SMBs experience a whirlwind of social information, some of it contradictory, emanating from these social networks, which makes it hard to figure out what it all means. Social analysis tools are emerging for this.
Maybe the first challenge of social networking is getting your organization to adopt it at all. Corinne Sklar, marketing director at Bluewolf Group, a leading social consulting firm, has this to say on adoption: Long emails with links to how-to spreadsheets tend to fall victim to the I'll-get-to-it-later email black hole. Instead, innovate with new forms of communication, the more streamlined and concise the better. As attention spans wane providing a mix of communication tools helps your people get the info they need in the kind of short, bite-sized chunks they can use immediately. When going social, instant gratification counts.