Social media for small businesses – essential?

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I saw a poll on LinkedIn recently asking: “Do you feel it is a necessity to be on social media nowadays for a successful business?” The author of the post believes yes, it is essential for businesses to be on social media. Her view is that we don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.

I disagree.

There’s no disputing the fact that social media is an integral part of many people’s lives. Social media is often the first place we go to ask for a recommendation, complain about a service or rave about a product. The platforms provide an ideal opportunity for a small business to raise its brand profile, expand its audience and even make sales. And the fact that we can use social media for free makes it an even more attractive proposition. But, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Why isn’t social media essential for small businesses?

Why? Because the entire population is not actively using social media.

As with all marketing, the first and most important thing to consider when planning your activity is your target audience. Is social media the right platform for you to reach your target market? Are your prospective customers using social media?

How to determine if social media is right for your small business

And if they are, is social media the best medium to reach them or could other activities generate a better return on investment? Most small businesses have limited time and resources, so it’s essential to focus on activities most likely to create results.

Other marketing options include advertising, direct mail, email marketing, events, PR, sponsorship, telemarketing and word-of-mouth marketing. Social media is just one tool in the marketing toolkit.

If you’ve concluded that being active on social media is an appropriate marketing method for your business, consider which channels are most relevant. Each social media platform is unique. They each attract a differing audience and require a tailored approach. You certainly don’t need to be active on them all.

The final question to ask is, do you have the resource to manage your social media? While social media is free to use, it requires a significant time investment to do well. In my opinion, it’s better not to have a presence at all than to have sporadic involvement.

Social media can be an extremely effective marketing tool for small business, but it’s not essential. My advice is to concentrate on one or two platforms rather than spreading yourself too thin. You can, of course, outsource your social media management to a third party, and this can work well. But be prepared to invest in this financially if you want it to generate a decent return.