Digital channels have completely changed the way businesses operate today. Branded websites, mobile apps, social media handles: All of these are virtually prerequisites for building brand awareness, driving sales, and improving customer loyalty. Even traditional brick-and-mortar stores rely on digital touch points in some fashion, whether that’s posting store hours and parking information on Google My Business or directly selling to a larger audience through e-commerce sites.
For small- and medium-sized businesses, social media is one of the most intriguing technologies available at the moment, presenting a lot of potential as a communication platform. Is social media a good small business tool, and if so, how should it be used?
Social media on the rise with emerging businesses
There’s no denying the popularity of social networks among growing businesses. According to a 2018 report released by SCORE, more than three-quarters (77%) of small businesses use social media to support core processes, including marketing, customer service, and sales. That figure actually outpaces social media use among individuals: The report found that 69% of adults in the U.S. use at least one social media network.
If for no other reason than to keep up with the competition, maintaining a social media presence of some kind is a wise move. Used in the right way, social networks open up new engagement opportunities, in turn creating new customers, strengthening bonds with existing ones, and helping your business establish its brand voice.
Let’s consider some of the major ways in which social media can be a valuable small business tool.
Social media: A vital modern marketing tool
Ask any marketer: Social media is a core component of any successful online marketing strategy today. According to Hootsuite, there were nearly 3.2 billion active social media users across the globe, as of January 2018. That’s a lot of engagement opportunities.
Your business doesn’t need to capture the snark and ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist that Wendy’s Twitter page does so effortlessly. Having an active presence on leading social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is important for raising brand awareness and building customer loyalty, though.
B2B businesses can’t afford to ignore social networks, either. Sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are essential touch points for awareness campaigns and outreach efforts. Social media plays a vital role in content marketing, as well. Leading brands routinely promote their content on social networks, driving users to their site and jumpstarting the customer journey.
From a marketing standpoint, your SMB should be taking advantage of the communication opportunities that social media presents, if you haven’t already.
Social media supports sales efforts
Depending on the nature of the business, social networks can either directly increase sales or drive qualified leads into the sales pipeline.
B2C companies may find more immediate results using social media as a sales tool, as promotions, discounts, and other offers can be shared over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks.
Communicating with consumers over social media increases the likelihood that they will buy from that business. A Sprout Social report revealed that people who follow a brand on social media are 57.5% more likely to buy its products and services. Those figures only go up for businesses that effectively communicate with their followers: 71% were more likely to buy from a brand after having a positive interaction or experience with it over social media.
As noted earlier, social networks fuel B2B sales funnels, directing new visitors to brand sites and helping nurture leads through regular engagement. So, while drawing a direct connection between social media presence and increased B2B revenue is difficult, there’s no question that it can produce more qualified leads that lead to more opportunities to close a sale.
Improve customer support through responsive social media
When customers today run into a problem or have a question about a product, many of them run to Twitter or Facebook, rather than pick up a phone and call customer support. To give customers the best brand experience possible, your business needs to quickly and effectively address their concerns over social media.
An important aspect of conducting customer support (and outreach, in general) on social networks is to always be responsive. In many cases, complaints or questions that businesses receive over social media can be publicly viewed. Other users can see exactly what the issue is and how the company responded (or didn’t, as the case may be). A slow or unsatisfactory response could turn away the customer in question, and potentially other social media users who see the exchange.
On the other hand, people can see when businesses practice responsive customer support on social networks. Quickly putting out fires over social media is a good way to show users that a company won’t turn its back on its customers when a problem arises. That’s good for building brand awareness as well as customer loyalty.
Social media is a great way for your business to communicate with existing and potential customers, regardless of whether you operate in the B2B space or sell directly to consumers.
When alternative communication methods are needed
There are times when social media as a communication channel may fall short. It’s a great means to reaching a broader audience, but when it comes time for more direct one-on-one communication with potential clients, current customers, or partners, a different approach may be needed. For example, a sales presentation or a specific account engagement opportunity may require a more targeted communication. There are many small business communication tools, such as video conferencing, that may be better suited to reach your audience and create that personal interaction.
Depending on the type of engagement, social media can be an effective channel to reach your audience, whether driving sales, improving brand awareness, or providing customer support. But it’s important to consider this method as part of your broader communication strategy and adapt your approach to meet the goal of each engagement.
Leonard Callejo is director of online marketing at Cisco webex.com. Leonard is a successful enterprise software digital marketing leader that has built agile, data-driven demand generation cultures that span start-up, high-growth, large enterprise and turnaround business situations.