In the good old days, entrepreneurs would call up the Yellow Pages and place an ad. As the company grew, they would buy an ad on the radio or in newspapers or, if they were a really big player, a billboard.
Today, a company run from a home office can use the same platform as a multi-million dollar corporation: social media. It’s free, accessible to all and it really levels the advertising playing field…
Or does it?
Sarah Kirkpatrick, lead matriarch and founder of Jumping Elephant (@jesocialmedia), specializes in digital marketing strategies, social media management, and content writing. She says any company can expect a measure of success from advertising on social media, but it’s not as simple as putting up a photo, adding a hashtag, and waiting for the business to come rolling in. As with any other marketing strategy, it takes work.
“You can certainly put up a post a day with relevant hashtags and wait for the likes to come in, but it will be a very slow process and you better hope to have a lot of content and a big timeline before you need the ROI to show itself,” Kirkpatrick says. “A really easy step up from this is to do outreach. This means following hashtags and commenting on other pages and liking content that is relevant to your industry. This means getting your name up in people’s notifications and asking questions or making insightful statements so that they come back and check out your page (and follow it). If it is likes or followers you are looking for, this is easy. If it is revenue you want, then you need to have a solid strategy behind who you are reaching out to and the types of comments you are leaving.”
Many small companies try to save money by doing their own social media. Kirkpatrick informs on what they can expect.
“If you are doing social media posts amongst running your business, getting the kids to school, making time for date night, and making time for yourself, then you are a superstar. For this, I would say you can expect to build a decent tribe slowly over a couple of years. You will get your name out there, you will make personal connections, and you will start getting followers and likes to your page, on average 10 Facebook likes and 20 Instagram followers a month.
“If you have hired a social media company, you are often getting quite a bit more time spent on your channels than you would have time for. This alone will allow you to spread the influence further, connect with those who are not in your immediate circle, and plant seeds in the minds of potential customers. It is also rare for a social media manager to just manage social media. We frequently are doing content creation, community management, blog writing, and newsletters, so you are covering more bases. With a full marketing initiative, you can get well over 200 followers a month on Instagram without an ad budget (but that can skyrocket with a decent budget), hundreds of connections on LinkedIn, and very real ROI on Facebook and all platforms. On top of that, you are building a list in your database for warm and qualified leads through subscriptions, as well as getting new fresh organic eyes and traffic on your website from blogs.”
Is social media truly a strategy for every type of business?
“There is no industry that should do without social media,” Kirkpatrick explains, “But there are certainly some who would struggle more (service based) and could use extra support. Small clothing companies, for example, can hand our digital marketing strategy to their part-time staff and have it managed from within, in most cases. But those who are, say, home development companies, event producers, lawyers, or physio clinics, don’t necessarily have easy content or time on their side, and that is where we come in.
“The Jumping Elephant team works with entrepreneurs to create social media strategies that enable them to talk to their ideal clients and gain leads. In many cases, we are hired as social media managers to set them up for marketing success. We are also a team of content writers, social media managers, and bloggers who create messages that are engaging and remain true to our client’s brand, allowing them to focus on what they do best – running their business.”
She continues, “Different industries need different strategies and even different platforms to focus their marketing on. For restaurants and clothing retailers it is very easy to utilize Instagram and Facebook to showcase their #foodporn and #OOTD (outfit of the day). However, this type of content can also easily become lost in the clutter. For manufacturers or energy suppliers, there are a lot more opportunities to stand out with great content because social media is not as commonly utilized in their industries. Things like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are great platforms to really make a mark for yourself. These service-based companies have to work a bit harder to come up with great content but if they are willing to be a little bit vulnerable, they can really stand out, connect with major players, and start legitimate and important conversations online.”
There are some Edmonton entrepreneurs that have definitely figured out how to excel on social media, and Northern Chicken (@northchickyeg) is one of them.
“Instagram has always been a great way of doing food advertising, as it allows us to show off the food we are creating, the beer we’re bringing in, and the brands we are supporting. It also fosters a sense of community with the people who chose to follow you,” says owner Matthew Phillips.
When asked if he considered social media to be the best form of advertising for restaurants, he says, “I don’t know about better, just different. [Different strategies reach] different people, and different segments of the community. I prefer social media advertising, as the ROI seems to be tremendously higher for us, and it seems like our target customer is more plugged in than looking at billboards or listening to the radio.
For Northern Chicken, the proof is in the pudding, or in their case, in their photos of chicken.
“Some of our biggest and busiest days have been a result of social media posts that have brought a bunch of people down to try our new sandwich or tenders.”
Phillips is blunt about how he feels about entrepreneurs that don’t leverage social media.
“Making the choice to not communicate or go after a huge section of the population who now live on social media is absolutely stupid. In some industries and cases, I think the influence of social media can be overblown, but it is still a very important way of getting your name out there.”
There is one man that has truly mastered the art of making Instagram his own, not with a planned strategy, but by being his unapologetic self. Sporting a flower crown in his Instagram profile picture and known for his goofy and fun photos and stories, Benjamin Robert Loates, real estate agent, The GOOD Real Estate company, is known to his followers as @thatrealestateguy.
He’s about 2.5 years into slaying it on Instagram, and his posts are popular, but by design, not “typical.”
“Typical real estate posts are boring, all look the same, and make me want to take a long nap. I’m just not built that way! When I started, I didn’t know what I would do, but it was very clear to me what I wasn’t gonna do. Why spend your time, money and effort creating stuff that looks like everything else? I know how I personally felt as a consumer looking at the traditional way it was done, and it meant nothing to me. I don’t like to waste time doing things that don’t matter,” says Loates.
Did is strategy paid off?
“That’s the crazy part… yes! My whole paradigm when I started @thatrealestateguy was this: I don’t need 5,000 followers from around the insta-globe fake-liking my posts and giving me a page that ‘looked’ popular. In real estate, all you ever need is just one person to actually call you, and it’s worth it! So, my goal was always to have quality followers from my actual geographic area that would find value in what I put out so that just one would actually call me.”
Needless to say, he got more than one call.
For small business owners posting on social media, he cautions, “Be real. We have an entire culture that’s able to see fake without even trying. If you’re fake, you lose. Conversely, like cat nip though, our culture can sense the authentic, yearns for it, and flocks. Be smart. Realize what parts about your business make it unique and showcase those things in a fun and real way! The balance of professional and authentic is a hard one to find.”
Importantly, he adds, “Post stuff, but understand, no one cares when you’re not on. It only matters what you post, when you do. Nobody is thinking ‘Hey! Ben hasn’t posted anything in four days, I wonder if he’s okay?’ Just keep it all in perspective.”
He summarizes why so many entrepreneurs are turning to social media to promote their brands. “It’s fun, it increases your business, and connects you with others in a cool way.”