Social Media Boon or Bust for Small Businesses?

Just a few years ago, social media or digital marketing was heralded as the “Great Equalizer” — a tool that would give small businesses an equal footing with the giants (enterprise businesses). With the recent change in organic reach on Facebook and other social platforms, is that still true? Is social media a boon or bust for small businesses? Let’s explore ways your small business can join the social media boon with these tips to optimize ROI.

create content for social media
Image courtesy of SEM Rush

Social media boon or bust?

It’s getting tougher for small businesses to compete with the big boys when it comes to social media — just like traditional media. That’s because GOOD social media isn’t free anymore. In fact, maybe it never was. Small businesses will still find social media marketing a great value, but not free. Even if you want to put your faith in social media marketing, you need a few other things, like a website, and add a budget for advertising and other elements you need to support your small business and get the most from your social media marketing efforts.

Here are some things to spend a little money on if you want to ride the social media boon with your small business:

A cool website for as little as $150 plus a small yearly charge

Do you really need a website for a social media boon? Sure, I know you can set up a marketplace on Facebook or sell products through Amazon and eBay, but you still need a website if you want to succeed with your digital marketing efforts. If you want a longer, more heavily supported reason to build a website, check out this post. Here’s their list of 15 reasons why you need a website.

  1. Brand Credibility & Trust
  2. 24/7 Availability
  3. Businesses with a Website are Easily Accessible
  4. Enhancing Customer Service
  5. Showcasing Products and Services
  6. Reaching a Wider Audience
  7. Cost-Effective Marketing
  8. Establishing Your Brand
  9. You can benefit from Google Searches
  10. Competitive Advantage
  11. Generating Leads and Sales
  12. Expanding Geographical Reach
  13. You can strategically target your customers through a website
  14. Analytics and Insights
  15. Staying Ahead of the Curve

So, let’s assume you buy into my argument that you need a website. You must now determine how to build one if you don’t have coding skills. There are a number of options, some better than others.

Avoid free website builders

I know you can get a free website through Wix, Google Sites, or even WordPress (WordPress.com, not WordPress.org, which is a superb CMS (content management system) that underpins nearly 1/2 of the websites on the Internet) and a few other website builders, but you won’t get much value from them. Sure, they’re free and they seem like a great option for folks who find building a website a daunting task, but they aren’t as good as they might seem.

First, they don’t offer much when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization). As you can see below, unless you show up near the top in search results, you don’t get much organic traffic.

organic traffic
Image courtesy of Backlinko

And, you can’t sell to folks who don’t visit your site.

Website builders also aren’t as easy to use as promised. For years I assigned a project to students that required them to build a website on Wix or a similar website builder. Every one of them complained about the difficulty in creating a site that looked the way they envisioned. Also, because website builders offer little in the way of customization, you end up looking like many other sites built with these tools.

And, these websites aren’t free. Once you reach a certain bandwidth, you must pay for the website you built. These prices are often higher than if you’d chosen an alternative from the beginning and you may find it very challenging to get your domain name (URL address) back from the website builder if you decide to move to another platform.

Build a self-hosted website with ease

Instead, craft your website (or hire someone to do it for you). Called self-hosted websites, these marketing tools offer great potential reach and conversion, are almost infinitely customizable, and offer a great variety of tools to help you market your website, including great SEO tools. And, the best part is you can create your own website for as little as $150 plus a small yearly charge for hosting without writing a single line of code. I’ve even written a guide that walks you through the process of creating a dazzling website, with a ton of step-by-step images that anyone can follow. The guide is free.

DIY website design

You can easily build your own website without writing a line of code using today’s templates available for free or for a small one-time charge. I use Genesis along with a child theme which cost me less than $100 when I purchased the theme years ago. Spend a little money to get a stable, RESPONSIVE website that looks good on a mobile device from a reputable theme builder.

Then, add a few plugins to improve flexibility. Keep it simple, but be sure to integrate social media (both for joining your pages and liking your content) and think about an email list capture program; MailChimp offers free email for small businesses. There are even a few plugins that allow you to create pages with the same drag-and-drop functionality that draws folks to those nasty website builders.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t get suckered into a deal where a firm creates your website for free and then charges you for it on a monthly basis afterward. You’ll find this a truly expensive option.

Advertising

You can’t just put up posts and expect them to bring organic traffic on Facebook or your website anymore and other social media sites will likely follow suit by using an algorithm (like the one used by Facebook) to effectively limit the reach of posts unless you pay to promote them. Plan on spending a little money on advertising and then monitoring results to optimize your ad spend.

The great thing about advertising on social media is the ability to target users to ensure you don’t waste money on those with little prospect of buying your products. Unlike traditional advertising where it’s difficult to reach your target market without wasting money on others, social media advertising offers the ability to target based on demographic, geographic, and even lifestyle characteristics of users. Plus, advertising is much less expensive on social platforms so a well-designed campaign can have a great impact on your profits. As you can see below, the conversion rate for paid social is very good, especially for B2C companies.

improving your conversion rate
Image courtesy of First Page Sage

Analytics – $300 or less

Google Analytics is free and the newest version, GA4, assesses metrics across multiple channels such as YouTube and the Google Play Store in addition to your website.  You’ll probably want some other analytics tools to help track performance across your social media marketing efforts. I use SproutSocial, which is really a combination of analytics and social media automation. It’s not anywhere near as powerful as enterprise-level analytics like SimplyMeasured, SocialBakers, SAP, and others, but it costs $300/month so it’s possibly too expensive for a small business just starting out. Consider adding some form of pay analytics when possible as the insights can really pay off when it comes to optimizing your social media marketing efforts.

Many also handle tricky tasks such as finding influencers, building your networks, and curating content. A good investment for a small business.

Social media platforms

Choose your platforms wisely to fit your target market and your bandwidth. Since most platforms require you to publish at least once a day, consider how many platforms you can support so you can meet the schedule necessary to build engagement on the platform. It’s a waste to build a profile on a platform and then not meet the minimum publication goals to achieve engagement.

Facebook is pretty much a necessity due to the vast diversity and number of users. You might add Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, or a few others if you have the bandwidth. The social networks you choose involve knowing your target market and then choosing networks appealing to that target market. Below, I show some aspects of the various social platforms you might use in choosing which platforms might work best for your brand.

demographic differences across platforms

Use your social platforms to share your content, curate content from other great folks in your product area, and build community by creating engagement with fans.

YouTube videos, podcasts, and webinars are also pretty easy these days by investing a few dollars. Buying things like cameras and microphones doesn’t have to break the bank anymore to get a professional product.  You also need to invest in software like Photoshop (image editing) and Premiere Pro (video editing) to turn raw material into a finished product. Both are part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud and involve a small monthly fee.

Other software helps create professional content of various types. I use Powtoon, for instance, to quickly and easily create animated videos that I share on YouTube and on my blog. Powtoon is free or $228/year to get upgraded, which removes Powtoon’s branding and increases the length of your video (also gives you access to more graphic elements, and music …). I also love Canva for creating infographics and other cool images. Canva has a free tier but also offers extras for a small charge, as well as a subscription model.

Google Meets is quick and easy, as well as a FREE way to conduct webinars with interested folks with certain limitations. A paid model is also available.

Great hosting

A great hosting company is a MUST for your social media boon rather than a bust. Look for hosting that’s up more than 99% of the time, is fast, and responds quickly to support requests. I use Siteground and love it.

Some “nice to have” extras

Graphics — Get some nice images and a logo for your business. Fiverr and several other sites feature creatives willing to create graphics and other marketing products for just a few dollars. Be careful and check their previous work and recommendations before hiring someone through these sites (or any other for that matter). AI tools like Dall-E are also great for creating graphics, although they come at a cost.

Paid themes — sure, you can use free WordPress themes (or free themes on other platforms), but they’ll cost you big time in the end. That’s because many free themes include malware, are difficult to use unless you’re a developer, and aren’t very responsive — looking wonky on a mobile device. I use the Genesis framework and I love it. With Genesis, you buy generic functionality that meets most developers’ needs then add child themes with specific designs built to your exacting standards. Child themes aren’t required but eliminate the need to code certain design features. Themeforest also makes a bunch of great themes that require only a single product, unlike Genesis where you often buy 2. Most themes are a one-time purchase, although I’m starting to find themes that require a yearly fee if you want to ensure you get upgrades as the themes advance or adapt to new WordPress features. I love both of these themes. So does Google.

Landing pages — I use Premise for landing pages, which is free with the Genesis framework. It’s very versatile and easy to use — creating professional-looking landing pages that allow A/B testing.

Plugins — most platforms offer a variety of plugins to extend the utility of the site. Most important are social sharing, analytics, and SEO plugins. Others are great to have. Here’s my list of recommended plugins:

  • Jetpack, which is from WordPress and adds things like Spelling/grammar checking, an easy tool for creating image galleries, and a bunch more functions
  • Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights is the best tool out there for tracking your performance (you’ll need to create a free Google Analytics account and then follow the directions for linking the account to your website.
  • Yoast SEO, which helps bring more visitors to your site by helping you rank higher when users search for things related to your site
  • W3 Total Cache helps your site load faster. You don’t need to understand how it works, but it caches the website, so returning visitors don’t have to wait for it to load again
  • Social Profiles Sidebar Widget, which makes it easy to connect your social profiles to your website so visitors can find you there. It also makes sharing your posts easier for visitors.
  • Akismet, which helps protect your site from spam
  • Pagebuilder, which helps create entire pages with plug-and-play functionality like all those page builders that kill your SEO and make your site look cookie-cutter.

Conclusion

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of things that are nice to have when running a small business site, but these are the biggies. Also, take a look at my list of marketing tools for more recommendations to optimize the social media boon.

Add your favorites in the comments and this post will become increasingly valuable to visitors.

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