In 1997, a website named sixdegrees.com became one of the first social media destinations on the internet. Myspace and Friendster followed soon after. Then, in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook in his Harvard dorm room — and everything changed. Now, nearly 25 years after the launch of sixdegrees.com, social media has become an inescapable part of our everyday lives. So as we approach National Social Media Day on June 30, we’re taking a look at the state of the industry and how small businesses can succeed in an environment that seems to be changing before our eyes.
From Organic to Dominant
Social media sites began organically as places where ordinary people could share updates with their friends and family. However, as these sites became more popular, brands saw an opportunity to connect with consumers and got involved. Before long, Facebook launched promoted posts and developed an algorithm that prioritized some content over others. Suddenly, social media was big business, and Facebook soon became one of the largest advertising platforms in the world.
That shift had a tremendous impact on digital marketing. Today, social media advertising is critical for sales funnel activities like brand building and remarketing. Even companies that sell services rather than products feel pressure to participate. In many ways, social media has become the glue of the internet. If a business isn’t there, they’ll find it much harder to reach potential customers.
While new channels like TikTok continue to draw in users and push the boundaries of creativity, the social media industry has recently faced some serious challenges. That may lead some businesses to wonder whether social media is still worth the investment.
A Time of Transition
If you use social media regularly, you’ve probably noticed a shift. Over the last few years, the discourse has hardened. Your profile page was once a place to simply share funny photos of your pets and updates on your kids. Now users frequently clash over conflicting political issues, while misinformation and outright disinformation run rampant. All this negativity has led to some serious social media fatigue for many users. Add in the growing privacy concerns over the way many companies use the information they collect, and social media as we know it seems to be at a turning point.
Marketers face new challenges as well. Apple has responded to privacy concerns with a software update that gives its users more control over who has access to their data. As a result, businesses now have more restrictions on their advertising activities, and it’s still too early to gauge how this will impact digital marketing. Social media is also becoming more spread out. Channels are breaking off based on age and interest. Many channels also offer multiple publishing options within their platform. So, it’s becoming harder to reach everyone in the same place.
These changes lead some people to believe that social media is dead or dying, but those concerns are overblown. There are still millions of conversations happening every day. They’re just happening in more places. So how can small businesses see through the confusion and create strategies that take advantage of what social media does best?
Three Ways Small Businesses Can Succeed at Social
Despite the baggage social media sometimes carries, it’s still a fantastic place to meet potential customers and talk about your wins. No matter what kind of work you’re involved in, there’s a social media strategy that will support your broader business goals. With that in mind, here are three effective social media strategies any business can use.
1. Prospecting and Referrals
Everyone understands by now that social media is not always an accurate representation of real life. Behind every Instagram influencer with their perfectly curated feed is a reality that’s anything but perfect. The same principle certainly holds true for businesses. However, social media does offer an opportunity to connect with real customers and highlight their actual experiences.
Social proof in the form of reviews, referrals and testimonials is one of the most potent forms of advertising. The average person is savvy enough to recognize marketing for what it is. That’s why they’ll give more credence to someone who offers their positive (or negative) opinion freely. However, companies need to have an active presence on social media to capitalize on reviews, referrals and testimonials and do the prospecting work that might come from them. If you sell a service, this is the first social media strategy to pursue.
2. Ecommerce Support
If your business sells products online, paid social media advertising should be a critical component of your marketing funnel. At the top of your funnel, social media is an effective prospecting tool where you build brand awareness and inform a cold, qualified audience. Then, as prospects move through your sales cycle, social media remarketing ads can target customers who’ve visited your website or viewed specific products. Finally, at the very bottom of your funnel, you can use social media to create customer advocates who speak directly to cold prospects on your behalf.
When combined with other activities like content marketing, conversion optimizations and email marketing, paid social media advertising becomes some of the most effective marketing dollars a business can spend. So if you’re selling products online, you need to be using social media advertising tools.
3. Geolocation Targeting
Even brick-and-mortar retail businesses can use social media to their benefit. Platforms like Facebook include powerful geolocating options that allow advertisers to target people who live or work near a business. That means you can send targeted messages to drive foot traffic to your physical location. This tool can be effective for retail businesses that don’t necessarily sell online or for cafés, restaurants or entertainment venues that need to get the word out to people nearby.
Stay Focused. Social Media is Here to Stay
After 25 years, there’s no doubt social media is here to stay. However, it’s also clear that we’re in a transitional period where our personal and professional relationships with these platforms are evolving. That doesn’t mean that social media is any less effective as a marketing tool. If anything, this is a time to stay laser-focused on your social media goals and ensure that all your online activity supports them.
In many ways, change is baked into the social media experience. These tools evolve as users evolve, and that likely won’t change anytime soon. As a business owner, it’s important to remember that online advertising is the most effective method of reaching your customers. If you’re not online, reminding people that you exist, your competitors probably will be.