Business Checklist on When It’s Time to Engage in Social Media Marketing

Though social media marketing is a great tool to expand your business and reach new customers quickly and very inexpensively – not every business has the capacity to include this in their current marketing mix.

If the business is confused about who to reach with social media – don’t start. If you think “one Tweet fit all” is appropriate – stop and learn some more about TARGET markets.

All things are digital – but not all things are equal.

Amplify’d from

When You Don’t Need Social Media Marketing

by geek on December 14, 2010

For an ecommerce geek, talking social media marketing with senior executives can be a traumatic experience.  That’s because the upper echelons of corporate America are still dominated by digital immigrants whose discourse on web 2.0 matters is often unintelligible to those in the know.  Maybe the CEO just saw Mark Zuckerberg interviewed and learned that Facebook is now the most popular website online with over 500 million users.  Or that Groupon just snubbed a $6 billion dollar buyout from Google.  500 million and 6 billion are huge numbers, and huge numbers have a way of tickling the pecuniary glands of C-level mucky mucks   Then, the confused questions start in: “What’s our Facebook strategy?”  “How are we monetizing Groupon?”  “What’s our ROI on Twitter?”

As ecommerce geeks, we need to be able to answer misguided questions such as these while squelching our knee-jerk reaction to embrace all things digital.  The mere fact that a new trend has taken root online doesn’t mean geeks should rubber stamp it as a budget-worthy item.  There are times when an ecommerce geek should actually oppose social media marketing while superiors who don’t understand the technology want to move full steam ahead.  Examples of such times include:

  1. Your business doesn’t have capital dollars but your competition does.  During the worst recession since the Great Depression, many businesses folded, others filed for bankruptcy protection, others focused on lowering marginal costs, and others slashed headcount.  However, those with cash on hand invested in their products.  They did this while less cash flush competitors cut capital expenditures in order to stay in the black.  As the economy recovers, those businesses that made upgrades in their products will have the upper hand on those who didn’t.  But what happens when yours is the business that had to cut capex dollars while your competition made major upgrades and opened new facilities?  When your product offers a patently inferior value and you know it and your customers know it, it’s the wrong time to initiate an open online conversation with customers.  As long as your business isn’t suffering a salvo of negative attacks already, it makes more sense to ride out the slow recovery until you can start investing again and have a good news story to share publicly.
  2. Your business has slashed operating dollars but your competition hasn’t.  Similar to the example above, in some times, like recent times, a business has to cut its operating budget in order to survive a dearth of cash.  If your business is cutting routine expenses or even payroll while a competitor has the free cash to continue normal operations, your product or service might suffer, particularly when compared to that of your competition.This situation is difficult to explain to a customer, but once you open the Pandora’s box of social media marketing, your business must respond to negative attacks and inconvenient questions and comments.  And if you have an underfunded operating budget, you’ll get a disproportionate share of these.  Sure, your business could embrace a radically transparent strategy and take these challenges head on in public.  I can just see the Facebook post now: “Thanks for your feedback!  We realize that our website service has been spotty today, but we are having problems with our infrastructure because our load balancer is intermittently failing and we haven’t paid to renew our service agreement.  We hope that our only slightly better priced product justifies our crappy site experience, and promise to fix the problem when we have more money.  Do you follow us on Twitter yet?”  Better to hold off on social media marketing until your business won’t be entering the fray with a bullseye on its back.
  3. Your business’ customers aren’t interacting in the social space.  Check out MetaMucil’s (a fiber supplement company’s) or Advance America’s (a payday loan company’s) Twitter feeds…  MetaMucil quit tweeting and Advance America has 360 followers and follows 1,199.  And this is no shock, as a typical customer of either brand over indexes in a demographic group that participates infrequently in social media.  As an ecommerce geek, you need to be able to apply what you know about your target demographic to your online strategy.  Sometimes that means you should reject those initiatives, like social media marketing, which won’t have sufficient influence on your target customer.
  4. You don’t have the resources to interact in the social space.  Setting up a Facebook fan page or Twitter page requires very little resources.  It doesn’t take long to create profiles and there are cheap custom templates that are easily available.  But, what happens when customers start using social sites the way that they are designed to be used: as interaction platforms?  You’ll need a resource to listen, evaluate, respond, and record/report.  If you don’t have the resources to sustain your social media presence, then you could wind up doing more harm than good: you create an official venue for interaction and then don’t attend to it in a timely fashion when customers try to engage you.  And, your inattentiveness is now on display for other potential customers to see.  Don’t put the cart before the horse – first acquire resources, preferably in-house, to manage your social media presence, and then begin marketing.
  5. Your social media efforts will live and die by return on spend.  Marketing through social media sites would ideally reside in the marketing or ecommerce department.  But, with some exceptions, social media marketing typically won’t generate the kind of measurable return on spend that your company is accustomed to seeing from other types of digital marketing, like paid search advertising, email promotions, search engine optimization, and display advertising.  On the other hand, an official presence on social media sites is something that could be relevant to many different departments, including customer support and HR.   In the event that social media marketing would be evaluated as traditional online advertising is, a geek might be better off having the head of a department whose purse strings aren’t as closely tied to ROI fight for social media dollars.  Once senior management buys into social media marketing as a part of, for example, an overall customer support program, then ecommerce can work with customer support to incorporate consistent online marketing best practices. 

It’s important to note that if a business is currently in a position which makes asserting itself in the social space an imprudent strategy, it likely won’t be in that situation forever.  If any of the above situations applies to your business, there are still non-resource-intensive measures that an ecommerce geek should take to ready her business for the time it is finally in a position to do social media the right way.

  • Monitor.  There are several free online reputation management tools available that let you know when and how your brand is being discussed online. Trackur does the trick for monitoring single terms and is relatively inexpensive for monitoring multiple terms.  It also allows users to have custom feeds parsed for relevant mentions; this feature is ideal for niche businesses that need to track discussions on particular sites. And, it’s not just your brand that you should be monitoring.  Use your downtime to see how competitors are marketing through social media channels and note what works and what doesn’t.
  • Preempt.  When your company is in a better position to deploy a proper social media strategy, you’ll want consistently-named profiles that are relevant to your brand.  But profile squatters abound, which is why you need to be creating accounts now even if you aren’t yet ready to use them.  Knowem is a terrific service that acquires profiles on a company’s behalf on websites that offer vanity urls/usernames.  Be sure to periodically log in to these accounts, otherwise the sites where Knowem created your profile may cancel your account, seeing that there is no activity.
  • Prepare.  Even when your business shouldn’t be engaging in social media marketing, be careful how you frame the case against it; otherwise, it’s going to be a tough sell when it’s time to get into the game.   If you are currently eschewing social media marketing, make sure senior management understands why.  Again, your business likely won’t be in its present situation forever, so frame your social media strategy as one that comprises multiple phases.  Explain that the current phase of non-participation is temporary and delineate what the next phases will look like.  If you are holding back because your business or a product line is underfunded, then incorporate anticipated resumption of capex or opex funding as dependencies into your plan.  The goal here is to ensure that no one is surprised when you start to request a budget for social media marketing.

Ecommerce geeks eat, sleep, and breathe all things web.  So, when the CEO gets a wild hair and wants to jump into social media marketing with both feet, it’s tempting for an ecommerce geek to do just that.  But, just because social is all the buzz doesn’t mean that marketing on social media venues is the right move right now for every business.  Knowing what time is the right time to embrace social media marketing as part of a comprehensive marketing plan is what distinguishes an ecommerce geek from her digital immigrant colleagues.



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