The Oxymoron of Small Business Social Media Marketing

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I’ve worked with a great number of small businesses that I admire, both as social media consulting clients as well as potential customers.  I am happy that I have helped several companies get to their next level with regards to their social media marketing, but I also find that many companies that seek my services are looking for social business expertise with a budget that does not place sufficient value on the experience they need.  Social marketers have a complex yet unique combination of traits that make them true artists in their field.  Are small businesses ready to appreciate the value that they bring?

If we analyze the situation further, however, we start to uncover the many issues that small businesses have with social media marketing.  That’s why I call it an oxymoron.  Let me explain further.

Small businesses have limited budgets, especially in departments that are not immediately revenue-generating contributors.  This means that, unless you can show immediate sales through engaging on social websites, the value is not seen by many a small business.  Small businesses got to where they are by being lean and only investing on services and people that bring immediate results.  Once they see results, money flows, but until then, it is a classic chicken and egg scenario.

But that’s only part of the greater oxymoron between small businesses and social media marketing that I see.  What can small businesses do to overcome these challenges?  Let’s first examine the contradiction in greater detail.

Small Budget or Resources not Available but Investment is Necessary

It’s obvious that without a specific budget allocated, you can’t hire or appropriate the adequate resources to ensure that you create a robust social strategy and implement it effectively.  This is why small businesses often end up hiring social media interns or having someone who might lack the experience but is available to do the job.  If you’re going to be active in social media, you need to have a general education of the lay of the land.  You need to have used the tool from a business perspective; otherwise, it could backfire.  Those that are utilizing social media on behalf of your company also have to have a business background to understand the potential implications of the conversations they are having on behalf of your company.  Needless to say, it is truly a case of you getting what you pay for, and a small budget can severely impact the chances of a small business to be successful in social.  Social media requires budget because it costs more than what most small businesses think.

It also takes time to socialize with people, and it is no different on social networking websites.  Social media is a commitment, not a campaign, and an investment in resources is the first sign to see whether or not a small business is serious about wanting to be successful in online social circles.  Resources required go beyond the person or agency you hire for social media – social media often requires the entire organization to get involved and provide resources to support the effort.  Without strategically allocating resources, it will be hard for a small business to be successful in social media.  As my old boss used to say, it is truly a case of, “No free lunch.”

Immediate Returns Wanted but Long-Term Investment is Necessary

Nobody makes a splash in social media and immediately gets lots of fans or a loyal following.  It takes time to socialize in person as it does online, and therefore immediate returns in social are hard to attain.  Small businesses, however, look for quick gains from their investment and are quick to get frustrated if they don’t see things developing that affect their bottom line in a relatively short time span.  This short-term view can negatively affect their social media activities, and it helps to explain the many “salesy” social media accounts run by small businesses that we see out there in the social web.

Social media requires a time commitment in addition to an investment in resources.

The Returns Requested are Simple When in Reality it is More Complex

One thing I find is that some small businesses, without a social education, feel that merely having lots of Facebook Fans or Twitter Followers means they are doing well.  I’ve said it before, but fans and followers can be bought.  The real business ROI of social media is how it affects your bottom line, and often social media ROI has impact on your entire organization that many a small business owner does not see in advance.  Small businesses shouldn’t get fooled in thinking that a simple metric can determine their success in social media.  This is an area which calls on the small business owner to exercise their leadership and read beyond the hype and understand how social business yields benefits for the entire company.

Conclusion: Social media requires a minimal commitment of time and resources with a long-term approach and a need for metrics that are aligned with your business.  Even if you were to have a Marketing employee devote half of their time to social marketing, it would require a few thousand dollars a month in terms of resources, not to mention time and an education.  ROI for social media within a business context does exist, but it often requires the CEO to believe in the vision and sometimes begin launching social media implementation through experimentation.  If you invested 10% of your marketing budget into social efforts, it is a good place to start to see the potential effect that your program can have on your bottom line – and then some.

There are no rules in social media nor guarantees that any business or person will be successful at it.  Yet there is a guarantee that we are spending more of our time on social sites and that opportunities abound for small businesses, even without brand recognition, to take advantage and build a new revenue-generating community of present and future customers as well as find new business development opportunities through monitoring conversations and engaging with the participants.  The only long-term solution for such an oxymoron is the continued education of small business leaders with regards to social business, a task which I am committed to and investing my time and energy to fulfill.

Don’t get me wrong – there have been many successful small businesses who have adapted to and become successful at social marketing, but they are like the goldfish in the image above, swimming against the stream of their industry norm.

Do you also agree that the terms small business and social media marketing seem to be contradictory in reality?  Would love to hear from you in the comments!

Video explaining this blog post in Japanese appears below.

[vsw id=”yTY7QQ3c8qs” source=”youtube” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professionals strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer


Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness & @socialtoolssmmt | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker
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  1. says

    Interesting. I am an author and find this view daunting. Makes me wonder how I can make a ‘mark’ out there on the internet all on my own. I don’t have any employees, don’t have even a medium ‘marketing’ budget, and I still have to write.  Can’t have only one book out and make a name for myself. This oxymoron you are talking about makes that seem almost impossible.

    • says

      Hi Lisa, I am also an author and it shouldn’t be daunting. Let me explain that this blog post was for small businesses, not solo businesses. If you are your own business, you can decide how you spend your time, and if you see value in it, can spend more time in social media than a lot of businesses do. Social media is free and only requires sweat equity. Yes, there are other costs that I noted that small businesses need to think about, but if you are your own company, social media is a perfect way to get the word out about your book so long as you invest the time and have a long-term commitment. For instance, I tell small businesses that blogging is like free advertising. They don’t see it that way. You are a writer. You don’t need to hire someone to write blog posts for you. And hopefully you will see that by blogging you can attract a bigger audience to your web presence.

      Does this make sense? If not, feel free to follow up with me.

      • says

        Yes, it does make sense. I blog more now than I ever have. I’m finding it is my ‘online’ journal and it helps me focus. I’m hoping a side benefit will eventually be a following, but so far that hasn’t happened. I still blog though so I’m paying my ‘sweat equity’. I’m sure you have suggestions for marketing that sweat! Maybe I’ll have to buy your book to find out what those suggestions are.

        • says

          I am about to publish my 2nd book, but when I published my 1st back in 2009, my publisher’s “Book Marketing Expert” only talked about social media. For an author, you need to build a platform, and I believe it is a combination of creating content (your blog), curating relevant content and sharing (social media), and engagement (community) that are key.

          There’s a lot more things you can be doing as well. I get asked by a lot of authors on how they can better market themselves in social media, so maybe I should write a blog post on that subject. Stay tuned…

          • says

            Lisa, how about using BlogTalkRadio – I would suggest YouTube, but I know a lot of writers (myself included) are not fully comfortable in front of the camera.  BlogTalkRadio has been a huge asset for my clients who write.  I started using it during Nanowrimo a few years ago and then took it to everybody I worked with.  You can literally use your “old” blogs and simply READ them into the phone – it creates a living library of audios (increasing SEO) and you can download to MP3 and CDs (if you have time, you can even audio edit the BTR branding off of the front end).  I spoke at Javits in May, and instead of business cards, I literally handed out MP3s of my audio pulled down from BlogTalkRadio.  Their free platform is probably enough for you.  Just an idea from one writer to another.  Peace and GOOD LUCK!!! Mary Agnes Antonopoulos.  

  2. says

    The very oxymoron you describe so well Neal also suggests a solution. With limited budgets, small businesses need to incorporate a little bit of social media activity into their marketing strategy, but to do it exceptionally well. 

    Where that little bit is used, obviously depends on each small business, it might be a twitter campaign, You Tube videos or just a blog.

    The limited budget might well be better spent on a few hours of a good consultants time each month, than on a full time inexperienced in-house junior who is expected to juggle social media with other more direct, revenue producing activities. 

    • says

      Thanks for the comment Peter, and indeed starting small-scale is one very practical approach. But, once again, it takes a leap of faith or understanding by the executives to “experiment” with it in the first place. And then the other potential problem is they pull the plug on the exercise if they don’t see immediate results.

      I don’t want people to think that small businesses need expensive budgets to be successful in social media. There have been many a small business who have been successful on small budgets. But it requires a long-term commitment in order to be succesful, and inherent in that is that resources and budget are sufficiently put aside for the exercise.

  3. Nadia Brown-Fagan says

    Neal, thank you. Wonderful insights. From experience it takes courage to start with what is the “right thing to do” when starting a business. First things first, the most vital factor to a good solid business is brand recognition. Building a brand’s image, trust, loyalty and representing the brand correctly takes precedence.

    Small businesses need to realize that this is not an overnight blast of riches. It takes patience, confidence, tenacity and integrity. It takes a solid committment and investment in your business to see the benefit of prosperity. It may mean countless days and nights strategizing how to effectively use social media. The best thing to do and I agree with you is to invest in someone who lives and breaths social media success strategies.

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