A big topic of discussion with new and with long-term clients is which social media platforms to go for. How do you spend your time most effectively so you reach the right people and get the most return? What makes a good return anyway?
Of course there's no set answer to this, as it depends on the nature of your business and your sector.
So let's look at what is actually working for our own clients. On which of the Big Four platforms are we really seeing results?
A big argument for getting your business on Facebook is often 'well everyone else is on Facebook.'
Which is fine, until six months down the line you look back at a heap of postings and only 30 followers to show for it. Why is this? Because people don't want to talk about finance, insurance, law or other weighty matters on Facebook. They don't want their connections seeing their posts and making assumptions about their private affairs.
However, if you're a community-based project it can really fly.
If you're news, showbiz, retail and you have plenty of image and video content, you should have no problems. Our client Lürzer's Archive (above) has gone from 17k to nearly 40k followers in a year due to all the attention-grabbing image and video content we are able to share. This will have massively raised the profile of a relatively niche magazine through the global audience of creatives who click like and comment upon the content.
But if you're a B2B and are struggling to get engagement on Facebook sometimes it's not a poor reflection on you or your product - it's because you're in the wrong place. There's no shame in taking a long hard look at it and closing down the page to focus on other networks. It might feel like a relief and will be a better use of your time.
The big thing we find from working on Twitter for clients for four years, is that it's a slow burn. This is not an excuse; it's because it takes a long time to build up that trust and awareness, in the same way that in 'real life' it takes a while to get to know people and develop loyal relationships.
So unless you get a helping hand from someone else with a lot of followers, or an ad campaign in print or TV, it's going to take a while to get things going. You could buy computer-generated followers but don't expect a lot of engagement or sales!
But if you keep on producing focused, quality content (like Cambridge Phenomenon, see right) it can bring results. It's not all about the numbers. One client, who is in a very niche area, isn't building up a very large following but of these people a large percentage are actually buying the product. With Creative Ely we're sharing information with a small community who are very interested in what we have to say. So it's quality, not quantity, which is getting results.
Then there are the clients who use it as a way of monitoring what's going on in the industry and finding new leads, who don't tweet much but are definitely there, lurking and learning!
When it comes to Google+ it's easy to trot out this argument that being on Google+ is good for SEO. But is it really? I haven't seen very much evidence of this for small businesses.
Looking at a much bigger player, like Topshop for example, and you'll see that when you search in Google, then its Google+ page will show up in a special box on the right-hand side showing a 1.7m-strong community. Facebook and Twitter, with their much greater communities and engagement come much lower down the page. But if you're Topshop, aren't your official pages going to come top in searches anyway? How much does a Google+ page really add to this?
And how about engagement? If you're a major brand with a strong presence offline and an established following on other social media channels, it should be easy to build up the numbers and get a lot of response. But as is shown by this excellent analysis from Econsultancy, Are the top 20 UK retailers bothered about Google+?, Topshop has ten times as many followers than Thomas Cook yet attracts the same levels of responses.
Small businesses we work with are struggling to find the real benefits of being on Google+. For one, it adds an extra burden of time, diluting the efforts put into social media. Then there's the feeling that it's not where their customers are.
But the biggest problem is the usability. Everyone tells us it's a struggle. You cannot default to using a business page; it always steers you towards your personal profile first. They keep tinkering with the design. Contacting them is problematic. Getting verified is complicated. There's lots of tail chasing going on which makes the other Big Three look so easy.
When you work in social media it's easy to be part of the bubble - but stick your head outside for a second and think like the customer. As David Moth wrote in another piece for Econsultancy on Google+: "We’re all sitting around expecting that one day Google will unveil its true purpose and all the effort will have been worthwhile, but at the moment I feel that blind optimism is one of the only things keeping it going."
This is the one which seems to be really taking off for our clients. In quite an astonishing rate. It's always sat there quite quietly in the background, with the focus mainly being on groups, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes you get some quality postings and discussions, sometimes you have to fend off a lot of spam. Sometimes someone out there sets up an 'official' group about your brand over which you have no control.
But it's the company pages where it's really happening. LinkedIn has introduced lots more options for customising the pages with branding and details of products. Still a little clunky but at least you can get some personality in there. We've just started work on the Elektron Technology page (above) and it's really cheering to see the way that regular posts of interesting content
And I'm just finding that there's lots of engagement. With the right people, ie professionals. These are people who are a) likely to be able to afford to buy your product b) able to engage with you in a way that they wouldn't feel comfortable with on Facebook.
Take accountancy for example - who wants to talk about tax affairs on Facebook with their friends and family listening in, when they could talk about it on LinkedIn in a more neutral, professional manner?
I'm seeing more and more that a little effort on LinkedIn reaps rewards by:
- showing immediate engagement. People clicking Like and commenting. This is good for the people in the company who are not sold on the idea of social media.
- reaching the right people. LinkedIn offers clear data on whether these people are directors or new to the industry.
- for many of my clients, Google Analytics shows LinkedIn as a key referrer of traffic to the main website. It's going to take SMEs a lot of time on Google+ before it can even come close to overtaking LinkedIn on this front. Or Twitter. Or Facebook.
How about you? Which networks are really getting results?