There’s more to social media than ‘likes’ and followers, explains Angus Wood, head of earned media at iProspect.

In comparison to the hype surrounding its New York Stock Exchange debut, the news that Twitter had opened up its ad platform to small business, caused barely a murmur outside the tech pages.  But for small business owners, this news is of much greater interest.

The social network has not so much lowered a barrier to entry as entirely demolished it. Previously, advertising was effectively off limits to SMEs who could not countenance the hefty minimum spend requirements. Now all that’s needed is a credit card, and a bit of digital common sense.

Actually, that’s not quite all. Before they commit cold hard cash to marketing in social, smaller companies need to believe they will get a return on their investment. Probably the biggest issue that Twitter faces, like Facebook before it, is addressing the common complaint that social media isn’t accountable enough; that the metrics and KPIs are ‘fluffy’ or ‘hard to quantify’. However, arriving  late to the party may be a boon for small businesses as they can learn from the experiences made by the global brands that have gone before them.

The rise of vanity metrics

The social networks are, to some extent, victims of their own early attempts at quantification. In making easily and publicly available the most obvious metric for a social network – the number of connections to a given page or account – the two big networks unwittingly made a rod for their own backs. Given something to count, people dutifully counted it, and organisations large and small embarked on a race to acquire fans and followers.

CEOs wanted to know how many followers they had – at least, once they saw competitors with more than them. Self-appointed ‘digital gurus’ set up shop, selling fans on a cost per action basis  – ‘pound a fan to you, guv, or six for a fiver’. In far too many cases companies spent money on recruiting fans on spurious grounds – ‘like this page to win an iPad’. That proved that iPads were popular, not whether the person in question had much interest in the company they had just ‘liked’.

It didn’t take very long for doubts to set in. The term ‘vanity metrics’ was coined, and companies  looked to the level of engagement as a better measure, again encouraged by the available metrics, in this case led by Facebook’s ‘People Talking About This’. Brand engagement and social sharing was more valid than just raw audience size, it was reasoned. Page Engagement scores were made the targets for newly formed social media teams. Again, though, blindly following the numbers resulted in a slew of ‘like if you agree, share if you don’t’ posts. They got good response rates, but proved nothing much.

A flexible route to market

This might put SMEs off investing time, effort and budget on the social networks. Yet approached right, they can offer a fantastically targeted, immediate and flexible route to market. Audience size isn’t about vanity, any more than the size of a customer database or mailing list is, provided people are genuinely interested in hearing what you have to say. Engagement taken out of all other context is meaningless, sure, but what about knowing that offer A works better than offer B? That your younger audience are more interested in one post than your older customers?

Beyond that, the whole biddable auction model is suited to small businesses. The budgets can be small. You can speak to very niche audiences. Spend can be doubled, halved or pulled at a moment’s notice without penalty. They operate on a cost-per basis, meaning you only pay for responses or new consumers signing up for more info.  Analysing e-commerce impact in existing site analytics requires no more effort than for any other digital tactic. Newer ad formats and targets make it easier to direct traffic to your own web properties, collect email leads or re-market to existing, lapsed or high frequency customers.

To succeed in social media, SMEs have to be clear about three simple questions: Who do you want to talk to? What do you want to say to them? And what do you want them to do or think after they’ve heard what you have to say? The social networks are only platforms, after all. If you choose to stand on the stage at Speaker’s Corner, saying the wrong thing to the wrong people, and ignoring the reaction – you can only have yourself to blame.


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