Don’t Sweat It: How Much Social Media Marketing is Enough?

May 6, 2014


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At a recent networking event, I was discussing marketing strategies with a freelancer. When I asked, “Are you active on social media?” she suddenly seemed embarrassed. “I have accounts on lots of sites,” she said. “But I rarely use them.  I know I should be doing more.”

I wonder how many freelancers, entrepreneurs and small business owners can relate to her admission? I know I can. Nothing is more hyped in small business today than social media. Everywhere you turn, someone is holding an event about it. Everywhere you look, a social media consultant is insisting you spend at least 30 minutes a day tweeting, pinning and posting. And every week, pundits announce that some newly hatched social network is going to be “the next big thing.”

It’s easy to get the impression that small businesses should somehow be keeping up with all of this. But don’t be fooled. Even people who work full-time in social media can’t keep up. And bigger companies, who look like they’re on top of social media, have entire departments devoted to it.

Social media is an amazing tool. With it, small businesses can gain new clients and strengthen relationships with existing customers. But to handle the pressure, and do it well, you need a strategy and you need to know the rules.

What I show you here is how to invest your time selectively for the best results. I give you, the four rules of social media.

Rule #1: Don’t spread yourself too thin

The first rule of social media is: You cannot and SHOULD NOT do it all.

The experience of the freelancer I mentioned earlier is very common. She had registered for a lot of social sites, posted once or twice, and then let the cobwebs grow. The thought of “doing my social media” became daunting because she’d have to check in on so many different sites, it would take forever.

Spreading yourself thin is always risky, but with social media it’s a disaster because on social media, every post has such a short shelf life. It only exists in viewers’ feeds for minutes, hours or, at most, days.  If you’re not consistently present, most people will never even see you.

Rule #2: Pick one and do it well

I worked with a sales consultant who successfully connected with a lot of prospects and clients on social media. His secret? He focused all of his energy on LinkedIn and didn’t even have a profile on the other platforms. He picked LinkedIn because that’s where his ideal clients are — Sales VPs of mid-sized companies. These Sales VPs spend a lot of time on LinkedIn because it’s where they find customers and where they recruit talent. So our consultant was active in a few discussion groups on LinkedIn, and connected with some people he met there, and some became paying clients.

LinkedIn isn’t right for everyone, but what I do recommend for every freelancer and small business is to pick one site, and do it well. Be consistently visible, and you will build credibility with your audience there.

Where do you focus? Pick the site where your ideal customers spend the most time. To help you choose, we’ll review the main social media sites, and we’ll talk about niche networks.

Main social media sites

Facebook: With over 1 billion active users, it’s harder and harder to find people who aren’t on Facebook. If you go through the rest of the list and don’t find something that’s a better fit, Facebook is a great choice.

Twitter: Though it’s #2 in most rankings, Twitter is not for everyone. It moves fast, so you have to be extremely active to make a dent.  A good way to use Twitter effectively is to focus your energy around specific events. For example, you can engage in tweetchats that are pertinent to your business (do a Google search for chats with times and descriptions). Or you can discuss breaking news in your field. A sports blogger live-Tweets during games to interact with his readers.

LinkedIn: This is a great tool if you know the title of your ideal clients. For example, I work with a web design firm that is looking for marketing directors in the healthcare industry. With a quick search, they can find and begin to build relationships with their ideal clients. LinkedIn hosts groups around every conceivable topic and field that you can join, and participate in; and it’s a good platform for posting “thought leader” articles.

YouTube: Often overlooked, YouTube has more than 1 billion unique views monthly. You can use video to bring life to your work. If your industry makes good TV, become a mini-producer with your smartphone camera. For example, one of my gym clients has built a big following by posting short exercise demos on YouTube.

Pinterest: For visual businesses, businesses with visual appeal (like travel), or if you’re looking to reach its mostly female audience, Pinterest can be a great choice. My fiancé is active on Pinterest as we plan our wedding, and he has started to follow some wedding planners and stationery companies whose work he likes.

Google+: While big in numbers, Google+ still has a limited active user base. If you’re looking for a very tech-savvy audience, you’ll find that most users here are courageous early adopters.

Niche Networks

If there is a niche social media site that caters to your clients, you’re very lucky. These small networks tend to have extremely passionate users, who appreciate the laser focus.

Do some research to see if there’s a niche in your field. You might be surprised. Did you know that Ravelry has 4 million knitters who have discussed 5 billion kilometers of knitting projects?  Two million book lovers gather on LibraryThing, and a growing community of sports fans meets on Sportslobster to debate, cheer and talk trash.

Rule #3: Engage, engage, engage

In real estate, the mantra is location, location, location. With social media, it’s engage, engage, engage. This doesn’t mean you have to be on the social media network of your choice all day — far from it. What it does mean is that you will get the best results in a limited amount of time by following the 80-20 rule.  Spend 80% of your time on social media engaging with others, and spend 20% promoting your business.

Most social media platforms operate somewhat like cocktail parties: much of the conversation is about connecting and finding commonalities, and this is a great foundation for a business relationship. People who are mainly touting themselves will be ignored, just like IRL (in real life).

Rule #4: Be consistent and focused, and let go of the rest

Given this discussion, which network do you think is best for finding and building relationships with your ideal customers?  Focus your energies there. Decide how active you can be, given time constraints, and commit to a consistent schedule. Block off this time in your calendar as a recurring event. With social media, consistency is the key to impact. Now, give yourself permission to let the other networks slide.  You’ll get better results this way, as well as peace of mind.

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about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.