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Last week I managed to catch myself watching Digby Jones: The New Troubleshooter on BBC2 for the second time in the series.

One thing that really caught my attention with this show was the focus on an 'old-school' industry struggling to come to terms with modern technology.

This modern technology being the internet, something that I first used 20 years ago.

The last episode was based in County Durham at an electronics manufacturer called Ebac, and its struggles with the Norfrost freezer range. By the by, the sticking point for me was a segment where they started discussing online presence and the importance of social.

So it got me thinking, how really important can social be when it refers to a freezer company based in County Durham? Can it really be worthwhile expending any effort into such a vanilla product?

I have a particular empathy with this scenario because I myself am working in the Electrical industry, namely the ecommerce side. After a year I can safely say that it is an industry that has found itself struggling to come to terms with the adoption of online.

Also being quite frank, the majority of products we sell are pretty vanilla too.

Yes they interest me, I’d be wasting my time if I couldn’t muster up some passion for them, and yes they interest people who are in the midsts of renovating their houses or are involved in the industry. But are they interesting enough for the world of social?

I’m not going to give an outright answer to that. Purely because I am a true believer that only statistics can dictate what you should be doing on the internet, not opinions. 

In our recent rebuild of the site, due very soon, we will be adding social buttons to the product page. Something I personally oppose, I feel that there is one button I want to be pressed on the product page.

And that one isn’t Joe Bloggs saying to his mate "I’ve found this fantastic single gang 13A Light Switch in Brushed Chrome".

But. I’d be going against my mantra of letting the stats do the talking. If they’re used then I’d be happy because we’re getting our name out there. But if they’re not used then I’d be justified in thinking that social media isn’t really the place for us at this juncture in our growth as a company.

Looking at the Norfrost website I have to say I am impressed with its tidy layout, it was easy to navigate and the product pages were really detailed and useful.

Something I’d like the companies in the Electrical industry to aspire to, as the majority of sites are impossible to navigate and end up leaving you with more questions than answers.

Know where your audience comes from

I digress. My main point is that after looking at Norfrost's social efforts, I feel I am justified in saying that small businesses should really focus their efforts into knowing where their existing audience is coming from and building upon that, not trying to build a new audience from somewhere they don’t really belong. 

On the site Norfrost has this menacing red tab called "Family Organiser" which takes you through to its YouTube recipe videos as discussed on the Digby Jones show.

This is something that strikes fear in to me as being a potential trend setter for any aspiring small business owners watching the show.

And the justification/selling point for these recipe videos?

“Most people think of their chest freezer as nothing more than a necessity, something they have for convenience and simplicity and in a way that's exactly what it is. But if you're smart with your freezing habits it can become so much more.

With that in mind Norfrost have started on a journey to create the Norfrost Family Cook Book”

The thing that irks me about this is that not once in this video has a Norfrost freezer been used.

So where the company could have made a two minute video showing the benefits of the Norfrost 60L, it's wasted time and money making irrelevant content that will be ignored by most.

It is currently sitting with around 60 views. Most probably from friends and family of the people in the video.

My questions before making any content for a company would be 

  • Is the content relevant?
  • What are the consumer benefits to the content?
  • Will it help us sell more products?

This is something I am really trying to push with our website, and fortunately as somebody who has only worked in the industry for one year am finding that I can base our content strategy on topics that arise during my working hours looking through hundreds of products!

Recently I caught myself asking what an IP Rating represented, and why don’t we detail on each product with an IP Rating what that actually means. Previously we will have a simple bullet point stating that such and such outdoor bulb is IP65 rated. Which means what exactly? 

So I ended up doing some research (I typed IP Rating Guide into Google...) and seeing that some companies had done some really useful diagrams.

Which for me meant that we needed to do that, and eventually on top of that provide it clearly on each product with an IP Rating.

We’re still in the early stages of this, we still have to go through and add it to the products, but it is relevant, will educate the consumer on whether what they are buying is suitable for their application which in turn will assist us in selling more products.

It will also give us the potential benefit that when somebody is searching for the meaning of IP Ratings, we have a relevant bit of content for them and may get stuck in their heads for future reference. Something sadly that we can’t quantify easily - and makes it a bit more presumptuous than I’d like. 

So what about Facebook/Twitter/G+/YouTube?

I personally think we should all have a presence, but effort expended should be relative to the stats showing what we actually get back from social.

In the two years from April 2012 to April 2014, the website I work for has had 0.002% of its traffic referrals from social media as a whole.

Something we can put down partially to the fact that we don’t do that much socially, but something that can also be put down to the fact that we don’t have that much we can really gain by advertising a switch or socket via this medium.

Going on these stats we should be spending roughly 1.2 minutes per working day of our time on social. 

That doesn't mean we should only spend that long on social a day - there are added benefits to each social network.

On Facebook we have the chance that somebody may contact us regarding an order (this has happened just the once), on Twitter we use it to communicate with our suppliers and to learn about their new product ranges, on Pinterest we get to show off the least vanilla of our products and on Google + we get to own more of the SERP when we are searched for.

But to hear the Norfrost 'web experts' say on television that social efforts will lead to them 'ranking' better shows that they are merely being caught in a series of buzzwords and acting upon those.

Whilst I can sound like I am preaching a bit too much about some throwaway comments I feel I can be fully vindicated when I take a quick look at Norfrost's social statistics and a frank assessment of our own.

To date, the most popular recipe on YouTube has a total of 128 views. Remembering that this company, and in particular this strategy, has just appeared on BBC2 in a prime-time feature.

Whereas (harking back to the earlier point regarding product videos) in the last year over 4,000 have watched a demonstration of how to fit a thermostat on a Norfrost chest freezer.

Statistics are logical indicators of how to take online strategies forward, it took me less than an hour to surmise where Norfrost's strategy should point.

This is in no way a piece intended to smear Norfrost, I am fully in favour of a British company making British goods trying to succeed and get with the times.

Its website is a fine looking specimen, it is just the thinking that is stone age and people need to be made aware that just doing things because everybody else is, is not the right way to behave.

If I can leave one bit of advice from my experience in a similar situation, it would be to spend more of your time learning about your existing audience and building from there rather than following a thought process that stems from "well everybody is doing it".

Don't be persuaded by opinion. Do use statistics to logically determine the best route ahead.

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Published 29 April, 2014 by David Kyle

David Kyle is an ecommerce manager and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Q. Small businesses: is it really worth being social?

A. No for 99% of small businesses.

The answer's only "yes" if the business is something like a tech startup, that must grow incredibly fast or die, or if your business is mostly online, or if you have someone in the core team who really likes social as a hobby and would do it anyway.

I've been studying this issue for ten years, partly in connection with my partner's shop. The most important factor is the huge cost in producing good quality content - it's the same number of hours for 10 readers as for 10,000 - but the results are much more valuable in the latter case.

An interesting follow-up article would be whether small businesses need anothing more than personal email, correct details in the various local directories, and a maybe a presence on something like Amazon marketplace. No Website or social. I'd say that would be enough for 90%.

over 2 years ago

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Ritesh Patel

This is the same kind of posts I used to see when the web was just starting out in 1995. In 1998, I remember a similar conversation about why bother having a web site.

Social, Mobile and local are increasingly valuable. I run a small business, and done properly, social has been a huge benefit for us. Our entire marketing and interaction with customers is on Social media, and primarily Facebook.

We have had more referrals and people wanting to participate with us (including pictures) on social.

BUT, the caveat I have is know your audience for your product. There is a certain set of demographics that do not understand social at all, and then there is a certain set that won't even consider you unless you have a social media presence.

Which is why I say, done correctly, social can be an enormous add on to sales, marketing and customer service for a small business.

over 2 years ago

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David Kyle, E-Commerce Manager at UK Electrical Supplies

Ritesh,

This is a different kettle of fish to the debate on having a website - whereas the a website is an all encompassing necessity, social media is a mere accoutrement.

Your caveat is basically what my piece says, it is more a warning to look into where your audience comes from and then to act accordingly. Not jump into social head first.

I'd like to see your figures that justify it as an enormous add on. Hopefully this means you create content with great relevance and have found the formula to making it work for you. Which I can only laud.

David

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

@Ritesh Patel: You say "Our entire marketing and interaction with customers is on Social media", so your business must be 100% online. Good for you. Mine is similar and obviously social is essential for our type of business.

But we are the exceptions. I personally know a lot of small businesses and very few care about social for business - even when they are avid facebook users in private life. For example fish and chip shops, hairdressers, nail salons, plumbers, and painters

A few do have Websites, but these are often sad affairs, because there's too little traffic to justify updating them. Why would customers follow a plumber or a painter on facebook, or go to their website, when it's much easier to find them by personal recommendation, or one of the trade directories such as checkatrade? Then keep in touch by phone.

over 2 years ago

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Jemima Gibbons

Hi David: as you suggest, small businesses need to approach social differently from larger companies. Of course, a decent strategy and sensible KPIs are essential from the get-go. The strategy doesn't need to be complex - it can be a list of recommendations on a sheet of A4.

But many small businesses take an all or nothing approach to social media - they think if they don't do it like the big guns, it's not worth doing it at all (hence your Youtube recipe example). In fact, social media holds certain advantages for smaller companies, the main one being that passion and authenticity, currently so desperately sought by global brands, should come far more naturally and easily to a small business owner.

Small businesses need to stop worrying about competing with the big boys, and take a realistic look at what social can do for them on a day to day basis: know your audience, be consistent and nurture the right tone of voice.

As a small enterprise, you should know what makes your customers tick. And even "vanilla" products can be engaging (if a commodity company like Steelmaster Building Systems can get 16K Facebook fans, there's hope for everyone)!

over 2 years ago

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David Kyle, E-Commerce Manager at UK Electrical Supplies

@Jemima - I've no issue with the YouTube videos, its the way they approached it. Almost a vanity effort made with little thought to their product. If that video was two minutes of their freezers I'd certainly at least praise their willing.

My point is really whether or not the energy expended is worth it. Your 'competing' comment is spot on, if social works then expend the effort, if like us it brings in such a small audience then use it but don't spend masses of time on it.

We are still learning what makes our customer tick, and Steel Master Building Systems is an unfair example of a vanilla product - yes it is just a steel building, but they are impressive! They have something they can create engaging really content with.

Thanks for reading and your great comments.

over 2 years ago

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Ritesh Patel

Hiya everyone...apologies to David.....re-reading this, I agree that content and knowing your audience is key.

My business is a small 34 seat restaurant. My audience finds me on Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook. I manage all three myself. And so the cost is about 500 in paid social media in 2013 and my time.

Each are different.

Yelp is used to monitor reviews and feedback and I actively engage with folks, with good or bad reviews. Say thank you and say sorry, and thankfully, there have been more thanks you's and less sorrys.

Foursquare is used for geo targeting and loyalty. A free appetizer after 5 visits, a free entree after 15 visits and a free dinner after 30 visits. In the 3 years we have been open we have given away 3 dinners.

Facebook is pure engagement and community. we have a strong and active following, while we have 1025 fans, and my organic engagement hovers around the 300-350 mark on posts. With paid media around certain slow periods I reach about 525 folks. Pictures of the food get the highest engagement, clicks and shares

We have grown a very loyal customer base via Facebook and we have used it to create content that makes us an integral part of the local community.

For a 34 seat restaurant small business, I fill the place with posts on Facebook (reminding people to join us for dinner) and also have begin getting foot traffic from the geo location based services on Foursquare (A notification pops up on your mobile when you walk or drive past the restaurant).

Hope this helps

over 2 years ago

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David Kyle, E-Commerce Manager at UK Electrical Supplies

Ritesh,

Very relevant in your case then, and your use of social media for your restaurant is really admirable.

On top of that you can completely justify your use of it using stats to back you up - which is exactly what I think any business needs to be doing.

I love the use of foursquare for loyalty, a really intelligent use of it and impressive how you have been thinking completely differently to most to your benefit.

If you haven't done any research into the use of ibeacons i'd definitely think its worth a read up for you.

David

over 2 years ago

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Michael Anderson, Head of Digital/Strategy/Planner at Currently Freelance Consulting

Great article and good discussion ... I've been in Digital marketing for 15 years. With some (not all) clients I work with who are small
businesses there is a definite value of being in social ...

1. brand and awareness
2. engagement
3. seo (FB, YT, G+)

Also what is meant by small? - £100K or 10 mill?

I think there is also a split between whether you are selling services or physical products. SM seems more valuable to those in the former. With the latter it is building a community around your products and services.

Whatever a small business does or sells I think you are right David - content needs to be relevant and consumer usable, But more and more it needs to engage through humour.

over 2 years ago

Simon Lamble

Simon Lamble, Director at Blossom Associates

Seems that the title here is rather disingenuous clickbait - you're simply arguing that companies should engage with social in a way that is relevant to their audience and their objectives. In short, if you do it, do it properly.

I have to agree with Ritesh regarding Pete's comments. Yes, there are plenty of hairdressers, plumbers, nail salons, and fish and chip shops that don't have websites or engage on social media. Equally, I know of plenty that have effective websites and use social to drive profitable business.

I'd argue that most business would benefit (in a demonstrable way) from web & social presence that's aligned with their business and market. Again, if you do it, do it properly.

We're just delivering a site for a plumbing and heating business - I'll come back and let you know the results in a few months time!

over 2 years ago

Chris Michael

Chris Michael, Digital Transformation Consultant and CTO at CJEM

I agree with most of the comments above.

The simple answer to the rather sensationalist title of this post is: YES if your customers/prospects use social media. But you need to take a sensible and bespoke approach. Social media/networking is not a magic pill which will get you more customers on its own.

There are many small businesses which make good use of social media - especially in the field of ratings and reviews (e.g. Ritesh's example above).

There is also significant user/customer demand for such content - just look at the number of local facebook groups where people ask if anyone knows a good local plumber or builder.

Furthermore most small businesses have a poor or non existent web presence - and do nothing in social at all.

This says to me there is a massive opportunity.

But it is very wrong to generalise. What is right for a local restaurant does not necessarily make sense for an electronics manufacturer.

over 2 years ago

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David Kyle, E-Commerce Manager at UK Electrical Supplies

Funny that people have picked up on the title - it was more a question that small businesses should be asking when deciding how much time should be spent on social rather than a damning statement on whether we should or shouldn't.

@Chris your final statement sums it all up really, Ritesh above proves that there is space for it. But my main qualm with the Norfrost example was how they used their resource, not using it to do anything relevant.

@Simon definitely not clickbait. Merely a question! I'd agree with your points though, and would love to hear how you get on with your points, do it properly is a great mantra!!!

@Michael - thanks for the positive words, very difficult to define small. I'd say we're small, but we're certainly not in the local business area of small. Lots of the examples being used in the comments are certainly smaller than the company I referred to - Norfrost - and won't have the resource they can throw at their efforts.

over 2 years ago

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Dennis Brown

Good post, David - thank you; we'll be sharing it.

I agree with your "doing things because everybody else is, is not the right way to behave" statement and interestingly, I think @Ritesh, your comments illustrate that perfectly - you've used social in an intelligent way that complements your business, which you know because you've got the monitoring in place to check it's really doing what you want it to do. It will be interesting to see how long Norfrost continue producing their recipe videos for if the stats maintain their current flat-line trajectory...

over 2 years ago

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Mark Poles

David, for what it's worth, I think you're dead right. Social media marketing works brilliantly for brands that people really get invested in, much less so for mundane products and services, especially B2B ones.

I actually wrote a similar blog post a couple of weeks ago:
http://www.clareassoc.co.uk/2014/04/social-media-marketing-part-1-time-to-jump-off-the-bandwagon/

An example from that article that I think is very pertinent to this article too is comparing the number of Facebook likes that Jimmy Choo shoes have to the number that Clarks shoes have, and then the number of likes for 'mastic asphalt'.

Everyone uses roads and hence mastic asphalt. Quite a few people wear Clarks shoes (they're a mainstream high street brand in the UK) whereas Jimmy Choo shoes are expensive and only bought by a very small percentage of the population. Yet it's Jimmy Choo that has 2.4million likes, ten times as many as Clarks. Only one person in the whole of Facebook 'likes' mastic asphalt.

over 2 years ago

Chris Michael

Chris Michael, Digital Transformation Consultant and CTO at CJEM

Hi Mark,

A great post and interesting point of view. But it's all not about the volume of likes.

What this says to me is that there may well be an opportunity for companies which manufacture mastic asphalt to use social media better.

B2B marketing is a fallacy - you are always selling/marketing to people not businesses - and it is important where these people hang out online. If there are people in a buying role for such products and if they use Facebook (for example) then why not target messages at them there. Of course these messages need to be relevant.

A good example of this is Econsultancy (and indeed all of their competitors). I interact with their content quite a lot on Facebook - as well as Twitter and LinkedIn.

over 2 years ago

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Rudy Tambala

Customer-centric organisations are winning in this, the digital age, Product-centric organisations belong to the industrial age of MASS everything.

Example: Southwest airlines "We like to think of ourselves as a Customer Service company that happens to fly airplanes
(on schedule, with personality and perks along the way). How may we help you today? "

The customer-facing components and people of an organisation are gaining clout and enabling customer-centricity - social-media is customer-facing and very cheap/easy to set-up and maintain, and therefor should be nurtured by small business.

Social media engagement takes many forms, and will be implemented in line with a business strategy - if we start to view our business as an amalgam of product / marketing / services - we start to view the customer experience as more than just a sales conversion, and we can apply Service Design Thinking (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=JywQiJO4TRo) - this is multichannel, multi-touch point, and extended over time - Social media can play a pivotal role in this.

Also, think Qualitative not just Quantitative - a handful of rich customer engagements can make a huge difference to a business, especially in terms of customer insights and advocacy.

I'm about to do the social media engagement strategy for my wife's Yoga start-up - this is a good example of where Facebook can really work. I'm also an Arduino electronics geek - without social media this open source electronics movement would not exist.

Ultimately, social media is very good for ALL business, but only if aligned with the strategic objectives of the business.

over 2 years ago

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Jonathan Phillips

Very well written article provoking great discussion.

Yes, social media works if done properly...most things work well when done properly :o)

Just to add though. By virtue of being on this website and having this discussion - we are in a rarefied environment.

Ritesh has made a success of his social media marketing because he is IT literate and understands the online world. 999 out of every 1,000 restaurateurs do not.

Is social media relevant for most 'small' businesses? Certainly not.

over 2 years ago

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Ritesh Patel

Thanks everyone for the comments and I do have to agree,the headline of this post is a bit deceiving.

Overall, good post, and I enjoy seeing some of the comments.

@david - I thought I would set up a google + page to test that and see if I get engagement for the restaiurant there. Might also start measuring if that impacts my search results .. one more channel fro me to manage

Ritesh

over 2 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Thanks David for writing a - clearly - thought provoking article. There are also many fantastic comments here that I both agree and disagree with.

If you work in a marketing/digital marketing role and/or work with clients, there is something of a fascination (obsession?) with 'Social Media'.

It's seen as fashionable, modern and essential. Which it is. And isn't.

What we forget, is that if you work in the industry, you're in a marketing bubble. Whilst the term 'social media' is a common one in society, our customers don't divide things up like we do into 'social media', 'PPC', 'Email Marketing' etc.

They 'go on the Web'. They 'do some research on the Internet'. They 'look into buying XYZ'.

Our starting point, therefore, for selling any product or service, is to really understand the Customer and their Buying Process(es). We then structure our marketing efforts to reflect our in-depth knowledge of the customer.

This means that sometimes we may focus our efforts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. Sometimes on SEO, PPC and Email or even - heavens above - on direct mail, radio advertising and billboards!

Rather than have the knee jerk reaction - as we tend to in this business - of 'we must do social', we should instead focus on 'let's do what works'.

Let's be data-led and evidence based. Let's do what's right for our audiences and for our businesses. Let's not, however, simply follow the herd (as I suspect Norfrost were/are doing). And let's beware of our natural tendencies and fascinations.

For me then, a 'social business' is one that is GENUINELY Customer Centric, regardless of channel.

I think I might tweet that ;)

over 2 years ago

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Jonny Craft

In a word, yes!

I know lots of people who actually turn to Facebook to search for businesses instead of Google.

People love interaction, and I know I am more likely to buy a product/service from a great facebook page over a product/service with no customer interaction.

Also sod likes, if the page is fresh and exciting my wallet is already open.

over 2 years ago

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Elite Avner Marriott

@Simon, as a digital consultant that focuses on small and micro businesses, I've had lots of conversations with owners who not only avoid social media, but also live with a terrible website or no website at all.
Whilst I agree that efforts into social should be invested with caution, a bad website these days means loss of revenue. End of story.

Why?

Because the younger demographic check online to decide where to shop, even in their own locality. Granted, if there's only one hairdresser your village it's not relevant, but in most local communities there is competition, and how do we compare options if our best friend doesn't live in our neighbourhood? WE GO ONLINE.

I realise I'm probably talking to the converted... just my two pence though.
By the way, @Rudy I love your comment, that's where we should all be heading!

over 2 years ago

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Elite Avner Marriott

@Simon, as a digital consultant that focuses on small and micro businesses, I've had lots of conversations with owners who not only avoid social media, but also live with a terrible website or no website at all.
Whilst I agree that efforts into social should be invested with caution, a bad website these days means loss of revenue. End of story.

Why?

Because the younger demographic check online to decide where to shop, even in their own locality. Granted, if there's only one hairdresser your village it's not relevant, but in most local communities there is competition, and how do we compare options if our best friend doesn't live in our neighbourhood? WE GO ONLINE.

I realise I'm probably talking to the converted... just my two pence though.
By the way, @Rudy I love your comment, that's where we should all be heading!

over 2 years ago

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Ronnie

"But to hear the Norfrost 'web experts' say on television that social efforts will lead to them 'ranking' better shows that they are merely being caught in a series of buzzwords and acting upon those.|"

Wrong mate.

Read where Google is going on "brand mentions" here:
http://moz.com/blog/panda-patent-brand-mentions
Not easy stuff, but ignore it at your peril.

over 2 years ago

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Jeniece from Emphatic.co

There are a few cases where social is really helpful, even for non-sexy companies. For example, using Twitter to build relationships with industry journalists whose press coverage could be helpful; using Facebook to build relationships with other groups who have the power to refer business to you (in the case of freezers, interior designers and contractors would be an example); using LinkedIn to show your authority on leading issues that matter to your customers (for an appliance company, try energy conservation and environmental responsibility).

The main point of social media is to build relationships so that when people do have a need for your product they think of you, and not your competitor. As with everything the benefit must outweigh the costs to your time and wallet. The truth is that social media is not "set-and-forget", it requires effort to get results.

over 2 years ago

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Aaron

very informative article, thanks David for putting things in perspective for small business, I think small business need to be very careful in getting into digital marketing, internet connects with vast global population, in such scenario segmenting the relevant audience becomes very carefully.

and yes social is very relevant for small business as it helps to drive engagement and build loyalty.

At last as digital marketer I think small business need to be watchful in selecting the right digital marketing partner

ons of the best digital marketing company I have come across from India is TATA BUSINESS SUPPORT SERVICES..any business looking for professional digital marketing services for sustainable results should get in touch with them....

over 2 years ago

Edwyn Raine

Edwyn Raine, Digital Strategist at Evolution 7

Thanks author, great post.
It is refreshing to see someone finally thinking about social with a bit of sense. Don't get me wrong, I work within social quite heavily and do see the benefit, but it isn't for everyone, just like PPC will be too expensive for some businesses
It is heart breaking to still see so many clients interested in Pinterest, wanting to go "viral" on Instagram or counting Facebook likes.

In my honest experience, you are probably right given your market and type of business. If I were head of digital at your agency I would consider removing social profiles and sharing links - They are simply distractions to purchase.
However, if you are actively trying to get the most out of social (particularly Facebook) you may see value from targeting ads at databases or remarketing on Facebook.

about 2 years ago

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