How should a small business use social media to succeed?

Posted Sept. 22, 2011, at 7:56 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 23, 2011, at 9:27 a.m.

PORTLAND, MAINE — It used to be that the business with the biggest budget had the advantage in marketing — more money meant more ad buys, more ways to get your message in front of more potential customers.

But the growth of social media has flipped that construct on its head, said Mike Volpe, chief marketing officer at HubSpot, a marketing software company.

“It’s much more about how smart you are than the width of your wallet,” said Volpe. “It’s empowering to small business.”

Volpe was a featured speaker at the Social Media For The Win — or “FTW” — conference in Portland on Thursday. It was the third annual FTW conference, and it drew roughly 400 marketers, business owners and other professionals interested in learning how to best leverage the social media phenomena to their companies’ advantage. There were another 375 watching online as the conference was streamed by WCSH/WLBZ, according to Rich Brooks, one of the organizers.

Volpe and others during the day gave a number of tips that Maine’s entrepreneurs might make use of to drive business.

Volpe spoke about the disconnect between how marketers reach customers and how customers shop.

Instead of pushing out a message to potential customers, he said, businesses should develop relevant online content that will draw them in — when they’re looking for specific products and services.

“Content is what makes you interesting,” he said.

He pointed to a blog post he wrote four years ago for his company that last month generated 70 new sales leads as potential clients found the work through a search and read it. His company has 2,000 blog posts, all potentially developing leads, he said.

Volpe said his company analyzed 500,000 blog posts to find common trends in popularity. People want analysis of news or different takes on news, he said.

He also suggested that companies use social media to research their clients, a more effective tool than the traditional focus group, he said. Their clients’ blog posts, Twitter feeds and other online comments all offer “deep insight into their soul — who they are,” he said.

Jenna Lebel, managing director of account strategy at Likeable Media, a social media and word-of-mouth marketing firm based in New York City, talked about ways to use Facebook for your business.

She started off by getting rid of some preconceptions. Social marketing isn’t free — it does have a cost in time and/or money, if done right. There are no instant results, she said. And good social marketing can’t make up for bad products.

She shared a list of the top 10 reasons why consumers “like” fan pages on Facebook, which is valuable because search engines now are using the amount of social media “likes” or “follows” to help rank pertinent and authentic search results.

The reasons:

1. To get discounts or promotions

2. To show support of a brand to their friends

3. To get freebies

4. To stay informed about a company’s activities

5. To get updates on future projects

6. To get updates on upcoming sales

7. For fun

8. To get access to exclusive content

9. To learn more about a company

10. To become more educated on company topics

Lebel suggested businesses be timely and likable on Facebook, but don’t overpost. Respond quickly to all bad comments rather than deleting them — and try to respond to all comments, including positive ones.

Companies should pose questions on Facebook because engaging fans helps keep them interested in your business, she said. And, she added, “whatever you’re asking, you’re getting some intel.”

She also stressed the value of Facebook ads, which can be targeted down to incredibly specific demographics, taking into account everything from geography to age, likes, interests, education, workplace, titles and more.

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