Social Media Advertising Tips and Strategies for SMBs

Tuesday Dec 2nd 2014 by James A. Martin
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Small business owners share their social media advertising success stories, best practices, and disappointments.

Facebook is the most popular advertising platform among small businesses because it's easy to target highly specific audiences, and it can help drive targeted traffic to your websites and boost sales. But the return on investment (ROI) from Facebook and other social media advertising can be difficult to track, and it's easy to waste your money if you don't take the time to learn best practices.

In late October 2014, we posted a query on the website Help A Reporter Out, asking small business owners to share their social media advertising successes, disappointments, and tips. The following are excerpts from the 26 responses we received from small businesses across the U.S.

Facebook Advertising: Tips, Successes, Disappointments

1. The Carter Group Principal Featured on TV

"I'm 99 percent sure that I got to appear on Bloomberg TV because of a combination of my new book (in 2012) and Facebook ads about it that we targeted to media job titles," says Carter Group Principal Brian Carter, an author, speaker, and consultant. "There's no more affordable way to get this kind of awareness than Facebook ads." He spent about $0.25 for each ad view, compared to about $1.75 on Google AdWords and more than $2 per view on LinkedIn.

social media advertising tips for small business

Facebook Advertising Tip: "Take classes and read books about Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter ads before creating your ads," says Carter. "Otherwise, you waste most of your ad spend. Commit time and money to it—at least a few hours a week and at least $100 a month."

2. Meghana Rose Makeup Targets New Clients

Meghana Prasad, owner of bridal hair and makeup services company Meghana Rose Makeup, advertises her services on Facebook. "I can target my clients very specifically and advertise to exactly the right people. I can advertise to recently engaged women in the geographic area I service—exactly the people looking for the service that I provide." Here's an example ad.

Prasad says "about 80 percent" of new clients find her through Facebook. Of those, she estimates about 60 percent discover her through Facebook ads, the rest from her company Facebook page and posts.

3. My Little Jules Grows Business 500 Percent

You'll find this girls' clothing boutique actively promoted on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Goggle+, blogs and forums, though most of its marketing efforts and ad dollars go to Facebook, says owner Tatiana Tugbaeva. Being active on social media in general has helped the business grow 500 percent in its second year, she says.

However, Tugbaeva finds it "very hard to track and measure" the results of her social media efforts. She describes social media marketing and advertising as time-consuming and notes that it's an ongoing process.

"Once you open up the dialogue on social media, you have to maintain it and keep it going. During the busy season, it's hard for me to dedicate as much time to it as I should. It's also easy for customers to leave negative feedback. I had a few customers who left negative comments and reviews without trying to work things out with us first or understanding the situation. Even though there was no real issue or we could have fixed the problem easily, they left a bad review on our Facebook page, which dropped our overall ranking."

Facebook Advertising Tip: "Have a plan," says Tugbaeva. Not all social media channels will work for you and your business. It's better to start with a few and branch out gradually."

4. Hobby Express Gets More 'Likes'

 By advertising on Facebook, Hobby Express, a retailer of radio-controlled planes, helicopters, and cars, has grown its "Likes" from 19 to 16,500 within 15 months, says Russ Shirley, digital marketing VP. "These are highly relevant individuals who are targeted to line up with our radio-control demographic." The increase in Likes has resulted in "a correlated store growth," he adds.

5. ShortStack Boosts Sales

 In the past few years, ShortStack (which develops online marketing campaign software) has focused less on getting "Likes" and more on placing Facebook ads that "produce real ROI," says Chelsea Hejny, the company's content creator.

In February 2014, the company placed Facebook's conversion-tracking pixel on ShortStack.com "so we could determine the monetary value for each of our Facebook ads," Hejny adds. "Since then, we've spent $6,571.54 on Facebook ads, an investment which has resulted in $17,219.20 worth of sales."

Facebook's ad platform takes time to learn, says Hejny, which is a drawback—and possibly an advantage. "If it were easy (to learn)," she explains, "everyone would use it, and the advantages of having such skills wouldn't be as great."

Facebook Advertising Tip: "There are so many free resources on the Web for learning about social media promotion," says Hejny. "Jon Loomer is a go-to resource of mine. He provides some of the best insights into Facebook advertising."

6. GrowIt Grows Potential App Downloads

The social gardening app developer gains an average of 110 new "Likes" per week through its Facebook ads, "which is a potential for "110 new downloads" of its app, says Mason Day, co-founder.  "Before advertising, we were lucky to get 10 new likes a week. It may not seem like much, but for the money we're paying, it's a good rate."

Facebook Advertising Tip: "Ads seem to pay off more on the weekends," says Day. "I'd have thought people would be less active on social networks then, but it appears not to be the case."

7. Envy Boutique Disappointed by Facebook Ads

The women's clothing boutique has advertised a coupon on Facebook offering 15 percent off, notes owner Kristi Pawlowicz. Seventy-four people claimed the coupon but only five actually used it. "I wouldn't say that was very effective," she says, adding that "I've never seen a direct boost in sales revenue due to a specific ad on social media."

Pawlowicz was also disappointed when using Facebook to increase page Likes. "When I dug deeper into who actually 'liked' my business page, many times it was people outside my targeted range, or it was 'fake' profiles."

For example, after paying for a Facebook ad, "we had a huge increase in page Likes from New York. When I looked further into it, some of those profiles had only 1 or 2 friends but had 'liked' more than 50 businesses. I got suspicious that these ads weren't targeting customers, and I ended the ad immediately. I've never done a Facebook ad since."

8. BulletSafe Finds Facebook Best for Target Market

The affordable bullet proof vest manufacturer tried promoting its products on Pinterest ("too 'girly' for our company"), Twitter ("very little response"), and LinkedIn (promising, but not ideal for targeting).

social media marketing tips for small business

"Facebook offered surprising levels of targeting," says Tom Nardone, president. "We can target people that say they work as security guards or are in a group of security guards. We can target fans of specific guns. While each of these groups seems small, if you add a bunch of them together, you have a decent customer pool."

9. JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law Sees Increase in Traffic, but Not Leads

The Arizona law firm's Facebook ads resulted in "a big increase in traffic coming from Facebook," says Lauren White, associate director of marketing. "We didn't find any big increase in leads, however, so the advertising was mostly for increased branding and Web visibility.

"The drawback of Facebook advertising is that audience intent isn't as strong as it when a visitor comes from one of our other traffic channels, such as organic (search) traffic, paid search traffic, or referral traffic from another legal site," White adds.

The company plans to continue its Facebook advertising, but will instead focus on remarketing and creating ads aimed at people who have already visited the site. "We have to adjust our expectations for social media advertising to focus on brand awareness rather than direct leads," says White.

Twitter and Other Social Media Advertising: Pros, Cons, Tips

1. Netrepid Sees Minimal Results on Twitter

The co-location, infrastructure and application hosting services tried two Twitter advertising campaigns: one using Twitter Cards, the other using promoted tweets. The company saw "an increase in website traffic during the months we ran promoted tweets, relative to what we normally experience from Twitter," notes Jonathan Bentz, marketing manager.

"For example, our promoted tweets were published around 25,000 times with 1 percent engagement, but a smaller percentage of that resulted in traffic to our site. Nothing legitimate occurred in terms of leads, trial offers, or other 'conversion' metrics," says Bentz.

Twitter Advertising Tip: Social media promotions work best when you "have something to give away that provides your target customer with instant gratification: a download, a coupon, credits— something you can provide automatically. Then, once they opt-in to engage with your brand, ask them to join a mailing list to become a part of your pipeline."

2. Lake Erie Logistics Gains Greater Awareness on Facebook and Twitter

The trucking and logistics company has paid to boost Facebook posts and used Twitter's "Promoted Accounts" service. Facebook content promotions caused a 32x increase in traffic to the company's site from Facebook, which resulted in an overall 6x increase in revenues per month, says Carrie Aulenbacher, social media coordinator.

The company's Twitter promotions have increased the company’s profile in the city of Erie more than its efforts on Facebook," says Aulenbacher. "We believe the limited size of the tweet is more appealing to our page fans." However, the company can't measure a specific percentage increase in sales specifically due to its Twitter presence.

"We don't ask customers who call in to dispatch if they discovered us on Twitter, and they don’t volunteer that information. This was a challenge that hindered things." Aulenbacher added that the company "didn't see increases in sales, which was very disappointing."

3. KioWare Grows Its LinkedIn Followers

The kiosk software maker has seen a 300 percent increase in LinkedIn followers in the past nine months, broadening awareness of the company's business and product. "While many of those followers were driven directly through advertising, the increased awareness also meant more organic followers," notes Laura Miller, director of marketing. Twitter followers grew 6 percent during a month of targeted advertising, she adds.

However, the company's B2B target market "has a lengthy lead funnel, so we aren't able to track direct conversions. That makes it difficult to track a direct ROI, but we believe it's having a positive impact. The difficulty in measuring ROI is the biggest drawback" to social media advertising, Miller adds.

LinkedIn Advertising Tip: "Find the niche communities where conversations relevant to your product or brand take place," says Miller. "Become a part of the conversation if you're allowed to be a vendor voice. Advertise there if it's an option. Where it's relevant, get in front of people and offer helpful information. That's the most important aspect of social media advertising.

Even More Social Media Advertising Tips

  • Advertise posts that offer value
    "Make a natural post that's about a new offering, like we did, or an event or contest," recommends Tim Lynch, CEO, gaming computer maker Psychsoftpc.

    "Don't make it sound like an ad. Segment the market. This is where Twitter and Facebook shine over Google AdWords. Google is like a shotgun, it targets everybody. Facebook and Twitter allow you to zero in on the target markets by age, interests, geographic regions, and other ways. You don't have to spend much to get a decent result. And don't expect sales from this. You're trying to get name recognition."

    "Shareable content with money behind it really flies," adds Robert Kissell, an Internet marketing specialist at Southern Shores Realty. On the reverse side, "dull advertising copy still dies even with cash thrown on it."
  • Experiment
    "Don't be afraid to try things," says Chris Kraus, a digital marketing specialist for motorcycle gear and accessories retailer RevZilla.com. "Social [media] changes quickly, and if you don't adapt, you'll be left behind. Also, lead with value. Don't try to use these channels for sales. Our audience has clearly shown they want to engage with high-quality content."
  • Bigger isn't necessarily better
    "Especially when it comes to finding your ideal target market," notes Jacob Park, social media and PR director at Hush, a tech startup making 'smart' earplugs. "We stand by the notion that it's better to have a desirable click-through rate than to have an enormous following or impression rate."
  • A/B testing is important
    Do A/B testing to experiment with your messaging, consumer targeting, and ad type, advises Kathryn Bisson, marketing specialist, Zco Corporation, an app development company. "Evaluate their successes and failures to improve your future ads."

James A. Martin is a content marketing and social media consultant based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter, @james_a_martin.

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