Over It: Social Media for Small Businesses

I used to be very excited about social media for small business marketing, but am now discontinuing monthly packages, audits, or extensive consulting for social media. I’m very disappointed with the recent changes in Facebook and Instagram, and no longer recommend allocating significant time or budget to social media unless you’ve already got a strong and engaged following. Here’s the scoops:

A Bright Start

My professional background is filled with positions in advertising, and I’ve found that the rates traditional media companies have to charge to stay in business are often way out of small business budgets. The trap of needing new customers but having an inability to afford marketing is a common one, and it can be a killer.

When social media started, it was a thrilling marketing tool that was actually free! If you worked on getting people to follow your page, you could create posts to keep them updated on your business’ goings-on. If they checked their feed around the time you posted, or scrolled long enough – they’d see your post. Simple. Then algorithms started.

The Great Fall…

In an effort to get users to stay on the platform for (even) longer amounts of time, Facebook started using a formula to show users posts they’re most likely to engage with; meaning “like,” click a link, or leave a comment. But the truth about marketing is that people don’t usually connect with the business content they see – not because they dislike it, but because they just aren’t ready for it at that time.

One needs to want a hot tub to ask a question on a Jacuzzi post. If they’re actively searching for a car, they’re more likely to click on an article about how to buy one. They’ll engage with your post offering a facial deal because they’ve got a monster zit. Timing is everything. But with these algorithms, if new followers don’t engage with what you post pretty quickly after following – than they aren’t likely to see your future posts, and won’t be as likely to remember you when it is time to buy.

Their ad platform has also gone from a simple-yet-targeted affordable piece of brilliance, to being complicated enough that there’s not only pricey courses available on how to use it, but they also require substantial time to complete. And if you have a question, good luck getting an answer. (Or even finding a place to ask it.) Of course, after Facebook bought Instagram, things quickly fell down the same hole.

But It’s Not Totally Worthless

For small business marketing, social media isn’t what is used to be. But it’s also not nothing. Though SEO isn’t directly tied to social media; when someone does an internet search for your business name, those pages are probably going to be among the top results. It may also come up when they’re looking for items that you offer. And people are also likely to check your social pages when they have a question.

Because of these things, it is still important to have up-to-date profile information and appealing photos, otherwise you’re basically missing out on a free listing with killer SEO.

I also still recommend posting, especially if you can do it yourself or have someone already on your team commit an hour or two a week. Also be sure to reply to all customer comments and messages, the same day if possible. But I no longer suggest spending significant time and/or money consistently posting to your small business social media accounts. Creating truly valuable content can take a surprising amount of time to curate and write, and it used to be worth it, but for most businesses it just doesn’t create the leads that it used to.

And, of course, work it if it’s still working for you! For people whose posts are actually being seen, it’s still free advertising. If you already have an engaged audience, than not taking advantage of that would be a wasted opportunity. The event platform on Facebook is also still pretty useful, so that’s something for applicable businesses to use; as well as their messaging platform and its ability to quickly communicate with customers.

In Conclusion

If you’re a small business, having a basic social media presence is still important. Keep profiles up-to-date, and be sure to post about important changes and events. Though in many cases people aren’t seeing as many posts from pages, some seek them with questions and others will find your page through internet searches – so don’t just ignore your social media presence.

However, I no longer recommend allocating significant money or time to social media if you don’t already have an engaged audience. As a result of this change of heart, I now only offer a service to teach you the social media basics.

I do suggest spending marketing time working on other aspects of your web presence: review sites (like Yelp), applicable apps, business listings – and most importantly – your website. Make sure your copy is understandable, your images are capturing, and your SEO efforts are on-point.

So, if Instagram’s the new Facebook, and all the disappointment that implies – who’s the new Instagram? Its leaders are no longer with Facebookstagram, so hopefully they or someone else will challenge them soon and I’ll be back to tell you how to reap the benefits. Until then, please do reach out with questions, or if I might be able to help. ★

Marketing in the Cannabiz

Though it’s designed to appear so, marketing is never simple. And it’s made even more complicated when you’re working in an industry that’s both federally illegal and shrouded in stigma. It’s not all bad news though. Read on for a few tips to market your cannabiz:

  1. Know the rules. There are different rules for cannabis advertising in each legalized state, and some of them are odd and surprising – so don’t figure that common sense will handle the situation, because it definitely won’t.
  2. Social media can be tricky. Cannabis pages get shut down pretty frequently. A dispensary page I stopped managing several months ago got shut down the other day, despite very careful measures in regard to state legality when posting. I didn’t remove it from my related accounts and now I’m being punished via algorithms and the inability to create a page for this business. Tricky.Lessons Learned: I wish that I hadn’t connected my personal page to the cannabis page, logging out to post is annoying; but now that I’m facing potentially losing all my work on the other account it seems very worth it. I also could have backed up the account, posting to both. Selling cannabis is what gets you in trouble, we were careful not to list prices when I was there, but we did allude to specials and events; we could have been more careful. Also be mindful of local laws, like in California you need to avoid any images that could be attractive to children.

    It’s all a bit obnoxious, and I’ll go into it more in a later post, but it can be a helpful and free way to connect with your current and potential customers. It might be a temporary page, but building an audience is easier in cannabis than most other industries and that’s something to take advantage of. Think of your posts as branding advertising, which doesn’t last forever, right? It’ll be a practice in non-attachment… Best wishes, may you fly under their radar.

  3. Watch the stigma. Stoner stereotypes might seem like low-hanging fruit, an easy laugh. And they are. But do you really want to associate your business with a slacker vibe? Do you want your product labeled as something only dazed-out-hippies enjoy? Not great for your image, nor bringing in diverse clientele.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be “weird.” While being professional and avoiding stigma are key to being taken seriously, there’s also tons of room in this industry for personal expression. Creativity is rewarded! Think outside the box when it comes to branding, employ your passions. (And an artist?)
  5. Get involved. Changing perception around the cannabis industry largely falls on the businesses involved in it. Sponsor appropriate community events. (Concert = Yay! School play = Gah!) Join local business associations, including those that have nothing to do with cannabis. Also be sure to join cannabis advocacy groups, perhaps getting involved in local politics. It’s an important time to pay attention. You’re no doubt a very busy person, but a business’s image in the community is the biggest word of mouth out there – worth it.
  6. Do “the usual.” Typical marketing standards also apply to the cannabiz: have a superb website, mind your online presence (Google your business, see what others see and fix it), make sure you’re listed on all relevant directories, all that typical stuff. The cannabis industry is not above the basics.

This is a huge topic, and one who’s facets change all the time. But don’t let it all overwhelm you into not participating in marketing, it’s so important. If you need an ear and some advice, feel free to reach out for a consultation. ★

Don’t try to be like the big guys.

Once upon a time, small businesses were wise to front like they were bigger than they actually were. Professionalism was valued over a human touch, and branding had nothing to do with the owners – unless it was a “quirky” business. Teams were made to look bigger than they actually were; forgoing individual names for a logo in communication, or using corporate vernacular they didn’t actually employ in the office.

Everyone was trying to look like the guys to beat, those big corporations that came in and busted up the small business system.

Those days are dead. The “big guys” now want to look like you!

Authenticity and humanity are where it’s at. Some multi-million dollar conglomerates are even signing emails with just a first name and an emoticon. (Too far, says me.) In marketing discussions and literature it’s all about how to incorporate “that human touch,” the element that makes it feel like you’re working with an actual, real, person.

And it’s a whole lot easier to accomplish this element when it’s actually what’s happening! The time for the little guy has come once again.

Here are a few ways to capitalize on these changes:

    • Add or pump up your Team page. Have a page that tells clients all about your team. Ask each member to write their own blurb, including both information of professional relevance and info that shares a bit about who they are. For example:I’m Bill Murray, and have been entertaining the world for nearly 40 years via many of your favorite movies. One time I broke Robert DeNiro’s nose on accident, but Hunter S. Thompson also almost killed me once; so it’s all good, karma-wise. (For us normals: Favorite foods, homelands, and hobbies are apt fodder.)
    • Tell your origin story. It seems obvious, but many business owners don’t take advantage of this. Why do you do what you do? How did it come to be? People care about this because we, as a people – like stories. We are a gregarious and curious nation. So, tell your tale! The other side of this is that your clients get to understand you more as a person. It’s always good to have clients not only value the quality of your work, but who also value your relationship; sharing your origin story on your website or a plaque will help develop the latter. (This is especially helpful for businesses that don’t have a brick and mortar, or for those who do, but are shy.) Can’t get your head around how to tell your story so people will listen? I can help.
    • Mix yourself into your branding! Starting a new business? Put yourself in there from the beginning. When choosing a logo, color schemes, decor – pick things YOU like. Don’t try to people-please folks you haven’t even met yet, just do you. If everyone’s telling you that a logo is hard to read – definitely listen. But if some random says they don’t like the color, who cares?People are attracted to passion, find ways to bring your own passions into your business. For example, when thinking of promotions, attach them to things you care about. Maybe you’re super into the Dodgers: Tie a promotion into their schedule by offering a discount on game days, and/or after a win, and also let them (the team, the local show, who/whatever you’re celebrating) know what you’re up to. You might even get some free PR!
    • Catch yourself when you ask, “Is that professional?” This doesn’t mean what it used to mean. The professional of yesterday is now thought to be dry and stuffy. Communication, both aloud and written, is usually done in a conversational tone. Being overdressed is likely to cause more discomfort than being underdressed. Being professional has more do with competency and getting the job done right, style and presentation are no longer the key focus in most industries.

It’s a grand time to be an entrepreneur! Have fun with it, and please let me know if I can help. ★

7 Writing Gigs I’d Adore.

In no particular order, and just because I like the number 7:

  1. The “About Me” section for a business with a great story behind it, even if the tale seems too long for the menu, website, etc. (I used to write radio copy, a fabulous teacher in being succinct!)
  2. Wedding vows for a couple that love each other immensely and want personal vows, but just aren’t the vow-writing type.
  3. Helping name menu items for a restaurant, spa, or any other menu-having business.
  4. Your LinkedIn summary, taking into account your objectives as well as areas you’d like to highlight. (Or perhaps shed in a more flattering light…)
  5. The ad that gets you the perfect employee(s) for your business. (Because not everyone can afford an HR department!)
  6. A series of blogs that show website viewers what you’re all about: what you do, why you do it, who’s involved, what you offer, and all of the cool behind-the-scenes things people like to read about. And without any glaring sales pitches, they’ll be ready to support your business.
  7. The Manifesto for an organization. Maybe it’s a non-profit, or maybe it’s a group of pals, but I’d like to listen to the most important aspects of what they do and help articulate it in a powerful way.

Thanks for reading! Check out this page for more information on my writing services. ★

The Elusive Thoughtful Gift

“What do you want for the holidays?”
“Something thoughtful…Surprise me.”

The elusive thoughtful gift. Something that demonstrates how well you know the receiver, something that will make them feel loved/important/whatever you’re going for. It can seem tricky, but it’s not so bad. Here’s some tips:

  • Get in their shoes. Make sure that you aren’t thinking about what you would like to receive, but what they would like to receive. Do you think it’s ridiculous to have records this day in age, but know that they’re pining for some vinyl? It’s time to face the hipsters and get to a record store.
  • Have they lost anything? Did they mention that they lost their favorite gloves? Swoop in and grab them a new pair. Samesies for that sweater your BFF covered in wine last weekend. A loss is a golden opportunity for thoughtful gift giving.
  • Did you meet anywhere cool? Go to another concert at the venue you met or treat to a meal and drinks at that old haunt. Didn’t meet somewhere cool? Try reliving a favorite memory with a new twist.
  • Do you have any inside jokes/connections? Maybe you both love the book Fahrenheit 451, the movie Dirty Dancing, and vanilla ice cream cones – you could hire me to paint them a painting that incorporates the three!
  • Any life changes happening? If someone’s about to move across the country, getting them things might not be the best idea. Maybe a gift certificate to a restaurant in their new city, or a stupendous playlist for the drive. (With snackage!) If someone’s on a job hunt, perhaps a spiffy new blazer? Think about what’s up with them and what could be of service.

Whatever you go for, don’t forget the card. And don’t forget to write inside the card! More than your name. Are you happy they are in your life? Why? You don’t have to go baring your soul or anything, but how hard is a little, “Thanks for always being there for me, for caring about my life’s whatnots, and for always smushing the spiders?”

You’re going to rock this gift. ★