As Canadian small business accounting specialists, we focus on making sure all of our client's numbers are kept straight, current, and meaningful. With the recent introduction of a plethora of software tools, the numbers on which we are able to advise our clients now go far beyond just the financial ones.
Know your customer
Numbers about your small business' customers, their behaviour, their interests, their interaction with your business, their state of mind, and their issues can and should now be tracked, measured, reported, and analyzed.
Know your prospective customer
The same thing applies to your prospective customers. Their awareness of your business, their needs that you can meet, their interest in what you have to say, are all now measurable and having a handle on them can and do increase the financial numbers in return.
Social Media's Value
In working on the collection, reporting, and analysis of these numbers for our clients, we've been exposed to and have come to understand the value that social media has in general to any Canadian small business. As numbers specialists, value to us only exists if we see that increased income is being generated for the efforts and costs invested in social media.
We are seeing this. Keeping in mind we are not marketing specialists, nor experts in the area of online socializing, I'm speaking solely on what we are seeing that is working over and over again. How well it is working is directly linked to the investment in tools and expertise in this area. Nonetheless the results are well worth the investment, which we measure by calculating the returns generated on those investments.
Using our experiences, I'd like to give you some direction on where to start.
Facebook for consumer focused (B2C) businesses
If you are in the retail, or another B2C business, even more so one that focuses on products and services for females, you need to be on Facebook. If you don't have it already and are just starting out, to build awareness, apply your entire online advertising budget to attracting target prospects to your business page in Facebook. Done well, this will drive your prospective community to your Page, and sufficiently engaged, they will "Like" you.
Doing so, you will build a following, which, after this paid-for seeding stage, your business Page's pump will have been primed, and you can rely on the community around your Page to grow organically by engaging with them and, using the capabilities of Facebook, keep them coming back and sharing with their "friends". There's definitely a skill to doing this successfully, so invest in that skill, it will increase your sales.
Linkedin for B2B businesses
As Facebook is for consumer-based businesses, the current must-be social media place for business to business (B2B) products and services is Linkedin, specifically the Groups subsection of the Linkedin offering.
If not all, almost all categories of business you can think of are represented by at least one, and more often than not, multiple Groups comprised of members that are interested in what you are selling, and are the decision-makers for their business. Once you find the Groups which have your target audience(s) as members, staying in front of them with useful information that is related to what you offer, but more importantly, is applicable and of interest to them and their business, will pay back in leads, opportunities and sales.
Be careful of the rules of each Group as you don't want to run afoul of their stated principles of participation, doing so could taint your influence and reputation among the Group's members. Also watch for Groups that are sponsored by other Brands, as they may manage the information flow to members which results in either a bias to their brand, or through restricting exposure to other "competing" brands.
We are currently members of one such Group and, even though not specifically prohibited in the Group's rules, have had some of our postings blocked from being seen by the rest of the members because they contained references to competitive brands. This form of covert censorship is, in our opinion, unacceptable and should be addressed each and every time it is experienced, so that it can eventually be eliminated, allowing like-minded people to communicate with each other in an unfiltered way.
Google+ is the best long term play
Even though we are currently not seeing much payback in terms of sales numbers from Google+, we think that, with how Google is developing its overall online presence, it is the best longer term bet of the bunch. We like its structure, functionality and look and feel, and are having all of our clients invest the time and energy to establish an immediate presence in it. As a long tail investment we're certain that it will pay back with the return expected to be directly correlated to how early the client gets on board and makes the decision and investment of time and skill.
For B2B businesses, the Communities area of G+ for Business, while conceptually very much like the Groups of Linkedin, is much more pleasing to the eye, user-friendly, and connected to the rest of any small business' online presence. As a result, this, and the fact that it is a Google property, makes it a much better long term bet for generating numbers than Linkedin. At this point we are uncertain whether they will, over the long-term live alongside one another, or whether Linkedin will forfeit this value it currently adds to Canadian small busness to G+ remains to be seen, so we're hedging our bets and having clients invest in both for now. The numbers will dictate our advice going forward.
For B2C businesses, G+ is much less controlling than Facebook, built on newer technology, connected to Google's mapping feature for localization, has all the social capabilities one needs, plus great search engine correlation, all of which helps the small business owner and her/his prospects find each other.
It's just a matter of time...
Twitter for everyone
We view Twitter as something altogether different than Facebook, Linkedin and Google+. For small business we view Twitter as a "Micro-Blog", not a direct source of business. We're uncertain as to how much actual business can be generated directly from Twitter, whereas we know how much can and is being generated from the other three. Nonetheless, very credible sources indicate that, on the average, small businesses that have a presence on Twitter generate 200% more quality leads than those that don't, so it is contributing something. We think that it's like investing in billboards on a busy highway, in this case the "information highway", and for the cost, is obviously worth the "mind-space" that it provides. Numbers don't lie.
So, that said, plus the fact that Twitter is, in reality, a Blog and we all know the value to SEO that blogging provides, means that every small business needs to be posting Blog-like content on Twitter, if only to increase their small business' SEO rankings. We all know these rankings are very important numbers to be tracking and improving.
Pinterest as a differentiator
Lastly, we want to ensure that Pinterest isn't ignored. To be honest, we have very little experience with Pinterest, as we don't see it being a prime driver of revenue for our clients like the four properties already discussed, we are seeing situations which small businesses can differentiate themselves by using Pinterest in creative ways. On good example we've seen is a propane supply company in Ontario that has created a Pinterest page that shows examples of propane tanks that have been decorated in artisitic ways. This differentiates the business from its competitors in a fashion that may contribute to increased business. They track their numbers from that site back to their home page, and the results have been promising.
So, there you go, Social Media from a Canadian small business CFO's perspective. Hope it helps.