February 19, 2018
Focus on social media and marketing

Social media success requires a clear strategy

Kham Inthirath, founder and president, InThink
Laura DiBenedetto, president and CEO, Vision Advertising

Eleven years after the 2007 launch of Facebook's social advertising services for businesses, one might guess businesses have figured out exactly how to leverage it, and the many other social media platforms available for customer engagement.

But in reality, social media is a puzzle business owners are still trying to solve, said Kham Inthirath, founder and president of Worcester-based InThink, a digital marketing agency serving clients with revenue of $2 million and above.

There's a range, of course. Some local businesses are nailing it; others aren't engaging at all, and the rest fall somewhere in between.

"The majority of them are still trying to find the right strategy," Inthirath said in an interview in February.

But as they prod the different platforms – Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook, to name the big ones – the options and services they offer are becoming increasingly complex, and it's work just to keep up with that, said Inthirath, who employs a team of social media experts who keep him in the loop through the constant evolution.

If a digital marketing expert like Inthirath needs help to stay ahead of the curve, there's no way a novice who is busy running an entire business should go it alone. While it might not hurt for an executive to Tweet about a new product or post about a company award, a comprehensive social media strategy is a must for modern businesses, including dedicating resources through an in-house expert or contracting out to a firm like InThink.

Social media spending doubles

The amount of money spent on social media advertising suggests business owners should be savvy with their strategy, lest they risk wasting precious operating dollars on outreach that isn't going to yield returns.

Between 2014 and 2016, social media advertising budgets nearly doubled worldwide, going from $16 billion to $31 billion, and by 2019, social media ad spending is expected to grow to $17.3 billion in the U.S. alone, according to social media management firm Hootsuite.

But true engagement on social media goes well beyond spending on ads. It's perhaps even more important to be authentic and create brand awareness, Inthirath said.

"You should really be embracing social media to make sure you show your culture," Inthirath said.

The tools and features offered by social media platforms are becoming more sophisticated, and expectations around posting are increasing. When Facebook and the other platforms that followed were new, Inthirath said people and companies would post off the cuff. But companies today need to be more measured about what they post, tweet or upload, Inthirath said, because customers view social media as another communication channel.

When clients are looking for help with social media strategy, Inthirath starts by helping them understand about how different platforms serve their goals. Often, clients will say they need to increase their Facebook presence, but upon questioning, admit not many of their customers are shopping that way.

"Not having clear goals and clear strategy when it comes to social media is one of the biggest mistakes I see," Inthirath said.

Inthirath advocates for a mixture of outsourcing social media activities to firms specializing in them, and handling social content in house. There should be someone on staff who is the point person, he said, even if most of the content creation and scheduling is handled by a marketing company.

A long view

One of the pitfalls of going it alone is businesses may begin to engage on social media, but then let it fall by the wayside, said Susan Shalhoub, a WBJ advice columnist and contributor who offers social media services through her editorial services company, Plum Editorial. A customer may search for a business on Facebook and see their last post was published in 2013, creating the image the company has gone out of business.

"It sends a really bad message to customers," Shalhoub said.

Shalhoub is a little more conservative than Inthirath about encouraging clients to become directly involved in posting, Tweeting and the like. She works closely with them to understand their business and how they can create content establishing their expertise in a given field, but Shalhoub prefers to review social media content before it's posted.

Another important caveat, said Shalhoub, is to avoid trying to sell products socially. Instead, be humorous while relevant, and provide useful information. For example, she asked one client, a pesticide company, to send her photos of a broken water pipe that workers found on the job, which helped the homeowner avert a major flood.

"No hard sells; you have to really engage people – and be fun," Shalhoub said.

Shalhoub said the perception among small businesses that outsourcing social media is too costly leads them to wing it on their own. But there's a range of services and price points out there, Shalhoub said, and companies of all sizes are likely to find something fitting within their larger marketing budgets.

Making sure you execute correctly on social media is always worth the money, said Laura DiBenedetto, president and CEO of Worcester-based Vision Advertising, a marketing company serving clients from Worcester to Boston with revenue between $2 million and $50 million.

DiBenedetto said in an email managing social media is enormously more difficult than it looks, requiring daily content creation across different channels, in a way fitting the company's brand and overall marketing strategy.

"Frankly, it's a dizzying amount of responsibility, and it's too easy to make a mistake. Sure, a business owner is likely well-suited to manage it, but shouldn't. Instead, they should use their sharp skills to hire the right people either internally, externally, or both, for the responsibility," DiBenedetto wrote.

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