If you’re an entrepreneur who still spends thousands of dollars on traditional advertising because you don’t believe in social media, you’re not alone. If you say your competitors aren’t using it either, just wait.

They will.

Digital communication is now mainstream with 72% of Internet users active in social media. People expect to receive the information they are seeking in literally seconds. If they don’t find it with you, they’ll move on to someone who is supplying it, like your competitor. Wouldn’t you rather lead than follow? Why wait and pay all sorts of cash to catch up?

A few years ago the investment industry also dismissed the social media explosion. Now almost every player in the field is jockeying for position. Late bloomer sectors like manufacturing and medical are still resisting the social media revolution, but they too are waking up to the value of knowing the online whereabouts of customers, vendors, employees, regulators and competitors.

Companies on the sidelines will soon realize they need to act, or risk becoming irrelevant.  What happens when you try a find a particular company online and discover they have no website? Like most people today you would probably question if the business is actually “in” business.   Within the next couple of years, the same opinion will be formed on a company that has no social media presence. It will be as if they don’t exist.

Sure, social media is part popularity contest — there’s no denying the hype around that. And it’s not a magic solution either. Building an online audience requires time and strategic effort to do it well. It’s worth the investment. Digital media is how people communicate today, it is where like-minds congregate and communities are formed. As a business, you can tap into these ready-made audiences, once you know how.

If you’re still wary of joining the digital movement, don’t wait any longer. It is a world expanding within itself, an evolving technology, similar to when the telephone was followed by the fax then email. Could you imagine not using email? I remember when people thought that too was a fad.

Following are a few ideas to help you join and benefit from the online landscape by dipping your toe in the water. Test it out and see how digital communication levels the playing field, increases your exposure, attracts your target customer and saves you money on traditional media. There are merits to traditional advertising, and adding social media to your marketing budget will give you a truly integrated campaign designed for today’s buyer.

Digital Baby Steps That Will Help Your Business Grow:

  • Google is the first place most consumers visit to source information and read what others are saying about a product or service before they buy. We tend to trust brands that have positive product feedback, show their values and personality, and of course have pictures of happy employees doing cool stuff in the community. It’s the world we now live in. Ensure your website is properly optimized with great keyword rich content so it shows up on page one of Google.
  • YouTube Videos. For a small business starting out in social media, do a test run with one or two videos. A picture is worth 1000 words, right? Well video is even more powerful with YouTube being the second most popular “search engine” behind Google. Through what’s known as “earned media,” you can showcase your expertise and deliver valuable information that your customers will appreciate and share. It doesn’t have to be a big budget production. The key is good content and a semi-professional feel.
  • Measure returns. Companies are moving large portions of their budgets from traditional advertising to digital marketing because it’s easier to measure returns and connect with the audience.  In traditional advertising it is almost impossible to know who is seeing and acting on ads—it’s also 100-times more expensive. Read more here: CMOs Say Digital Cannibalizing Budgets From Traditional Media

Leveling The Playing Field

The myth I often hear is that social media only works for big businesses with massive budgets. Obviously the more time you spend in front of your audience, offering good information, the more followers and fans you’ll receive.

However, digital communication also levels the playing field beautifully for small to medium sized business. Opening a social media account is free. Putting out interesting information is also free. It’s the same for businesses of any size — attract followers and watch them become real-world customers. Social media gives you a platform for a two-way conversation with customers, advocates and new potential buyers. It’s all about dialogue, and sharing is caring.

We recently ran a geographically-targeted ad campaign on Facebook for a client who is a professional Vancouver roofing company. Within two weeks the campaign generated over 100 likes by interested local homeowners. The ad buy cost our client a whole $130 (photos and writing not included). That’s a pretty great rate of return and well worth the exposure itself. Also, if just one of those likes converts to a customer, it’s worth a few thousand dollars in new revenue. Not a bad investment, not bad at all.

Traditional advertising generates awareness and opportunities for sales when people are in a buying mood, no question about that. However, the competition for mindshare is heavy, and there is a good chance that your audience is already online searching for information on products and services similar to yours. As companies we need to attract target customers (and their influencers) at all stages of the buying cycle by using social media to invite them to follow us online. Only then can we truly start building relationships.

To effectively accomplish this, we have to give them a reason to keep communicating with us beyond a one-time contest, or an ad they see or hear. Relevant, knowledge-based information and online word of mouth (testimonials, reviews, etc.) are the absolute best ways to get people to take action. Once you’ve drawn in your audience, keep in mind that people who sign up to receive a company’s information remain loyal only when they know and trust the brand.

Some companies stay with traditional media because their target market is an older demographic, but did you know that the fastest growing audience on social media is 55 to 64-year olds? It’s definitely not just for young people anymore.

The Check List

Remember the saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”? Well that’s what I’m suggesting for you.

To really draw in your target buyers you’ll need to have a few things in place: a professional online presence and knowledge center that includes an eye-catching, interactive website, up-to-date blog, videos, integrated social media, newsletter, whitepapers, and good search-engine optimization.

Visit Google and make sure your company is showing up with your industry keywords. If you sell “organic skin care products in Vancouver”, is that what shows up in the search results? How do you rank alongside your competitors? If they’re coming up and you’re not — yikes — time to do something about that.

Digital media is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it will continue to become even more pervasive and relevant, especially in our country as Canadians are the highest users of the Internet globally.

If you are comfortable with traditional advertising because it’s what you’ve always done, I appreciate that and understand change is hard. But give it a try. Set aside a small piece of your print media budget and put out a couple of Facebook ads, or create and post a YouTube video. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Want to hear more real-world results? Here’s a short and interesting video case study on how Canadian retailer, Sport Chek, transitioned from its paper circular to digital advertising and saw a massive sales increase.

If you want to compete and you want to win, you need to get in the game. Start now!