Is Facebook still relevant for small businesses? Advice from AmFam’s social media guru

It’s not every day that you hear a social media maven tell people to stay off Facebook.

To be fair, that’s not exactly what Tom Buchheim, social media manager for American Family Insurance, is advising small businesses to do, but he will tell you that if you haven’t hopped on the Facebook gravy train yet, you may be fed mostly scraps from now until doomsday, unless you’re willing to buy a first-class ticket.

“I think Facebook has its value, but at the small business level — and I was just having this discussion today with a group of folks who are small business owners — if you’re not on Facebook already, it’s probably not worth your time to create a presence right now,” said Buchheim. “I think if you have an established presence on Facebook, it’s certainly okay to continue that, but Facebook is really just another paid advertising medium right now.”

“At the small business level, [Facebook] is strictly an ad play at this point.” — Tom Buchheim, social media manager, American Family Insurance

Buchheim will give a presentation for small business owners on “New Social Media Trends” from 8:30-9:30 a.m. Feb. 24 at American Family’s DreamBank on Pinckney Street in Madison. One of the more recent trends in social media that he’ll discuss is the pay-for-visibility model, which is prompting some small businesses to reevaluate their allocation of resources.

“At the small business level, [Facebook] is strictly an ad play at this point,” said Buchheim. “I see this every day with American Family’s page. We have about a quarter million people who have connected with us, but we don’t even get 1% of that that we can reach organically with a post without pushing some advertising dollars behind it, and this is the same across the board — though it’s maybe not as stark with some of the smaller pages, these smaller businesses.

“That doesn’t mean that you abandon Facebook necessarily, but I think you need to diversify where you can and start to look where some of these other platforms may start to stand out.”

Hitting the target

But while Buchheim might be somewhat bearish on Facebook, he doesn’t entirely dismiss it as a viable option for small businesses. He notes that Facebook advertising is extremely well targeted, allowing businesses to really home in on likely customers. But when it comes to other networks that are nearly as well known — particularly in the business world — what you see is what you get when it comes to businesses’ posts. They aren’t using algorithms and other “throttling” methods to restrict which posts your friends see.

“If you’re on a budget, you should consider doing more on networks like Twitter and LinkedIn where you can make more of those one-on-one connections with customers without the extra cost of advertising,” said Buchheim.

Of course, the drawback with Twitter is that there’s a huge amount of activity on the network, and it’s easy to get lost among a sea of posts. And unlike Facebook users, professionals on LinkedIn are unlikely to check the site multiple times per day.

Buchheim also notes that there are creative options for businesses that still want to cast their line into Facebook’s vast ocean of users.

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“[At the presentation], I’ll be talking about the importance of personal branding for small business owners,” said Buchheim. “What that means is, some of the challenges of reaching people can actually be overcome by using some of these social networks as an individual rather than a business. So, for example, you could share information about your company with your Facebook friends instead of posting it, or in addition to posting it, on your business page, and this is especially true when you have something that might interest them.

“It’s not an open invitation to spam your friends, but it can be a more natural and authentic connection, plus it gets spread to the right audience if the message is done right. Social media is not just about how a business is represented, it’s also about how its owners and employees represent the business in social media.”

A visual medium

Another trend that Buchheim says business owners should be on top of is the move toward video and images, particularly since it’s so much easier these days to produce visually engaging content. In addition, he said, video is starting to get more preferred treatment when it comes to overall reach on many social media platforms, particularly Facebook.

“What I’ve been told is the best camera that you’ve got is the one that’s in your pocket,” said Buchheim. “Whether you’re using a cellphone camera or something else, the tools we have today are better than they were even a year ago.”

For CPA firms, law firms, or other B2B companies that don’t have a lot of appealing images to show, sharing video and images may not make as much sense, but for many other businesses, it’s important to seek out platforms like Instagram, said Buchheim.

“If you’re a baker or you have a restaurant, I think you’re really missing out [if you’re not on Instagram] because you have an opportunity to really showcase your product visually,” said Buchheim. “And people are going on Instagram to consume just that exact type of content. It could be cupcakes or it could be steak dinner or beer or wine, or whatever it might be. If that fits with your consumers, with your business model, then I think if there’s a visual aspect to it, then absolutely.”

Going mobile

During his presentation, Buchheim will also talk about why small businesses need to think harder about combining their social media efforts with mobile platforms.

“People are consuming content more and more via social media, and when they’re doing that they’re doing it through mobile for the most part,” said Buchheim. “So if the content you’re sharing is coming in the form of a blog or a website or whatever it might be and it isn’t mobile-friendly, the message is going to miss the mark and the experience is not going to be very ideal for the user. So one of the things I’m going to emphasize with this group is keep mobile in the back of your mind with everything you’re doing.”

Of course, while Buchheim is eager to share the latest trends, he acknowledges that keeping up with everything that’s going on in the realm of social media is difficult, given how rapidly it changes. But if you do want to stay abreast of the latest information, there’s an easy solution — get by with a little help from your (online) friends.

“Everybody is smart about something, and social media is your opportunity to share those smarts, and the same goes for trends in social media,” said Buchheim. “My recommendation would be to look for people in your industry and start talking to them. This is a way for you to stay on top of the trends, but also some of the real tactical things like changes in platforms and things that small business owners need to at least understand a little bit so they can keep an eye on and face what’s changing with Facebook, what’s changing with Twitter, so they can understand how to use that tool moving forward.”

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