Should you use social marketing for your business – and when is it time to call in the experts? Business owners and advisers share their experiences with Diana Clement

Business owners face pressure to master social media. They hear that XYZ Ltd has boosted traffic to its website thanks to its social media strategy. And ABC Co has become a household name.

For businesses that haven't caught the bug yet, it is easy to dismiss social media as a fad. Yet a website isn't enough these days. It's flat and little more than a brochure. Social media pages can be like having websites on steroids.

The number of potential customers a business can reach through Facebook and other social media sites such as Twitter and Google+ is huge.

Lara Bancroft, head of interactive marketing at Yellow, says some businesses have made a real success of their social media strategy.


She cites Auckland restaurant Mexicali Fresh, which has 5454 "likes" on its Facebook page. Every time the restaurant posts an offer it shows in the newsfeed of those 5454 people. If they like or share the posting, it could reach 100,000 people.

While small and large businesses are doing social media well, medium-sized enterprises have struggled with their social media marketing. There are success stories such as Whittaker's chocolates and Rialto cinemas.

However, many medium-sized companies dismiss social media as a marketing platform and put a blanket ban on it, says Craig Garner, portfolio manager at the Employers & Manufacturers Association Northern. "Yet (businesses) are all about communication," he says.

Businesses in this category should be ensuring that they maintain their website, blog, and be on a range of social media sites, says Garner. The exact choice of sites depends on the type of business. "If you are a cake shop, for example, Pinterest might be a very powerful tool," he says.

Social media marketing is about making your business three-dimensional, says Alex Radford, interactive and digital media director at Starcom. Instead of seeing a brochure of what the restaurant offers, for example, they see pictures of what's happening, the chef, customers, and receive offers.

It's not just Facebook that matters. Businesses can reach and engage with customers on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Foursquare, and many other social media marketing sites.

Foursquare is particularly useful for some businesses, says Bancroft. Users "check-in" to Foursquare at the business with their smartphones. Or if they're looking for a certain type of business in a locality, they can search to find the ones most checked into.

Pinterest is one where users pin and re-pin images to their online "board". Businesses such as clothes designer Annah Stretton can use Pinterest to market their latest catalogue.

TripAdvisor, and many other websites where members can post reviews are also social media sites.

Whatever your business, says Radford, there is an awful lot of competition out there. A good social media strategy can push your business ahead of the competitors - even if you're a plumber - thanks to the power of recommendation.

As well as engaging with existing and potential customers, businesses can be very astute about how they use social media. For example, a business which is on TripAdvisor might give a flier to customers as they leave, asking them to post a review. Or a video store might offer a two-for-one offer for customers who check-in on Foursquare while in the shop.

Radford cites the example of Bethells Farmstay for Dogs as a business that has harnessed social media in a clever way.

Owner Sandra Darcy uploads pictures of dogs in her care to Facebook every couple of days. The dogs' owners can then see their canine friends having fun on holiday and "like" the page so that friends and family can take a look too. "Facebook is a huge selling point for us," says Darcy.

Being a success at social media is an art. Radford recommends that businesses "test and learn" rather than ignoring it.

Bancroft adds that businesses should be monitoring their social media activity to see how beneficial it is. The international trend, he says, is to use monitoring software that can record whenever your business has been viewed, liked, rated, checked-in or any other relevant measurement metrics.

It's too easy, otherwise, to spend hours and hours on something with no return on investment.

Tips for socialising
• Have a purpose and goals
• Know your audience
• Put time aside for social media marketing
• Be knowledgeable about your subject
• Follow others
• Measure your success
• Respond to posts in a timely manner
• Don't over promote your business. Engage in a conversation