Business Monday

3 changes in the social media landscape small business owners need to know

CUNNINGHAM
CUNNINGHAM Miami Herald

In North America roughly 1.3 million small and medium-sized businesses account for a jaw-dropping $5.5 trillion in annual revenue and a whopping 81 percent of them use social media to drive sales, according to a survey conducted by LinkedIn in 2014. LinkedIn and research firm TNS partnered to survey 1,000 small business owners last year and over 94 percent of respondents reported using social media as a marketing tool to promote their businesses while 49 percent of them reported using networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for educational purposes and to gain new insights to facilitate growth. And while many small businesses use social media to promote and learn, more and more consumers are using it to make purchases. According to the 2014 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Survey of 5,800 U.S. shoppers, conducted by comScore, one-third of all shoppers and one-half of millennials, those born between 1982 and 2004, reported making purchasing decisions based on social media. When consumers make purchases, 86 percent of them reported sharing their opinions on products and brands on Facebook, while 34 percent post feedback on Twitter.

But the social media landscape has changed since last year, and networks like Facebook and Twitter have made changes to their platforms that every small business owner needs to know about.

▪ Facebook Messenger is now a shopping platform for consumers: In March, Facebook announced “Businesses on Messenger,” a new service that gives companies the ability to connect with customers through its Messenger app. What this means is that consumers will now be able to make purchases directly through the app. For those who are not familiar with Facebook Messenger, it’s an instant messaging platform that allows users to direct message each other. Businesses will be able to answer questions while consumers make purchases, and send order details like shipping information and delivery times. Two major retailers, Zulily and Everlane, are already using Facebook Messenger to interact with their customers.

But for local small businesses like Sweat Records, a trendy vinyl record shop in Little Haiti, the idea of using Facebook Messenger to reach customers isn’t particularly appealing.

“I think a lot of small businesses have become disillusioned with Facebook,’’ said Lauren “Lolo” Reskin, owner of Sweat Records. “While using Facebook Messenger to get your customers’ attention might be a good idea for some businesses, I think the change in their algorithm has essentially placed a chokehold on who can see your post unless you pay Facebook for it. For a small business owner with a limited budget, this isn’t always possible, so more and more of us are moving to social media platforms that are not filtered like Instagram and Tumblr.”

Still, as of the first quarter of 2015, there were approximately 1.44 billion monthly active users on Facebook, according to the social network, making it one of the most popular sites in the world.

▪ It is now possible to connect with anyone on Twitter: With 288 million monthly active users, Twitter is an important social network for a small business owner. Last month, the social network introduced a feature that allows users to receive direct messages from anyone, regardless of whether that person is a follower. While Twitter rolled out this feature quietly back in 2013, to a very small subset of users, it is now available to anyone. Users have to update their security settings to enable the feature and receive direct messages. Locally, some small business owners aren’t so excited about the new feature.

“It sounds good in theory,” said Amanda Rodriguez, social media manager for Splash, a boutique clothing store in South Miami. “But it isn’t really practical because as a small business owner, you would be sending information about your products and services to people who didn’t ask for it. That could be problematic for a brand. At Splash, our social media strategy is to put out engaging content that resonates with our followers and results in referrals to the store. It’s worked great for us so far.”

▪ Google changed its algorithm … again: Google recently released a new algorithm update that only affects Google searches made on mobile devices. Sites that the algorithm deems mobile-friendly are ranked higher than sites that are only optimized for desktop and laptop computers. This is important for small business owners because according to comScore, in 2014, 78 percent of Internet searches for business information made on a mobile device resulted in a purchase.

So what can you do to make your site more mobile-friendly? First, test your site. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to see if your site is optimized for mobile devices. Next, make sure you are using responsive Web design for your site. A responsive site uses the same URL across multiple devices and readers to display information to users. If your site is not responsive and you can’t afford a complete overhaul, think about getting a separate URL for your mobile site as an alternative.

For more insight on how the social media landscape is changing and how small business owners can keep up, visit the Miami Herald’s Starting Gate blog.

Tasha Cunningham is a vice president at Commonground/MGS. She can be reached at tasha.cunningham@cg-mgs.com.

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