Digital marketing is an investment. It takes time to mature before it can pay you back.

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This is a question that has plagued us for years and we have spoken to many “experts,” but they seemed to be speaking in another language. We are not the professional online marketers they usually have as students. We are regular small business owners looking for advice we can understand and apply. We decided to ask Claudia Sheridan, a social marketing practitioner who specializes in small and medium-sized businesses like ours. After our initial meeting with Claudia, she was able to explain the various facets involved in digital marketing and how they work together to produce results — in terms we could understand!

1. The Big Picture

Michael & Bonnie: We’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years on social marketers. We found that generally speaking, they understood one or two parts of the puzzle but didn’t have a comprehensive picture and certainly couldn’t deliver all the details necessary to make it happen. Typically, they would create and charge us for a funnel and put a lot of emphasis on landing pages but could not get many people into the funnel. Can you outline for us the various different aspects of social marketing that have to be in place to make it work?

Claudia: Social marketing is a part of a much larger concept, that isn’t really talked about. We think about social media and lead generation but rarely do marketers talk about all of the different aspects involved with Digital marketing, which is what businesses, in my opinion, really need to focus on.  It’s not one aspect of the available websites and tools, but rather how to make the different components work together in an effective and efficient manner that produces the desired results.

When looking to work with a marketer, look for one that understands the digital marketing landscape and can identify how the elements can best work for the goals you’re trying to accomplish.  For example, a company may want to utilize a social media channel, such as Facebook, to generate awareness and build their brand. They may decide to place an ad and make an offer but they rarely consider the stages at which the prospect is within the buying journey.

This reminds me of a stranger on a street corner who offers to sell you a fake watch from the lining of his coat.  It may capture your attention, or you may walk away. There is no friendship here, no relationship, no trust. What there is, however, is doubt. And, who wants to build a business relationship based on doubt? So then, what does this process look like?  And, the answer is that it varies on the strategy that is being used.

Related: 7 Creative Ways to Boost Your Social Media Strategy

2. Metrics vs. Results

Michael & Bonnie: When we’ve dealt with social marketers in the past, they have tried to tell us that the likes, clicks, and shares, somehow resulted in increased business. But we found that it actually increased our overhead to maintain a current and interactive online presence. Further we’ve seen no substantial increase in business as a result of our investments in social marketing. What would you say to a client who has had that unfortunate experience before coming to you?

Claudia: I think that entrepreneurs are always on the lookout for that one thing, that silver bullet, that will generate a large amount of business for them.  In 2011-2012, commenting, liking and sharing would have done the trick, but today, that is no longer the case. Today, to be successful on Facebook, it means that you need to play within Facebook’s rules and adapt accordingly. More importantly, it means that you need to have a clear marketing strategy that can be executed, tested, measured, optimized and is able to adapt to Facebook’s changes. This isn’t a linear strategy, but an iterative one that is constantly evolving.

Related: How to Build a SocialMedia Strategy That Works

3. Changing Rules

Michael & Bonnie: It seems like every six months the rules change on social marketing. Just when you get set up, it seems like the rules change and you have to go back and reorganize. How can you anticipate and mitigate these changes?

Claudia:  The rules do change, and although the changes seem to be significant, they’re really not.  If a business has actively been participating in Facebook marketing, executing their strategy and making adjustments along the way, then as we learn of a new Facebook change, it just becomes a slight adjustment in the strategy.  Facebook’s changes, however, can appear colossal to companies who are not actively monitoring their Facebook marketing or do not have a solid strategy in place that they’re following.   

It’s kind of like joining the gym every January.  If we had just stuck with the workouts that the fitness trainer laid out for us on day one, and we committed to working out a few times a week and eating right, then going to the gym after the holidays would be just another day.  But if we joined in January, stopped going in February, only to join back up 11 months later, the goal of getting into shape is much more daunting.  We don’t expect to walk into a gym on day one and walk out two hours later with six-pack abs, do we?  Yet with Facebook, we expect immediate return with very little effort and get frustrated when the work-out has changed.

Related: Social Media Marketing Is a Lot Tougher With Trust in Social Media Plunging

 4. Overload

Michael & Bonnie: Don’t you think people are getting too many emails from social marketers? I know that I now have a setting on my Outlook that can take all those emails and put them on a lower priority profile. How do you get your clients prospects to open the emails in the campaigns you organize for them?

Claudia: If marketing was a pie, then email marketing should make up another piece of that pie. There are some companies who are amazing at email marketing and others who could use a little refinement. To get a prospect to open emails, you need to send them the right message at the right time. The question then becomes, how do you know when that is?  Well, with a good email system, you can segment your audience to deliver messages that best resonate with their needs.  Often with email marketing, businesses will craft a single message and broadcast it to their entire list, without consideration to where each person is within the customer journey.  But, if the email message aligned with the stage the customer was in, then the email is more likely to be opened and valued.

Related: 3 Ways to Avoid Creepy Marketing Practices and Build Trust With Your Customers 

5. Expense or Investment?

Michael & Bonnie: What advice can you give to our readers so they will have a better understanding of what to expect from social marketing? 

Claudia: I think the most important thing to remember is that social media marketing should never be the only method of marketing a company engages in. Work with someone who understands the digital marketing landscape and how the different elements fit together to accomplish the goals you’re trying to accomplish. Digital marketing should be viewed as an investment, not an expense. And as with any investment, it often takes time to mature before it can pay you back. Finally, make sure that there’s a strategy and work that strategy.

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