Social Media Marketing for the Small Business - The Data Dilemma

winged dragon beast representing social media marketing
Social media marketing is a continually evolving beast. New avenues of contact and exposure for your brand keep emerging, with promise of being the next big thing that will bring your company legions of followers and a wave of incremental business. Mark me down as a skeptic. It can happen, but the probability is not likely to be in your favor. Innovation, which is what adopting a novel social media platform amounts to, is risky...very risky. There is no history of failure and success through the experience of others to serve as a basis for developing best practices in your own operation. Investment level in time and cash can be on a scale that seems inordinate for your business. Need I go on?
Let the big players, at least the other players, be the innovators. 
Being a lab rat is dangerous. Be the observer. Keep tabs on new avenues to deliver your message, get discovered, and build your online presence. These are necessary business activities, the essential part of growth. Adopt social media platforms and other promotional practices that fit your business. If a promising marketing activity would be overly burdensome or awkward for your staff, outsource it or abandon it. Your business probably works pretty well in its current form, so be cautious when considering business process changes that require a disturbance to your present level of success. Marketing activities will not likely be a direct revenue center in your smaller scale business. Pouring substantial company resources into an unproven high risk endeavor may not be a sound move.

Let's move on to the subject of this article, which is the use of data. Everybody wants to know what works in marketing, a field that relies far more on art than science. One line of thought, of which we are probably all afflicted at one time or another, is the "if it worked for them it will work for me" approach to decision making. How true is this, and is it a sound business decision technique?

There are many citations and displays of survey results and web analytics in free articles to be found all over the web. The results of some are quite stark, indicating great success with some particular activity, platform, or other element of a social media marketing program. But will your business experience the same euphoria if you follow in their footsteps? The answer is unknown, but let's take a look at some concepts that may help in evaluating what you read. provides this summation of "analytics" and I thank them for it.
Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. Especially valuable in areas rich with recorded information, analytics relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify performance. Analytics often favors data visualization to communicate insight.
As it applies to social media marketing, analytics consist of data regarding visitors to a webpage and their relevant activities that can be measured as they browse. Surveys are aggregations of participant responses to questions regarding some marketing related subject.

For perspective

The targeted readership for this blog is small businesses engaging in technical selling activities in the industrial arena. The products they manufacture or distribute require special knowledge not generally held by the public. In the majority of the cases, there is consultation at some level between the buyer and seller to make sure the product delivered will meet the special needs of the customer. Few of these businesses have an online store.

Some suggestions for evaluating results of marketing activities you read about:

  • Where does the article appear?
    There are marketing journals, just like there are scientific journals, that deliver well derived statistical results from large scale studies conducted by real statisticians and researchers. The articles are academic and very technical, not much fun to read. They do, however, often provide deep analysis of the data to determine how applicable it may be to the marketing efforts of others.

    Many of the articles found through a web based search for marketing savvy are authored by people (like me) working for marketing service companies. The articles are informative, often useful, but their ultimate purpose is to build business for the marketing services company. Data in these articles is not as rigorously gathered and analyzed, tending to be more anecdotal than statistical. How applicable the results may be to your operation is not readily available and can be difficult to determine.
  • Is the subject matter of the research applicable to your business?
    Some research or survey information and conclusions may apply universally, others may not. Make a careful assessment of how the study and results may apply to your business practices and operation. Be cautious with your decision making when you cannot establish a convincing connection.
  • Is the research based upon a subject group similar to your customers?
    Try to discern the demographics and other identifying characteristics of the participants or sample. If it does not closely match your customer base, or one that you anticipate pursuing, the research conclusions may not be useful and may even be counterproductive if incorporated into your efforts. 
  • Is the behavior being tested one that is relevant to your target market?
    You know your customer base, your market. If the survey or research relates strongly to behavior or activity that is not characteristic of your market, the value of the conclusions is diminished for purposes of your decision making.
Avoid being whipsawed by every new piece of information or well written article. Collect it, digest it, discuss it, but be cautious when applying newly discovered insight (data) to your own marketing efforts.
In business, avoiding a move in the wrong direction can be equally advantageous to making the right move.
Marketing is a continuous process with many opportunities to make changes and try new methods. Keep in mind, though, that the goal is to build your brand and revenue stream. Operating on the cutting edge carries greater risk to your marketing expenditure. Also consider the time component, as any new marketing strategy requires time to develop effectiveness.

How to proceed?

  • Be patient, collect all the information you can and build your knowledge of social media marketing. 
  • Avoid blind experimentation with methods and tools you do not understand. 
  • Be skeptical until whatever reasonable analysis you choose to apply indicates an acceptably high probability of positive returns for a course of action.
  • Outsource activities that will require too much time from your current staff to effectively execute. Taking time away from current revenue generating tasks can increase the costs of new marketing activity.
  • If you outsource, search for a vendor that will provide what you want, not what they want. You and the vendor should reach a common understanding on what the delivery expectations are to be. Avoid purchasing service levels that you have not yet evaluated for usefulness to your business model.
The bottom line.....Be calm, be patient. Make a thoughtful decision and evaluate it's impact. 

As always, follow, comment, contact me with your questions. I can be contacted directly at CMS4i by putting @TomO in the message section. At CMS4i, we are here to help you make things work, so contact us anytime.