When it comes to online social media, small businesses have choices to make

With so many options available, social media marketing can be a difficult enterprise for small businesses. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other networking websites offer different benefits and risks, and choosing between them (or choosing how much emphasis to put on one versus another) isn't always easy. However, companies that want to market themselves in this online social world may have to come to terms with the fact that it may not be worth their time and effort.

A Hiscox Insurance survey of small businesses has found that not all companies are enamored with social media, according to Click Through Marketing. In fact, only 4 percent of respondents answered that social networking was an indispensable part of their overall marketing strategy. In fact, 50 percent said that they preferred word of mouth to buzz on internet social pages.

This is an illuminating study that highlights the limitations of Facebook marketing. There are a number of factors that contribute to the effectiveness of an online networking campaign, and small businesses need to be aware of the reasons why they should or shouldn't jump on board the bandwagon that, according to Hiscox, sees only 28 percent of small businesses creating Facebook pages.

The local demographics of an area are crucial when making social networking judgments. After all – most small businesses operate in a small geographic region. If consumers that are being targeted by a company don't live in an urban environment, are older than the average customer or simply don't use social media, there's no use in trying such a campaign. If an area is demographically mixed in these ways, a hybrid effort may be appropriate. Promotional products can supplement online marketing.

If a company does more business through online orders or already sees a lot of traffic from internet users, a social networking push is extremely useful. However, brick and mortar facilities, such as in retail, accounting or finance, may not be the best types of organizations to rely on the internet.

Ultimately, a decision about online marketing comes down to the resources that a small business has at its disposal. Any company that thinks it has the staff and expertise to construct social networking profiles and cultivate them with the use of search engine optimization and full-time blogging should by all means do so. However, if an organization is occupied with real-world customers and can't spare the funds for an online campaign, it may be better to focus on traditional advertising and promotional products.  

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