Small businesses investing in social media marketing

Local Chicago Spanish restaurant Café Ba-Ba-Reeba placed a large heart branded with the restaurant’s name in downtown Chicago to honor Heart Disease Month in February. It then asked its 1,000-plus Facebook fans to upload pictures of the heart to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba’s Facebook page for a chance to win a free dinner for four.

The campaign didn’t receive many entries, but Callie Revel, Café Ba-Ba-Reeba’s head of social media, said that these types of social media campaigns are important to “keep [customers] engaged and feel like they’re following us with a purpose instead of us just trying to drive our sales and drive our events. ”

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba is part of a trend of small businesses using social media to engage customers. According to a study released last week by Borrell Associates, two-thirds of the 2,872 small and medium business owners interviewed said that they use social media to communicate directly with customers, and one-third said that they plan to increase their social media spending this year.

Social media gives small businesses “a method of promotion that doesn’t cost very much,” said Kip Cassino, executive VP at Borrell Associates. “And if you know how to use it right, you can get [your message] to everybody who would have an interest in coming by your local store. So it is a leveling field.”

Michael Cunningham, partner of Café Ba-Ba-Reeba, said that the “minimal” cost of social media marketing  is the No. 1 reason he prefers it to traditional marketing campaigns. “Direct mail and print ads are very costly. With Facebook, you have an audience that is coming to you, and it’s an audience that wants to be connected to you. With mailings, you don’t know,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham also embraces social media’s ripple effect, which allows his restaurant to reach new customers with minimal effort. “These people with Facebook are the ones who are advertising for us because if you go in and you see a great deal with us on Facebook and you have 100-200 people on your Facebook page, you’re gonna send that out,“ said Cunningham.

Café Ba-Ba-Reeba launched its Facebook page a little more than two years ago after Cunningham noticed a number of his employees “were always on Facebook,” he said. Additionally, the restaurant’s customers “are the type of people who are living on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare,” said Cunningham, who estimates 65% of his customers to be 35 years old and younger.

Cunningham credits Facebook with improved marketing campaign ROI, because of Café Ba-Ba-Reeba’s customer demographics and the company’s continued embrace of social media. “Facebook does bring people into the store,” said Cunningham. “If we do an offer and they get it through Facebook, they’ll come in—and we can actually see the results of the people coming in through Facebook.”

Tangible results, said Cassino, is the key to small businesses’ use of social media. “Smaller business doesn’t have a marketing committee and it doesn’t have an advertising agency. They measure things on performance,” he said. “They want to know, OK, I did something, did it work or didn’t it? Those kinds of measurements are very simple with the social media.”

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