Luck is on the side of small business owners who want to build a strong online presences, says Samantha Hardcastle, at right, an online marketing consultant and owner of Amore Social. Small businesses don’t need a million-dollar budget and a 15-person team to manage their marketing. But it takes more than luck to create a successful strategy that employs the best combination of social media tools for their specific needs.

In a seminar titled “Optimizing Social Media for your Small Business,” Hardcastle will show business owners how to grow their businesses using the communication tools offered by digital media at a free presentation Tuesday, February 17, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Register at www.princeton.score.org/localworkshops or call 609-393-0505. The seminar is offered by SCORE, a non-profit partner of the Small Business Administration.

Social media marketing is a form of inbound marketing, an approach based on earning a person’s interest and trust rather than buying it. “Make sure the message you’re putting out there has a call to action,” Hardcastle says. The action can be anything that prompts a customer to participate, perhaps sign up for an e-newsletter or a service, download a file, join a group, watch a video, join a webinar, get a free gift, or access an article with useful information.

Content marketing in the form of articles or long blog posts is really big right now, she says. It is a way to earn the trust of your audience by showing them that you understand their needs and interests.

Hardcastle, for example, has posted a blog on her website: “Six ingredients for successful online marketing.” What prompted the article, she says, was an experience in baking cookies. “If you mismeasure one ingredient, your dessert will be a miserable fail. This got me thinking, that baking is very similar to online marketing! If you don’t implement all of the following, your social media campaign will most likely fail,” she says. The first ingredient for a strong campaign, she says, is being able to define your desired outcome:

Ingredient 1: Strong goals: What are you looking to accomplish with social media and online marketing? Please don’t go into social media blind, without any expectations. Here are some very general ideas of what you can do:

Social media can generate more business exposure, increase traffic and improve search rankings, improve relationships and awareness amongst current customers, and find you qualified leads. But social media can’t replace traditional marketing, guarantee sales, deliver results overnight, or be a short term solution.

Once you determine your general goals, you can go on to create more specific goals and figure out what social networks are best to accomplish these goals.

Ingredients 2-6 include consistent branding; time and commitment; original content; loyal customers; and the means for measuring goals.

Hardcastle integrates traditional marketing with her knowledge and passion for social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and others. Her services include E-mail marketing, content creation and blogging, video, and traditional offline marketing.

Some of her big customers use a lot of traditional marketing: billboards, advertising, direct mail, radio, she says. But for small businesses, these forms are too expensive to use on a regular basis, and for some too costly to use at all. A one-time ad in a magazine could cost thousands of dollars, and the ad will be there only once. Social media marketing is long term. You are building relationships with customers, and if they are happy with your service or product, they are likely to recommend you to friends.

Hardcastle, who lives in the historic district of Titusville with her husband, grew up in West Windsor. “I fell in love with the Internet from a young age,” she said. By age 10 she was creating web pages with HTML, writing blog posts and chatting on Internet bulletin boards.

Hardcastle said she spent so much time on the Internet that her parents were concerned that she was becoming a hermit. Her mother, a travel agent, and her father, the vice president of sales at a leather goods company, stressed the importance of having a fulfilling career. How could they predict that Samantha’s passion for online communication would evolve into a career path, and a business website with a logo representing a “digital social butterfly”?

Hardcastle studied at Loyola University-Maryland where she majored in communications, specializing in advertising and public relations with a minor in marketing. Upon earning her degree in 2010, Hardcastle worked for creative agencies where she wrote social media updates and created company profiles, Facebook ad campaigns, and marketing strategies. “I considered myself a jack of all trades,” she said.

At that time people were just learning about social media marketing, and Hardcastle often found that she knew as much, if not more, about the topic than person she was working for. She founded Amore Social in the fall of 2011.

Hardcastle has worked with over 100 companies in New Jersey and nationwide, including Americana Hospitality Group which focuses on hotel and restaurant management; Nylabone, producer of dog toys and chews; and SCORE, providing free business counseling, coaching, mentoring, and workshops for small businesses.

“Social media isn’t a fad, it’s here to stay,” Hardcastle says.

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