As Yogi Berra might say, it’s deja vu all over again.
Businesses of all sizes are suddenly confronted with a new technology that is simultaneously creating both challenges and opportunities: the advent and growth of social media.
Just as the Internet sprung up in the mid 1990s and forced businesses to reconsider and alter all aspects of their operations, social media today is rapidly becoming entrenched in consumers lives and smart businesses are racing to understand and embrace it.
Many small “mom and pop” businesses are stuck in a quandary: how to best take advantage of social media? Here are a few ideas to get you going:
Let’s begin with a quick definition of social media. There are many, but I like this most from Wikipedia: “Social media is media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.” For most of us, this means using platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Social media is:
- valuable and (if done right) well,
- totally free (it does require an investment of time, energy or money – some combination)
- a simple promotional tool
- only for large companies/brands
Why should you care about social media? Well, consider these social media trends. According to recent surveys, 22% of online time is spent on social networks (and this will only increase in the future). On the business front, B2B social media marketing spending is predicted to grow from just $11 million in 2009 to $54 million in 2014. Clearly this is a snowball that is picking up major momentum as it rolls down the mountain!
What are the areas of greatest growth? According to marketing experts, the Top 5 marketing tactics that companies will increase include:
- Social Media (75%)
- Web Search/SEO (51%)
- Email (49%)
- Virtual events (48%)
- Online ads (28%)
The most popular social media elements are for most businesses are Facebook (building and maintaining your own “fan” page), Twitter, Linkedin and Blogging. Although the platforms are similar, remember the goal for each is the same: share and engage!
Don’t just promote your company or products – this is the golden rule of social media marketing. Nothing turns off a fan, follower, visitor or reader faster than blatant promotional material. Of course you want to build your customer base and increase sales, but you have to believe in the process for social media to work. And this process requires you to first listen, then engage (which builds trust) and then offer helpful solutions and information. When you have done this with your audience, you’ll find yourself in a position where they will seek YOU out – rather than the other way around. And this is why targeting is so important. Don’t chase after any and all followers/consumers. Know who you’re potential customers are and seek them out for engagement.
Also, follow best practice steps when setting up and managing your social media programs: create measurable goals (number of new relationships, etc), research and listen; develop a network (or networks); integrate ALL elements of marketing (online; offline); and measure (as best you can) the ROI. Some organizations use ROE = return on engagement. This could mean measuring the number of followers, lists included, Retweets, link opens, etc. Also, blog comments, blog and website traffic, inbound links; Facebook fans, posts and comments; YouTube ratings, embeds on sites can all be measured. You get the idea – there is a lot you can track.
And this is why you can’t consider Social Media to be truly “Free.” It requires an investment of time and energy – and companies are debating whether it’s best to devote internal resources to these activities or hire outside help to create content and manage the process.
Another key question to answer before embarking on your social media programs: who are you trying to reach? How do they use social media? Do you want to reach customers, partners, media? Or all of the above? Depending on your audience, you’ll want to tailor your messages (and approach) appropriately.
Have I mentioned how important it is for you to listen and pay attention? Local sites (Yelp, Google Local) are also important for you to have a presence – as well as to monitor to see what is being said about you – and your competition. You can learn a lot by listening.
So what makes one company better than another when it comes to social media? Here are some tips: interact, be interesting, funny and relevant! And share, share, share (interesting articles, “how to” suggestions, etc.) and most of all, promote others (don’t be self-centered).
Again, all of this takes time and effort. But there are piles of social media success stories stacking up around the country – businesses small and large who are using the new platform to dramatically grow their market share. Why not you?