Today’s marketing and advertising landscapes have become inextricably linked to the Internet and our almost constant dependence thereon. Traditional business strategies are increasingly being replaced by things like search engine optimization (SEO) and social media—efforts to bridge the gap between oceans of consumers and the companies that serve them.
Though online marketing should be a comprehensive effort, social media is unquestionably a key component. GlobalWebIndex reported earlier this year that a full 30 percent of Internet users “use social networks to research products” while another 37 percent “follow [their] favorite brands on social media.”
Social media may have been born from a desire to connect people, but it’s quickly become a cost-effective means for connecting those people to businesses, too.
Establishing an online presence may begin with launching a website, but it doesn’t end there. Just as you’d work hard to direct potential customers to a brick-and-mortar shop, so too should you allocate significant resources toward attracting those same customers to your site and the goods or services offered therein.
Still, some businesses may be reluctant to invest heavily in a social media strategy, perhaps even viewing it as something to be pursued on the side or whenever time permits. Adopting such an approach would be a mistake.
There are a number of reasons to take your social media presence seriously, and here are just a few.
Social Media Exposure
At a most basic level, social media is a crucial means of promoting brand awareness and educating the public about who you are and what you do. According to a study last year by Regalix, 94 percent of surveyed companies cited increased brand awareness as one of their “key objectives of social media marketing”—by far the most common objective.
Why is social media such an attractive means for generating such exposure?
You maintain constant control over your messaging. Launching a new product or service? Want to highlight your company’s good deeds in the community? Simply interested in driving traffic to your website. Social media allows you to do all of the above, all while directly reaching potential consumers.
Though you don’t want every Twitter or Facebook post to be a shameless plug, the mere act of retaining a consistent social media presence can yield dividends. There’s plenty to be said for sharing content or even brief commentary on the things that matter to your current or potential clientele. This is how people get to know and trust you. And it could very well be the reason they prefer to do business with you.
The extent to which you successfully increase exposure depends in large part on your implementation of a dedicated social media strategy. Though posting frequency depends a bit on which platform you’re talking about, you should consistently communicate with your audience. Meanwhile, the content of those posts should be varied and engaging. Your audience should find it useful, interesting and/or entertaining. The use of images or links to content can also be helpful.
In a perfect world, you’d likely have a presence on a variety of platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and so on. The more widespread your efforts, the more users you can reach. For smaller business or any organization deploying limited resources, however, it may be wise to begin small. You’re better off maintaining a robust and regular presence on one or two platforms than overextending yourself. The last thing you want to do is create an impression that you’re only half-serious about your social media image. A lack of regular posting or a dependence on repetitive and automated posting could actually be counterproductive and make your brand look less than professional.
But when your social media campaign receives the love it deserves, you’ll find a golden opportunity to define your business and increase others’ familiarity with it.
Learning About Target Audiences
Social media is a two-way street. While it certainly allows current and potential clientele to learn more about your operation, it also allows you to learn more about them.
“Listening to social media can help you learn more about your consumers’ preferences, behaviors, perceptions about your brand, and trends in products and shopping,” writes Synthesio’s Julie Meredith. “Monitoring and analyzing social media sentiment can help you understand the market reaction to product launches and measure the success of your promotional campaigns. By geo-targeting your search, you can focus on what’s important in that region, analyze the effects of your marketing campaign in specific areas, and seek out new potential consumers to engage with.”
Social media may not entirely replace the need for surveys or focus groups, but it may well be a more affordable option for small and large entities alike. And remember, it isn’t just about better understanding consumers’ feelings toward your company. It’s also about analyzing their relationship to your industry in general—your competition, the goods or services you’re vending, marketing techniques and any other trends for which you should be prepared. At minimum, paying a little extra attention to social media users can teach you a few things about their demographics.
Note that being a good listener will require more than just planning a few posts everyday. To periodically take stock of what people are saying on platforms like Twitter or Facebook, your business may want a hire or assign a dedicated social media officer—if not a small team committed to comprehensively building your social media presence, collecting useful data from users and translating that data into actionable business objectives.
However much you decide to invest in an overall social media strategy, it’s almost certainly worth devoting at least some time and resources to keeping your finger on the pulse of your constituents’ interests and opinions.
“Social is here to stay,” Will McInnes argues in a piece for Social Media Week. “Social listening and analytics are necessary equipment in the marketers toolbox. Brands need to embrace the power of social media, and listen carefully to what their customers, dissenters, and the general public is saying. Understanding needs and wants is paramount to giving the people what they want.”
Increasing Sales and Leads Through Social Media
Advertising the merits of your products or services isn’t a particularly novel concept. But social media allows you to do more than that, empowering your business to have meaningful and dynamic conversation with targeted consumers.
“If you just write them a message with a pitch and a link to your website, they will be uninterested,” social media coach Janet Fouts told Forbes. “If you say, ‘Here are some solutions to your problem, maybe my product or service can help,’ they will know you care about them. If you really listen to what they are saying on social media, you can open doors and start a conversation without having to make a cold call.”
Whereas most traditional marketing vehicles make interaction with consumers impractical or tedious, social media enables back-and-forth communication that your audience can engage at its leisure. There’s no need to interrupt someone’s dinner with a phone call, nor any reason to clog an inbox with potentially undesirable email.
But the ability to address questions and craft a specialized pitch is still there.
A sales strategy based on social media could take a number of different shapes, and much of course depends on the resources your company can allocate. As with other uses for social media, it’s also worth investigating where your potential customers are actually posting and having conversations. And while major platforms like Facebook or Twitter will likely be your starting points, more expansive efforts could even target users writing in the comments sections of blogs or other publications.
What might a sales-oriented social media campaign look like? Direct sales social media expert Jennifer Fong describes one example.
“One salesperson I know sells digital scrapbooking software and supplies,” she explained to Forbes. “She connects with her customers on Facebook and through a blog where she shares project ideas and digital photo advice. She publicizes both in person and in virtual scrapbooking Facebook events. She offers an e-newsletter through her blog, and it offers more project ideas.
“As a result, her existing customers always come back to her for supplies to do the projects she shares, and they also remember her when doing other scrapbook projects. They share her posts with their friends through social networks , leading to still more new customers for her. She has built a thriving business with both new customers and reordering customers as a result of her online contact with them.”
Whatever strategies and platforms you choose to adopt, it’s important to take a patient approach that’s focused on the longview. Remember, the principal advantage of social media use is that it facilitates dynamic and sustained exchanges between businesses and consumers.
As Fouts put it, “The most important thing salespeople need to know is that they need to develop relationships more than they need to develop leads, because good relationships will turn into leads.”
Better Customer Service Through Social Media
Social media isn’t just about bringing new customers into the family. It’s also about retaining clientele and building long-term relationships therewith. Handling some of your customer service operations through social media can contribute to that bottom line.
While the communications are indeed more visible to the general public, that isn’t an entirely bad thing—especially if you’re handling things in a responsive and accommodating manner.
“Resolving issues and answering customer questions through social media does give you a few more vulnerabilities, but the risk is worth the potential rewards,” explains Forbes’ Jayson DeMers. “By using social media, you’ll be creating more substantial, personal relationships with your customers, and you’ll be increasing the visibility of your brand in the process.”
DeMers contends that there are several reasons to provide customer service via social media, among them the ease afforded to customers who’d otherwise be forced to track down a phone number, email address or contact form. Platforms like Twitter or Facebook can also facilitate rapid reaction, which is pretty advantageous if your team is on top of things.
“One of the most beautiful elements of social media is its immediacy,” DeMers adds. “The minute somebody makes a post on your Facebook wall or a post mentioning your brand, your admin will receive a notification to take action. This is also a slight vulnerability—customers expect immediate responses when posting on social media, so if your response team isn’t prepared, it could cost you—but if you can respond within minutes of the original post, you’ll be able to make your customer very happy. This is especially effective for customers dealing with an urgent problem, such as a flight delay or a technological malfunction before a presentation.”
Put simply, incorporating customer service into your social media strategy will likely be as successful as you make it. If you aren’t particularly proud of your customer service, broadcasting it may be a mistake. But if it’s something at which your business excels, why wouldn’t you want people to know about it?
The message sent to your current clientele is unmistakable, though. Availability and responsiveness are significant virtues in the eyes of virtually any customer. When someone comes to you with a potentially deal-breaking difficulty or grievance, this is a chance to set things straight and demonstrate your pedigree as an organization. If you’re serious about building customer loyalty and repeat business, it could be time to take your social media strategy beyond marketing and analytics.
At minimum, it’s probably a good idea to demonstrate that your business has entered the 21st century. Not all trends are created equal, but there’s a strong likelihood that the emergence of social media is—at least in some form—here to stay. Failure to participate in that universe creates a real danger that consumers will perceive your company as out of touch. If you can’t be counted upon to keep pace with increasingly omnipresent marketing dynamics, one might legitimately wonder whether your products or services are similarly antiquated.
But this isn’t just about appearances.
Social media can also serve as a confidence-building measure among those interested in learning more about your brand. What makes you a qualified vendor and industry leader? Posting or sharing relevant content can help answer that question.
“The truth is, social media has drastically impacted the way consumers buy products, and with users spending 1 in every 5 minutes on social networks, it’s wise to let them know you exist,” contends Brown Box Branding’s Jeff Bickley. “In todays evolving consumer landscape, it’s becoming more and more critical for you to match the way you market your products & services to the way people are buying those products & services. People don’t want to be sold. At least not in a traditional sense. Today’s buyers are much more savvy. They want to be educated. Serving up content that educates your target audience, will build trust and establish you as an industry expert.”
Social media also creates an opportunity to demonstrate your company’s capabilities and priorities. Indeed, it’s an especially valuable tool for putting a distinctly human face on your operation, thereby building consumer trust in the process. For example, having social media representatives sign their posts can emphasize the more personal nature of the communication—a refreshing departure from a corporate landscape often characterized by anonymity, cookie-cutter email or scripted calls.
Simply establishing a conversational and unique brand voice can yield similar dividends. A little bit of humor and originality can go a long way toward making your company seem more responsive and genuinely interested in the interests of current or potential clientele.
There are, of course, a number of additional reasons social media can effectively contribute to your brand recognition, image and connections with consumers. And many of those advantages are related—all the more so if you’re truly committed to a comprehensive, long-term strategy.
Between limited time, money and human capital, there will always be excuses for maintaining a limited or non-existent social media presence. But those excuses don’t even begin to outweigh the very real—and potentially lucrative—benefits. However, there are business like our out there to help you manage all of your social media marketing. Contact us today to see how we can help.