Social media. What is it? Well, unless you’ve been literally under a rock for the past few years, you know that social media is a vehicle allowing people to connect and share information via the Internet. You may be familiar with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and many more. Even blogs can be considered social media.
And even if you think you don’t use social media, you’re bombarded every day with those little blue F and T logos at the bottom of everything from TV commercials to magazine articles. The Weather Channel has a partnership with Twitter, allowing them to share random Tweets about the weather on air. Your smartphone has Facebook integration. Your car has Pandora integration. And if you haven’t seen the latest viral YouTube video everyone’s got posted up on their page…. well, you’re not going to have much to talk about at the water cooler today.
Social Media Use as Represented by the CRG Team
So, if you hadn’t already guessed, let me preface the remainder of this blog by admitting that I am a social media butterfly. I’m biased for the acceptance of social media for both personal and professional use. And the rest of the CRG team… well, lets just say that bringing up social media during a production meeting always leads to a heated debate.
There are those on the team like myself, who understand and use social media religiously in their personal lives. Then, there are those who understand the mechanics of social media, but do not participate in it. Then, there are those who don’t use or understand it at all.
But however we feel about social media personally, no one at CRG can deny its prominence and potential and in terms of business and advertising.
The Great Debate
Note that I say, “potential.” Here’s where the debate really heats up. Can social media help you sell more cars? More fences? More pitas? Can the effect of a Facebook page on your business be quantified or analyzed? How does social media fit into an overall marketing plan? What is the proper management technique for a Facebook page? What do you blog about and who’s really reading it? How quickly do you respond to questions and negative comments? How many social medias do you need to be on? And really, what’s the purpose of having your business on a media designed to “share” and not “sell?”
According to an article from USAToday, many advertisers are uncertain about advertising on Facebook. “Facebook is not as effective as paid search (on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft),” says Dave Beltramini, director of online strategy for G5, a marketing services firm. “The intent of consumers on Google is more about shopping. On Facebook, people are more social, looking at photos of their friends’ kids.”
However, the article also admits, “Typically, advertisers use Facebook to build brand engagement and [then] make sales through Google…” (Facebook IPO filing puts high value on social network, http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/story/2012-02-01/facebook-ipo/52921528/1)
But despite all the concerns, the numbers cannot be denied. Facebook had 483 million daily active users on average in December 2011, and nearly twice much that in monthly active users. (Facebook Fact Sheet, http://newsroom.fb.com/content/default.aspx?NewsAreaId=22) In less than six hours from the time I write this blog, Twitter is estimated to reach 500 million registered users. (http://www.webpronews.com/twitter-will-reach-500m-users-in-t-minus-5-hours-2012-02) There is no question about it, your customers are on social media… And you should be too. The problem is, no one’s cracked the social media advertising code. So, how can you best use social media for your business?
4 Ways Your Business Can Use Social Media
Social Media. Note the “media” in the name. What if you stopped thinking of these sites as great unknown technologies and instead compared them to something very familiar – traditional advertising media. I’m talking broadcast TV, radio, and print. The similarity? Advertising on traditional medias allows your business to convey a message to a large amount of consumers. A presence on social media can also allow you to convey messages to large amounts of consumers.
Let’s take it a step further. I read a great article, (and the name and link elude me, I apologize) which labeled social media as a direct communication tool. “Would you have said ‘No’ to the telephone when it was invented…” the article asked. Social media allows you to speak directly – one on one – with customers and potential customers. For example, Joe Customer comments on your page, “Does your software integrate with QuickBooks?” You reply, “Yes, with an additional plug in. It’s just $20, click here to buy.” Best of all, all your other friends/fans can see this answer and click on the link. They can even repost it and share it with others.
Social media combines mass communication with direct communication. So, to keep your business top of mind, you need to speak up and speak often on your social media sites. When I say often, I mean daily – up to maybe 5 times per day max. (I base that number on mere personal experience. If I’m seeing 20+ posts per day from a company, it makes it difficult for me to check up on friends and family. It’s a nuisance at that point, and the quickest way to lose friends/followers.)
Mass communication. You’ve got an audience on social medial. Now, what to post? Relevant information is key. As an advertising/marketing/production company, you may have noticed that CRG’s own Tweets & Facebook statuses revolve around industry news, marketing tips, and recent work. We use our social media pages as a resource for our clients and other friends/followers. If your business is in retail, add posts about new products and special offers. Incorporate photos and videos as much as you can. For the food industry, for example, nothing is better then posting up photos of food just before lunch or dinner time. (“Have you tried our new BBQ burgers?)
Another great tip is to spark up conversation. Post a link to a provocative industry article and ask for your friends/followers opinions. Ask for reviews on your products or services. Start a contest. Let customers vote and choose the next new… whatever. (Recently fans voted and chose a new Cheez-It flavor via Facebook, for example.)
Direct communication. Your social media is active. People are posting and commenting, asking questions, sharing your information… So, how do you manage a living social media site? The key is to be prompt! If someone asks a question, you need to respond quickly, ideally within the hour. If you let days go by, forget it. By that time, your customer or potential customer sure has. If you have a lively discussion on your page, hop in from time to time and recognize opinions of the contributors and give some of your own. Offer more information if it’s helpful and relevant. What about negative comments or complaints? Don’t just delete or block them – address them immediately and do what you can to make things right.
All this may seem like a heck of a lot of effort on your part, and you may be wondering where the return is and how all this can help increase your sales. Well, unfortunately, you will probably not be able to measure the effect of social media on sales. However, good social media management can strengthen your brand and help you build relationships with your customers. Frequent use of social media will also keep your business top of mind. (No guarantee your customers will see your TV commercial every day. But they will see your updates on social media every day. Quite an amazing frequency tool, if you think about it.)
#2 Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
According to a recent article from iMedia Connection, “5 Big SEO Changes You May Have Missed,” (http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/30967.asp) Google has recently made significant algorithm updates that now account for “freshness” of a site. In a nutshell, recent pages/articles will appear first in many searches.
So what in the world does this have to do with social media? Well, unlike the rest of your website, which may not be updated for months, your social media is updated all the time. And, if you follow the good communication practices from #1, you know that your posts and blogs are chock full of relevant information and keywords related to your industry and your company. You’re already creating good searchable content! Now all you have to do is put it on your website.
“The ‘freshness’ update should encourage brands and businesses to display timely news on their website — easy ways to do this are by blogging more frequently by and posting press releases to a news page,” states the article listed above.
#3 Call to Action
One of social media’s strengths is its immediacy. Your customers are checking their social media sites daily if not more. So, if you have a decent size fan base and a great offer – post it. Make it for friends/followers only. Make it “today” only. (Works for Groupon.) If the offer is compelling enough, your friends will not only act, they will also re-post and share the offer with others – others who may not be friends with you yet. You’ll receive a surge in sales and a surge in your fan base.
However, some words of caution. A successful and quantifiable social media “call to action” depends on very much on your offer and industry you’re in. A restaurant who Tweets, “Everyone who comes in for lunch today wearing a Red Sox cap gets a free appetizer” will receive more response and measurable results then an auto dealer who Tweets, “Camry, lease just $199/mo at our Washington’s Birthday Sale!”
Some further good advice on “socializing” your social media is offered in this article, How to monetize fans on Facebook. http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/31072.asp
#4 Listen and Learn
Thank you to an article called, “How social actually impacts your bottom line” (http://www.imediaconnection.com/article_full.aspx?id=31014) for this idea. Consider your social media as your own personal focus group. Gather feedback data, make modifications to your products and services based on that data, and then gather more feedback data.
Think about it. (How much does a focus group cost these days?) These people already use your products and services and like them enough to follow your company. And considering that 24% of Americans have posted comments or reviews on the products they buy, (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Online-Product-Research.aspx) your fans should have no problem telling you what they think.
I’m going to borrow the example straight from the article. (“How social actually impacts your bottom line” (http://www.imediaconnection.com/article_full.aspx?id=31014) Lets say “…Nabisco has a social footprint and wants to learn more about how and if customers are enjoying its new Ritz toasted cheddar cracker…” Some potential feedback data and solutions are as follows:
“Customer feedback: “Due to the size of the bag, I always eat far too many at a time and that never feels good after.”
Solution: Introduce smaller sized bags for portion control
Customer feedback: “I enjoy eating these toasted chips as a snack when on the go, but it often results in dry mouth — and I don’t always have something refreshing.”
Solution: Develop on-the-go baggies with dip compliments”
Of course, as with every focus group study, you cannot solve every customer’s problem or meet every request. Likewise, you need a large enough following to get usable amounts of credible data. However, reacting to fan feedback from social media and providing product/service changes or new product/services will further endear you to your fan base. All of a sudden, you are a company who really cares and listens to their customers. This is a point you may want to choose to advertise back in traditional medias. (“You told us you wanted chips and dips – and we delivered! Friend us on Facebook for a free Chip/Dip coupon. Just another way we say ‘Thanks!’ to our customers!”)
Growing Your Social Media
At this point, you may be wondering how you gain friends/followers. It can be difficult at first, especially for a small local business, to develop a fan base. The industry you’re in also makes a difference. The local restaurant will likely have more friends then the local auto dealer. Why? Customers purchase at the auto dealer once every few years at most. (If they’re a loyal leasing customer.) Customers purchase at their favorite restaurant as much as once a week – or more! Daily updates and deals from the restaurant are more relevant to them then daily updates and deals from the auto dealer. (Unless you’re extremely extravagant, you’re not going to jump ship in the middle of your car lease to buy a truck, no matter how great the price is.)
So how to start? First, take a cue from the big guys. Large companies have their social media icons (you know, those little F, T, B and other buttons) on every piece of advertising and literature they have. Promote your social media on your TV commercials, your website, and your print ads. Include QR codes for mobile users to Add, Follow, or Like you. Promote your social media in store on any printed material you have.
In store, remind customers to join your social medias. Make sure to tell them why – great information, tips & tricks, special deals, new product reviews, contests, etc. You could even offer a special incentive to new friends/followers. (A coupon or gift, etc.) Another great tip is to make it fun! Dunkin Donuts recently asked online customers to share “What are you drinkin?” as part of their “I’m Drinkin Dunkin” campaign. Customers posted plenty of fun photos that were later used to make this mosaic: http://www.dunkindonuts.com/content/dunkindonuts/en/coffee/WAYDMosaic.html Pretty cool idea, huh?
Most of all, be patient. You didn’t build your business to where it is today in a day. Building your social media takes time too. Just keep at it and continue to work your pages. Even if you have just 5 people on your list, continue posting! (You don’t want to lose those 5 people!) A good social media page will continue to grow. A bad one… not so much.
Conclusion on Social Media ROI
Is there such a thing and is it measurable? In a word: No. You may get measurable results from specific social Call to Action campaigns. You may see your followership grow over time. You may get lots of good comments, shares, and re-Tweets. All of these tell you you’re doing a great job managing your social media marketing.
Will you get X# more customers in the door every month? Sell 50 more cars per month? 200 more pitas? And be able to source that directly to FB & T? Nope.
Is it hard work to manage your social media? Darn tootin. The hours you spend posting, blogging, uploading pics/videos, coming up with intelligent postings, researching interesting articles and info for your followers, planning social Call to Action campaigns, gathering data for social focus group studies, and more and more. Certainly costs you money to print out all those “Friend Us on Facebook” table toppers and any other promotional materials related to your ongoing social campaign.
Some would balance the work load/costs with the results and wonder, “Why bother?” Especially for a small business without any tech savvy socialites on staff.
I believe, (here comes the editorial, as if I haven’t given you enough opinion yet) social media is here to stay. Sites may change – boy did MySpace crumble under the weight of Facebook, for example – but social media will remain. Today, it’s unheard of for a business not to have a website, no matter how small that business is. It’s how customers find you, learn more, and even shop. (If you have a purchase portal on your site.) I think that we are driving towards that point with social media.
There will come a day when customers just expect, “every business” to be on Facebook and Twitter. So, better to prepare for the future now and get on the forefront of social media before it escapes you and your company. Additionally, if you need to be there… you may as well work your pages and write your blogs regularly. Make your social media a part of your marketing plan and engage your fans! It will take some work – no doubt. But soon, it will become second nature, just another part of how you market your business. The return will come slowly, over time, but it will be there eventually.
One small side note. I have never taken a social media marketing class, and I certainly don’t profess to be a Social Media Strategist or Expert by trade. The above article is pure opinion, which is based solely on research and personal experience. However, I stand by this article as a solid introduction to good social media business practices. For more information, I suggest you seek out a social media marketing class, strategist, or expert.