What is Social Media to a Business?
Sales & Marketing Manager Marc Rousseau is a web communications and social media expert, with over 5 years of increasing responsibilities working for international NGOs and social media companies throughout Europe. In this post he talks about why Social Media is a critical piece of your Marketing strategy
A few weeks ago, I was invited to take part in a discussion on social media and which company 'department' it belongs to. It was a great debate, in part due to the different opinions on the matter but also because it answered crucial questions about social media’s role from a business perspective.
First, let me answer the obvious question: What’s the big deal? Why are so many raving about social media? Here are a few pointers:
- In early March of this year, Facebook.com surpassed Google.com as the most visited domain in the U.S. That means more people visit this single social network on a daily basis than search for information. It also technically means that you have a better chance of people discovering your business on Facebook than through your website.
- On an international scale , there are more than 500 million active users who spend 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.
- Yes, I used the word ‘billion’.
- 70% of these users are outside the United States and the site is available in 70 languages.
- Twitter now has over 105 million registered users, climbing at a rate of 300,000 per day. With 180 million unique visitors coming to the site every month, it's obviously got people's attention
- LinkedIn, which was launched in 2003, has over 66 million members (May 2010) and receives around 36.5 million visits every month.
- The online photo sharing site Flickr now hosts more than 3.6 billion user images. The online bookmarking service Delicious has more than 5 million users and more than 150 million unique bookmarked URLs.
With figures like these, social media is changing how the world communicates.
It transcends the passivity of watching TV but offers equally powerful advertising opportunities. We’ll look at social media and advertising in more detail at a later date.
For now though, how you use this multi-faceted ‘wunderkind’ of a platform is completely up to you, and will depend on the resources available to you. The truth is, you can use social media to advance your business in a number of ways, each with their own reward. It can be a communications/PR tool, it can be an advertising platform. You can use it for customer support, or you can use it to monitor your customers’ habits. You can use it to present the 'tone' of your company, or to find out what your competitors are doing. The most powerful way to use social media, in my opinion, is to engage with your clients and create communities filled with a healthy mixture of customers and professionals. Seeing as social media isn't a subliminal arena, it needs to be personable to succeed. Using the market's reluctance to join into social media is a huge advantage to you: Using this tool when your competitors won't gives you a significant competitive advantage.
Dos and Don'ts of Social Media
From an individual perspective, social media doesn't come with any rules, per se. For businesses, however, it's very easy to make a faux pas, as has been shown by the likes of Dell Hell, Domino's wonderful staff, #Habitat andBoeing for Kids. So here are some basic guidelines to what you shouldn't do, followed by what you can do instead.
Don't 'fake it till you make it'.
Just because everyone’s talking about social media doesn't mean you should just jump into it head first, eyes closed. Social media is live, direct and permanently monitored. Whatever you post on Twitter will forever remain accessible somewhere online, even if you delete the Tweet. In other words, if you start using social media without a plan, you're taking the first step towards making yourself a target for a public bashing.
Do listen before you act.
The most important thing you must do before taking an active part in social media, is to familiarise yourself with it. Find out what people are saying about your industry and whether any of your competitors are already using social networks. This can help you learn from their mistakes and create original campaigns. Also, make sure to research the right platforms for your business.
Don't fib your way through marketing.
Sounds pretty obvious, but let's spell it out as clearly as possible: Gone are the days where Doctors sell your cigarettes. You can't control what others are saying about you in social media - unless they become one of your 'Brand Ambassadors', or external parties you hire to advocate your brand. You can however make sure that you say the right thing. Research your approach, carefully plan it out, and then present yourself. If you tell everyone you're the best and you're not, social media will quickly shine a light on your deception.
Do share as much as possible about your business.
Again, this may sound obvious but it's not as easy as you think. Be consistent in your message, engage your community with original and interesting material, and keep revisiting your social media 'environment' to make sure you are still sharing the right information.
Don't push, bother, and spam.
Social media could well prove a very important point over the next few years: Impressing sales pressure tactics on people is not the way to go! If you can get your target audience together under your virtual 'roof', then why spam them? They're right there for you to talk with, not at.
Do deliver great content and create a strong, qualitative network.
If you create interesting material for your community, it will grow. If you engage them directly and personably, you'll get positive reactions. If you develop a community based on the right type of people, and not the right number (as is often the case, quality outweighs quantity!), you'll have more impact with your message and subsequently will create more business.
Don't use social media platforms because they are trending.
If you ask someone in 2010 to describe social media in one word, there's a good chance they'll say 'Facebook', or 'Twitter', or 'WordPress'. If you asked someone the same question four years ago, they probably would have responded 'MySpace', 'Bebo' or 'Blogger/Blogspot'. My point here is that social media is ever changing, and full of variety for everyone, and you need to be in tune with that to succeed.
Do create your own trends on platforms specific to you.
Don't use Facebook just because everyone else does; use it because the people you want to do business with, are there. Find social networks more suitable to your needs and capitalise on concentrated areas, not saturated ones. Once you master the ability to generate highly engaging information, you'll capture the attention of those you want at every turn, and not those that are of no interest to your success.
How to network on Social Media
Now that you know the key do's and dont's for using Social Media for your business, here are some brief suggestions for how to realize the potential of social networking sites as an individual. The goal is to become an active and successful networker and to build strong relationships.
1. Be vulnerable
Social network users tend to portray their lives more glamourous and interesting than they really are. Please keep in mind that trust is created not only through strength and fun and exciting adventures but also through weaknesses and personal challenges.
Share your downs as you share your ups. The situations trouble you could be a good chance to ask your network for advice. On the one hand, it will cheer you up and help you to solve the issues you have. On the other hand, it is trust building because you show the whole puzzle of your personality.
2. Be engaged
Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networks are all about interesting people, topics and discussions. The more people are involved with it, the better. Motivate your colleagues and friends to participate, to feed, to seed and to weed. It is not about self-promoting but about interesting and challenging topics and news. Reward the ones that contribute to your pages by sharing and giving them feedback too.
Keep one point in mind: as mentioned before, its not just about positive spotlights. Show also your vulnerable side. The same is relevant for companies and institutions. It's all about creating long and stable relationships which are built on the good and the bad moments you share.
3. Be supportive
It is not just about you but also about other people in your network. Promoting simply yourself will turn other people off. It is a SOCIAL network. The word “social” implies friendly relations, companionship and convivial activities. Promote people, companies and institutions you admire and think are worth promoting. Share their stories with the people in your network.
This shows your interest for certain topics and reflects your personality and interests. People will love to connect with you as you broaden their knowledge and interests.
4. Be provocative
Challenge people, force them to step out of their box and get new insights. This will allow you to show your real personality and who you really are. It is not about upsetting everyone. It is about building stronger relationships and being yourself.
5. Be professional once in a while
Include your business ego as well as your private ego. Your job and profession is a big part of your life. Normally you spend more than 8 hours at work, so share it. As said before, show your whole personality, build trust by sharing all the puzzles of your life and not just an excerpt.