Social media has proved that it’s not just a passing phenomenon. Platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are a way of life for many people. It’s also become an accepted (and expected) part of a company’s marketing mix, and a great way to get closer to customers and suppliers.
Social media refers to an ever increasing number of interactive website platforms, accessed with computers, smartphones or tablets. They offer companies a cost-effective and fast way of reaching a tech-savvy audience. It has become the new fast-paced, in-your-face, word-of-mouth carrier, with people passing on good and bad reviews much faster and to a wider audience.
Blog is short for ‘web log’. It’s an online log of information, including commentaries, descriptions, graphics, videos and links to other websites and blogs. This can be done as part of a website or as a standalone webpage for sharing thoughts and information. Some people think of them as a sort of online diary.
Most blogs are interactive. This means they let visitors leave comments and interact with the blog author and other readers.
Blogs are becoming increasingly mainstream. A growing number of businesses have several blogs for business or corporate purposes. They use them to communicate marketing, branding or public relations messages. Companies also use blogs to add value to the customer service experience by creating useful information and links to help customers make the most of products and services.
You can set up and maintain a blog easily and for free. You can also choose a paid-for version that will normally offer you more customisation options. This means you can control the statistics, themes, widgets and many more aspects of your blog. The most common blog sites are Blogger and Wordpress, but there are many more. The advantage of using a less popular blog host is that your preferred blog name might still be available.
Micro blogs like Twitter, Yelp (restaurant and shopping reviews) or Foursquare (location and information sharing) send short, focused alerts and messages (that can include links) to a growing network of users. Twitter, for example, limits messages to 140 characters. It’s become a quick, fun way to share information. You can choose to follow trending topics or popular hash tags – a # is used to tag content as related to a topic, such as #socialmedia or #blogs. Or you can search for key words or choose to follow people with similar interests to you. It allows you to stay up to date with news and events that interest you.
Many businesses now use one or more Twitter accounts to promote their business and manage customer relations. They may run a general corporate account and a thought-leader account from their CEO, or a customer service oriented account to deal with service issues and complaints.
Networking sites let people connect and network online. There are sites that are socially focused, like Facebook and Google+ and others, like LinkedIn, which are more business focused. These are popular for sharing links and information with friends and colleagues.
It’s becoming normal for businesses to have Facebook or LinkedIn pages. Once people like a business on Facebook, or connect with them on LinkedIn, they’ll see the company page news feed on their updates stream.
Video and photo sharing
Sharing videos on sites like YouTube is another type of social networking. Businesses can use these platforms to deliver instructional information and sales messages. Videos uploaded on video sharing platforms can be shared by providing links via other social networks.
Photo sharing sites, like Flickr, DropBox and Picasa are very popular. Businesses can use these to share images of products, happy customers, or photos of events.
It’s been a challenge for businesses to find a way to harness social media platforms productively. Blogs are an effective way to communicate information and build your brand. Micro blogs, networking sites and image sharing websites let you interact and drive traffic to your business's website and blogs.
Social media isn’t like conventional marketing. It shouldn’t be used as a way to pitch sales. Social media works best when you’re sharing something that will encourage your customers to interact with you or investigate your website, blog, videos or other information. It's about generating and encouraging a new type of word-of-mouth advertising, which has the potential to go viral.
Examples of using social media wisely include a doctor’s practice sending out reminders for vaccinations, or time-specific health or hygiene tips. A sports shop could count down to major events, offer tips on training regimes, and link to pages to help with training and diet ideas.
Providing you already have a computer, smartphone or tablet with an internet connection, the cost of using social media is pretty small. It lets you reach a large audience fast, from anywhere you have an internet connection.
As your use of social media grows, you’ll find that it becomes a much bigger task. You might need to employ someone to help out, which does add to the costs. You may also need to buy programmes or pay for licences for programmes to monitor the success of your social media efforts.
What are the benefits?
Social media is a cost-effective way to build a relationship with your customers. You can offer promotions or information, boost your customer services profile and offer a closer relationship with your company.
It is an easily accessible, affordable and immediate form of marketing and communication. It’s become an accepted (and expected) way for companies to talk to their customers. Many people perceive companies who don’t use social media to be behind the times. They’re left unable to take part in, or influence, conversations about them that will go on whether they're part of the social media revolution or not.
There’s a lot of debate over whether social media actually has an effect on sales, and whether it provides a measurable return on investment. There’s always a risk of spending time and effort for little impact on your bottom line.
It’s hard to measure the tangible effect of social media. But social media is becoming the new word-of-mouth advertising. It can play an important part in driving people to your website, by creating awareness and generating goodwill and referrals from happy customers.
One of the biggest things social media has changed is the balance of power in the business/customer relationship. The customer is now in a far stronger position than ever before. It’s up to your business to manage this relationship. If you choose not to participate, you won’t stop customers talking about you, you’ll simply not be in a position to affect the outcomes. You need to participate in social media to benefit from the opportunities it offers.
Establish a presence
To get started, sign up and start to establish a presence on the networks you think will be most beneficial to your business. Once you've reserved your name and set up your business profile, you should watch and learn for a few days before you jump in.
You'll get the best return on investment if you choose social media networks that are popular with your target audience. However, given the size and popularity of Facebook and Twitter, you’ll probably want to establish a presence on both of these platforms. You might find it easier to start on one social network site and expand to the others as your confidence grows.
Monitoring social media platforms
This means keeping an eye on the latest feeds and news to see if there are any conversations you want to join. You might find someone with a customer services issue that you can solve, or find people asking questions about a product you sell. Most social networks let you search to create lists of people to follow to help you monitor online conversations.
It’s simple – you’ve got to be in it to win it. A hardware shop, for example, would benefit from creating a Twitter search list of nearby people who mention DIY. They can then offer tips or mention special deals that could appeal to these people.
Make social media part of your marketing strategy
Social media is still fairly new, and most companies take their time learning how to use it and how it can best help their business. While you’re finding out how it can work best for you, always keep your overall marketing strategy and company goals in mind. In the medium to long-term, you'll want to integrate social media into your marketing strategy and devise a specialised social media strategy.
Use social media to add value, not to sell
Social media is not like traditional advertising. People aren’t likely to welcome you into their social media space if you try to sell to them with every message you send. They’re more likely to welcome you if you provide breaking news, useful tips, or other information that adds value.
Using our hardware business as an example again: offer DIY tips, link to useful 'how to' blog articles, or post your latest video on how to put up a fence. This sort of proactive and useful communication is the sort of input that customers value from businesses.
Contact us today to find out how we could help your business.
This guide is intended as general advice only, and not intended to cover specific circumstances and needs. The information in this article is also not linked to any of the products offered by Clydesdale Bank PLC.