By Katie Colbourne
Over the last 6 months or so people keep asking me ‘what is social media’, ‘how are you using it’ ‘why do social media’, ‘what exactly is your job?’. I will (hopefully) try to give you a brief introduction to social media, some tips and why companies from big conglomerates right down to small businesses should use social media.
Social media is online conversation. It’s the ‘new word of mouth’ – Conversations that were previously happening offline are now happening online in ‘viral ecosystem’ type communities. Viral is the keyword here as if a topic is provocative/ interesting enough it can spread online like gossip in a small town – this is what we call Digital Interaction.
You’ve probably all heard of Twitter, Facebook, Linked IN, Flickr, YouTube etc right, and if not … WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???
On social terms these communities allow us to interact with friends, catch up on the latest news, see whose flying high, who really isn’t and generally have fun interacting online. In marketing terms, these are all potential goldmines.
If you put it into perspective; Facebook for example now has a user base that if it were a country it would be the fourth most populated place in the world! Just this week it was announced that Facebook now has surpassed 300 million users across all demographics AND is now making enough money to cover its costs. These are stats that you can no longer choose to ignore.
So what would I say to a company whose competitor is doing a lot of social media, but they see it as a waste of time as they are lucky enough in these times to have a huge budget for mainstream advertising?
I would say break away from the old-school advertising ‘shout our message the loudest’ model and do social media. Consider that the average person is exposed to over 3000 advertising messages every day.1
Consider that messaging and interaction is no longer one-way it is multi-directional amongst all stakeholders. So why invest all that surplus cash, when most people will ignore your message, your message will be too mainstream and you can reach a much more targeted audience DIRECTLY online through conversation at a much cheaper cost and at real-time? ROI is high with social media as the only cost is human capital.
Social Media has evolved marketing, with a new ‘communications model’. Today customers want more; they don’t just want an information feed, they want interaction and acknowledgement from brands. When they buy products they like to buy into the whole brand, this is particularly true amongst our future generations, the millennials, of which 96% have joined a social network2.
Don’t ditch traditional methods completely as Social media is a compliment not a replacement and compliment really is the operative word here. There’s a need to use social media to support existing messaging not replace it completely. Using social media is about being clever. Once you join you have to realise that you are no longer in control – you have to relinquish control – now this is where people get scared, but it works. There tends to be a lot more respect for brands who are on social networks opposed to those who aren’t.
But first you need to listen, only then should you participate and interact and then engage your customers. You can’t just use social media to blast out your messages you have to talk to them about what they want to talk about and be honest. You can of course use social media to sway/influence conversation but you need to realise that honesty is the ONLY policy in social media and if you are too corporate or pushy you will put people off.
Some brands have official communities and accounts as this can be quite a good way to try and tie in all conversation, keeping it on track and preventing profanities.
“But how can it really benefit my business??” I hear you ask ….
* Facilitates conversations between all stakeholders – providing direct connections
* Targets those consumers who have moved away from traditional media
* Provides behavioural insight and innovation through connections
* Multiple profiles – leads to organic growth amongst search page rankings
* Increases brand profile / reach
How have we benefited from social media?
Social media has opened up many new opportunities for us that previously we wouldn’t have thought possible. We have had interest from new markets and started dialogues with people who are potential partners. We established our own Twitter page around five months ago and were amazed at the amount of interaction almost straightaway. Today Twitter is one of our top referral sites, not only to our own website, but also for campaigns we have worked on. By maintaining interaction levels you constantly keep your customers/target audience engaged, bringing you ever closer to your customers first hand.
It is early days however, and at the moment we are looking into ways to try and quantify social media into real ROI for our corporate clients as we’re constantly hearing ‘conversation is great but where’s the value?’ – this is where as professional marketers we need to see and tangibly demonstrate the grey - it isn’t just black and white anymore.
So … social media is here to stay, it’s not a fad, it’s a fundamental and undeniable shift in the way we communicate with current customers and potential customers, so don’t get left behind! Even the Government are on Twitter and if Barack Obama used social media to get to the White House3, we can all use social media to reach out to customers.
Social Media Executive
Katie is a guest blogger on www.OnlineMediaAnalyst.com