It’s been quite a while now that “gurus”, “pundits” and “experts” have been bandying about the term “Social Media”, proffering it as the catch-all for market penetration and business success, without honestly having any sort of traditionally measurable proof of merit in hand.
There’s no question that Social Media is an exciting activity sector, promising diverse new and enhanced points of connection with customers and clients. Quite how those connections will translate in to the type of metrics favored by traditionalist CFOs and shareholders is still under debate.
While the aforementioned experts continue to find ways to align this new engagement paradigm with traditional Cost/Benefit analysis modeling, I suggest that such ROI measurement is perhaps something of a fool’s errand, (1) because marketing has never been measurable in the manner that so many companies historically demand, and (2) because the commitment required to successfully maximize the potential of today’s emerging platforms and tools for customer engagement is far less measurable than ad or PR campaigns have been, in the past.
Social Media is more than a marketing campaign ecosystem, wherein one might deploy emerging product offerings or test possible brand evolutions. In fact, I would love to get rid of the term “Social Media” altogether, because it brings with it an unfortunate sense of frivolity that has been compounded by the visible (yet relatively small) part of social media, known as Social Networking (domain of Facebook, MySpace, Youtube, et al).
From a business perspective, the notion of “Social Media” stinks too much of an ongoing teenage chat session, with no goal in site. Many social media gurus will argue that this is quite so, and crucial to a business’s success in the 21st Century. While I strongly concur that engaging in a more open and collaborative dialog with consumers and users is an imperative in the contemporary marketplace, I also feel strongly that there exist few businesses that can afford to invest time and money in open-ended discussions with their prospects, “just because”. In the end, a business has something to sell, and its activities should be focused on this goal, as well as the post-sales services necessary to ensure the new customer becomes a de facto account executive for the brand. Smart marketing is a strategic endeavor, managed at the C-Suite level, and designed to position a company’s offering(s) as impactfully as possible, with the ambitious objective of turning salespeople into customer relations advocates.
By all means let’s call it “Social Media” when we’re reconnecting with old High School friends and sharing photos with cousins across the world. With respect to B2B and B2C connections, let’s expand the term, and call it “Social Engagement”. That is, after all what it’s about, isn’t it? The more measurable activity is whether and how we might engage with and activate our end-user community to become partners in the enhancement and advancement of our brand (and its varied offerings). In some instances this will be sociable (Facebook Pages, Twitter feeds, comments threads, etc), in others more buzz marketing oriented (viral branded content, competitions, internal communications, polls, etc), and in yet others wholly functional and tactical (SEO, brand monitoring, bookmarking, corporate HR, medical resource sharing, media asset management, and so on).
There’s a lot we can do with the tools, platforms, and channels available to our businesses today, but we need to think of our Social Engagement strategy as more than “getting on Facebook” or “starting a blog”. It is a commitment – both online and offline – to connecting with our users, employees, and clients in a more dynamic and potentially rewarding manner than ever before. It is a far more organic and open-ended engagement than we are used to (and perhaps comfortable with). However, it still merits careful strategic forethought and measured management.
To begin, despite that fact that she uses the term I have renounced above(!), I am thrilled to introduce our latest contributor, Pam Dyer, a marketing consultant from Seattle. Her article below offers up a dozen arguments in favor of Social Engagement in the online space. I know that you and I could together come up with an additional 12 reasons, specific to your particular situation, so and I therefore challenge you to make your own list of 8 more, just for the fun of it (and DON’T limit yourself to online opportunities). With 20 compelling reasons to activate your “Media Engagement” endeavors, you will soon be leveraging a previously confusing array of ever changing networks and tool sets, in service to your brand and, more importantly, the long term health of your business.
Social media is fast becoming an essential part part the marketing mix for brands. Companies are increasingly using social tools to monitor conversations about their products, competitors, and industry, and engaging with their customers to build strong relationships. According Forrester Research’s most recent Interactive Marketing Forecast, social media marketing will grow at an annual rate of 34% -– faster than any other form of online marketing and double the average growth rate of 17% for all online mediums:
And new research from Access Markets International Partners shows that almost 70% of small and medium businesses actively use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to promote themselves. But simply posting what your CEO had for lunch isn’t going to help much with your branding efforts — it’s important to strategically use social media tools to increase exposure and reach your target audience.
Here are 12 compelling reasons to use social media to help grow your business:
1. Own your brand’s social presence: If you don’t create official channels online, it’s only a matter of time before your fans do it for you and create their own profiles and communities around your brand. It’s important to claim your brand name across all the major social media platforms. Here are two sites that will help you do this:
- KnowEm: KnowEm has the highest number of sites (over 350) available for checking username availability. Simply by entering your desired username, you’ll be able to find out instantly if it’s still available. KnowEm also offers paid plans, from just signing up and registering you at 150 sites, to a full-featured plan which also fills in all profile details, complete with pictures, at 100 to 300 different networking sites.
- namechk: Covering 72 major social networking sites, namechk is simple, fast, and easy to use. If your desired username or vanity URL is still available, you simply click through each one to claim it. If your brand isn’t consistent across the Web, namechk can help you by determining which usernames are still available on a number of the most popular sites.
2. Look like you “get it”: Your target audience is becoming more shrewd about leveraging social media sites as an integral part of their daily lives. If you want to appear relevant and in-step with the latest advances in technology, your potential customers will want to see you on these sites as well. If you don’t have a presence, you appear as if you’re not very savvy.
3. Brand recognition: You need to go where your customers are, and they are increasingly spending a great deal of time on social networking sites. Using social media enables your company to reach a huge number of potential customers. Getting your name out there is incredibly important — studies suggest that people need to hear a company’s name at least seven times before they trust and respect it enough to become a customer.
4. Take your message directly to consumers: Social media tools enable you to directly engage consumers in conversation. Be sure to build trust by adding value to the community consistently over time.
5. Increase your search engine rankings: Social media profiles (especially those on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) frequently rank highly with major search engines. Creating keyword-rich profiles around your brand name can help generate traffic for your both your social-networking sites and your company’s Web site.
6. SEO benefits: Many social media bookmarking sites use NOFOLLOW tags that limit the outbound link value of posts made on their sites, but there are still many leading sites that allow DOFOLLOW tags — including Friendfeed, Digg, and Mixx. You can also benefit from posting to bookmarking sites that use NOFOLLOW tags if people read your posts and link back to your Web site.
7. Social media content is now integrated with search results: Search engines like Google and Bing are increasingly indexing and ranking posts and other information from social networks. Videos from popular sites like YouTube can also be optimized for indexing by the major search engines.
8. Brand monitoring: Having a social media presence gives you a better understanding of what current and potential customers are saying about your products and services. If you actively monitor social conversations, you have the opportunity to correct false or inaccurate information about your brand and address negative comments before they take on a life of their own.
9. Generate site traffic: You can create additional traffic if you regularly post updates on social networks that link back to your Web site. Social media bookmarking tools like Digg, Reddit, and Stumbleupon can also generate additional traffic to your site if you create frequent articles and blog posts.
10. Find new customers through your friends: You shouldn’t neglect your personal social media accounts as potential avenues to promote the activities of your business. Posting regular updates relating to your business and activities can remind your friends about what your company does and influence them to use your services or make referrals.
11. Find new customers through your company profile: Your company profile is a great opportunity for you to post regular updates on your activities and about important news and trends in your industry. This will attract the attention of new customers interested in your industry and increase your reputation as an expert in your field. It’s important to post regularly if you want to increase your followers or fans and convert them to potential leads.
12. Niche marketing: Social media enables you to reach very specific subsets of people based on their personal preferences and interests. You can create unique social media profiles to target these audiences or create strategies based on addressing individual interests.
Pam Dyer has 14+ years of MarCom experience, in-house for a number of years at Northwest Nexus and Winstar, and now as a consultant.