Social Media – How To Have It Work For You

Social media marketing is using online communication tools to communicate your business’s messages. These tools were originally designed to keep friends and family in touch, but they are now also being used by businesses to communicate with peers and customers.
Social media is immediate like email and has the same low cost base, but is fundamentally different because it will allow you to create and maintain a public dialogue with existing customers, new customers, your competitors and suppliers.
Using social media with appropriate sensitivity can present your business as progressive, proactive and interested in customers — for a negligible cost. Handled badly, it can create a PR nightmare.

Different Types of Social Media

Social MediaMicro-blogging

• This is social media that allows instant public communication and is one of the most high-profile forms of online marketing.
• Micro-blogging tools (such as Twitter) provide you with the opportunity to publish short, sharp comments and links to websites and pictures. Other Twitter users can publicly respond in kind, encouraging conversation with those browsing your page.
• People who use micro-blogging keep track of new entries on the pages of people or organisations that they are interested in and can quickly and easily discover when your page has been updated.

Blogging opinions and news

• Longer forms of communication, blogs allow you to write on the web as you might a newsletter, for example. Blogs can be corporate focused, but are often more successful when they have a personal touch, particularly where the writer is offering interesting opinions. In most cases readers have the opportunity to respond and leave comments.
• You can run a blog on your own company website — or use free or low-cost platforms such as WordPress or Movable Type which provide pre-designed templates and the ability to edit the blog from wherever you have an Internet connection.
• A blog allows you to provide more in-depth information than micro-blogging, but it is important to keep anything you write short and interesting to your target audience.

Online networking

• There are a number of networking websites, which host communities for both consumers and businesses.
• Consumers generally join online communities, such as MySpace or Facebook, and keep tabs on areas of personal interest they share with others. Whatever your business’s interests, there is likely to be a relevant group that you can get involved with.
• There are a number of communities where there is Business-to-business networking e.g. LinkedIn and Sunzu (previously called Ecademy). You can post a personal profile or one for your business and invite colleagues, peers and even competitors to join your network.

Discussion forums

• Word-of-mouth is one of the best forms of promotion for your business and intelligent use of discussion forums can play a big part in generating it for your business.
• A discussion forum can be hosted on your own website where customers could be encouraged to use it to ask questions, make comments or complaints. You could join other forums relevant to your business and provide support and advice to other users.
• If done sensitively and honestly, using forums like this can generate positive word-of-mouth recommendation for your business. If you use it for straight advertising or unconcealed sales messages it will probably turn forum users against you.

Bookmarking and information-sharing tools

• Social bookmarking and information-sharing tools can help you create a ‘buzz’ about your business — particularly with new product or service launches.
• The principle of services such as StumbleUpon or Reddit is similar to someone sending a ‘have you seen this?’ email to a friend. Instead of clogging up your inbox, users of these services mark web pages they view as ‘interesting’ and would like to recommend to others. The number of recommendations is aggregated by the service and users of the services see what their peers believe to be the most interesting pages on the web at any given moment.
• You company’s website is unlikely to feature on these services unless you are doing something very noteworthy. However, if you have a new launch, the relevant page on your website may get more visits over a short period of time as a result of people sharing recommendations through bookmarking services.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is very flexible and immediate. It can be used for a variety of marketing purposes, such as:
• Promoting specific offers — particularly time-limited ones. For example, you could use a micro-blogging site to announce ten per cent off any orders of a particular line within the next 24 hours.
• Inviting feedback and carrying out market research. For example, blogs can be used to explain some background about a new product or service, or maybe an invitation to customers or suppliers to get involved in testing.
• A way for customers to access your PR. For example, your micro-blog could provide direct links to your press releases as soon as they are published on your website.
• Establishing a reputation as a customer-focused business, committed to service and/or communication with customers. For example, running a forum that answers customer queries quickly can win a business significant goodwill.
• Showing yourself as an active participant in your sector, willing to get involved in industry-wide debates and initiatives. For example, posting regularly on industry-wide forums or blogs with constructive suggestions can positively raise your profile.
• Cementing relationships with existing suppliers, recommending good suppliers and finding new ones. Using networking sites to recommend suppliers you have found can be useful and earn you goodwill.

Match the medium and the message

• As with any form of effective marketing, it is important to make sure that the right message is being sent to your target market, using the right channel. For example, there is little point in setting up a micro-blogging campaign if your target customers don’t use the web every day or so.
• If you are trying to connect with a younger audience, make sure you know which social network is the flavour of the month. This can change rapidly — so it is important to keep a close eye on trends.

It can’t necessarily be controlled

• Remember that many forms of social media positively encourage feedback — and it’s unreasonable to expect that it will all be good.
• It will more than likely happen so develop a clear idea of how to handle any problems if they crop up. Timely and honest response is essential. Simply editing or deleting any negative or mildly controversial comments will damage your reputation. Besides, it may simply be impossible to do so.
• You can help avoid some of these problems by carefully creating your social media presence in the first place.

Devote sufficient resources

• Managing an effective social media presence for your business will require time and dedication. Regular updates and timely responses are essential when using social media – if you don’t, visitors simply won’t keep coming back.
• Ensure that you have the time and resource to devote to making your social media presence lively, vibrant and up-to-date.

Using social media will be most effective when used as an integral part of your marketing plan and not as a project in isolation. For example, if you are already using online marketing techniques such as banner ads or affiliate marketing, there is every reason to continue doing it if it works. Social media will provide another source of traffic and business with its own strengths and weaknesses.