By Don Minner
If you’re still waiting for that social media “fad” to go away so you don’t have to apply it to your business, you can stop right now. It isn’t going away.
While not all social media outlets are right for every company, most businesses will benefit from getting their feet wet and connecting to their current and prospective customers using one or more of these channels.
If you’re already using social media in your business, look for ways to increase your usage while continually seeking new ways to use it more creatively. If you’re not experimenting with social media, you need to be. Here’s why.
1. It’s the Way of the World.
Social media in business is a fact of life. Morgan Stanley published a study a while ago on the future of web-based retailing. The report included data on the number of years it took for various forms of mass media to hit the 50 million-user mark: Radio (38 years), TV (13 years), Internet (four years), iPod (three years), and Facebook (100 million users in only nine months). In just 12 months Facebook attracted 200 million users. It now has more than 500 million. LinkedIn recently surpassed 100 million users and Twitter 175 million.
While it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the statistics, a June 2010 Nielsen study reported that social network or blog sites are visited by three quarters of global consumers who go online. Four out of five US businesses with 100 or more employees will use social media marketing this year, according to eMarketer. That’s a dramatic change from 2008 when just 42 percent did.
2. Your Customers Use It and Like It.
In 2008, 24 percent of consumers had a personal profile on a social media site. In 2010 it was nearly 50 percent and that keeps climbing every day. Converseon says that 73 percent of consumers participate in social media and almost 60 percent expect brands to have a social media presence. Individuals who are working full-time use social media more often than anyone, and frequent users are more likely to follow companies and brands on social media sites. 75 percent of “brand likes” on Facebook come from ads, according to Mashable. People using that site are following brands. Why not yours?
3. It’s Cost-effective and Efficient.
Marketing with social media doesn’t take a large financial investment to get started, and it can be a cost-effective option for building brand awareness and generating leads. At the outset, the largest investment is the time you’ll need to devote to ensure that your social media marketing activities are relevant and impactful. Analytics are critical. If you don’t have the budget to spend on a leading service like Radian6 (http://www.radian6.com/), here’s an interesting list of 20 free social media monitoring tools ( http://oneforty.com/PamSahota/20-free-social-media-monitoring-tools). Social media can help support your sales team by providing new avenues to communicate with customers and share information. It can help you by creating a deeper, more passionate connection between your business and customers. And it’s fun!
4. It Gives You Great Feedback.
Conversations about your brand are happening every day whether you like it or not. Wouldn’t you rather be aware and have the opportunity to participate in the dialogue? At its essence social media is another form of conversation with your prospects and customers, albeit one that others are watching or reading. It’s likely some of your shortcomings will be exposed. Yes, that’s scary to most companies. But you have the chance to get in on the conversation and share the facts or admit mistakes and correct them. Honesty is everything and can ultimately inspire greater allegiance to your brand. In this world, the customers are in control. You’ll need to determine how you will engage them, inspire their confidence and help them with solutions to their problems.
5. It’s Easy to Get Started.
First, find someone on your team who is passionate about social media and who can lead the way. That will help overcome any natural resistance to change.
Second, you may need to find an external resource to get you started. But keep in mind that you should always have someone at the helm who really knows your company and can communicate with your voice and personality.
Finally, create a plan outlining which media you will use, how you intend to use them, and what outcomes you seek. Ask yourself: Who are we trying to reach and why? Where do our customers and prospects spend time online?
Take an inventory of your existing assets…papers, tips, coupons, offers, product descriptions, press releases, and others. What do you have that you could share with your customers? What do they want to know about your business? What problems of theirs can your products or services solve? Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try something and if it doesn’t work, then try something else.
It’s time to get moving. What are you waiting for?
Don Minner is a senior consultant for Productive Strategies, Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com