by Valeria Cardillo
|So much is being said about Social Media as an essential marketing tool for business, but mention the words Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and many intelligent business people still look confused, because it is either another world altogether for them, or they just do not get it.
In truth, many of the people that do get that Social Media as a great way of finding groups of potential customers, still do not understand the rules of engagement and as communities start to get targeted more and more often by blatant sales orientated individuals, the protective filters are starting to emerge, either through individual policing or through technology itself.
Firstly, it is important to try and give a definition of Social Media, since this widely used expression is hardly well defined by its millions of users.
During my research, I came across many inspiring definitions of social media: “A cocktail party with thousands of conversations happening all at once” (Justin Flitter, APAC Business Manager for Zendesk and Social Media Mentor at Flitter Media), A “democracy empowering the people and the consumer to really influence public opinion”(Randy Schrum, Business owner), “The consumer controlled online revolution” (Ken Jones, President at StrateGen, company providing consulting services). Dan Chambers, Social Media marketing expert at Vestal Digital blog (http://www.vestadigital.com/home/community/blogs.aspx), defines it as “a form of media disseminated through social interaction (...) (which) allows users to participate in the creation or development of the content”.
Andy Gooday, business owner, expert in Marketing and writer of the acclaimed Social Media book “Get Well Connected”, suggests a very good explanation, which gives a clear understanding of how SM can help a business. Social Media is, according to him, the “perfect way for ‘social proof’ to be created”, but he also suggests the video below gives a very clear explanation of how SM is a new creative way to work with customers while opening up new opportunities to communicate.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpIOClX1jPE
The three most important and most used Social Media networks are currently Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. As Andy Gooday says, “LinkedIn is the giant of the business networking sites.” One of its strengths is that it has “members from around 200 different countries (…), including executives from every one of the Fortune 500 companies”. (Get Well Connected, pag.49)
Facebook however “was set up primarily as a means for friends and family to communicate and stay in touch”. (Get Well Connected, pag.59)
“Twitter is essentially a social networking and micro-blogging service which limits users to messages containing less than 140 characters and allows them to follow, and be followed by other users”. (Get Well Connected, pag.59) Andy highlights the major differences and uses of the three main social media platforms in his book. In his viewpoint, most people believe Linkedin works better than other SM networks because connections are controlled between people and its layout, which has minimal advertising and limited range of applications makes it easier and more professional than the other main SM networks. This could be one of the reasons why it is more widely used for business and has such great appeal.
At the same time, even though Facebook has five times the number of members of LinkedIn and Twitter, “it is not directly aimed at the business market”. However, its usefulness is that “it allows business owners and freelancers to set up business pages and create an online profile for their company (…). You can even allow other members to become a fan of your business page, which clearly helps to increase your reputation and credibility”. (Get Well Connected, pag.61). Twitter on the other hand “has as one of its great benefits allowing users to broadcast messages to a whole group of users, all at the same time.” Businesses “use it to build their brand identities, update followers about company activities and share information about online resources that could be of interest”. (Get Well Connected, pag. 66-67).
Another reason for the attraction of SM, and Twitter in particular is its psychological effect on individuals. I’m talking about the so-called “Micro-Fame”, which Alana Taylor, Social Media consultant and Strategic Marketing Manager at ORCA, defines as the easiest way to become famous nowadays. Indeed, having “followers” means that there are people interested in what you do and say, people who follow everything you do. Social Media represents for companies, then, a powerful business tool: not only as a source of “sensitive data”, but a way for them to build and maintain their reputation and credibility, to start or keep relations with consumers and increase their brand-awareness.
As an example of how Social Media can affect a business, Chelli Miller, Client Resource Strategist who is implementing SM strategies for life sciences-related companies says “I have mostly day/retail traders on my Facebook account. The other day I posted a couple of news items for a company. They have nothing but positive news, superior product, hard working team, zero debt, etc. I posted the news items with my view on the company and the next day their volume increased to 70,000+ from a daily average of around 1,500”. Hence, as written in “Social Media Management: The New Role of a Marketing Agency” published on Dan Chambers’ blog “The majority are real people. Real people who are ready to participate in a community setting. Real people in fact who will interact with (a) brand name in mind” and “If a product is known to consumers as having its faults, you can be confident that the online communities will discuss them.” article (http://www.vestadigital.com/173/section.aspx/189/post/a-beginners-guide-to-social-media-marketing) that “If you do it right, it will build and brand you over time as a reliable and reputable product or service. [...] SMM is about “trust” and that is a rare and precious commodity in business today.” It is therefore fundamental to avoid going down with “off brand” messages and, as Dan Chambers reminds, “Don’t push your product into somebody’s throat. Be respectful and participate in conversations.”
To implement a successful Social Media marketing strategy I would refer to Dan Chambers’ 5 important steps for creating and maintaining a successful social media presence. Identify your audience or community: if you base your timing, tools, and process around the audience you want to be a part of, then you are much more likely to succeed.
Identify the resources currently available in your organization: resources include staff knowledge, comfort level with different tools and overall experience of staff working with social media sites and the public. Often, we forget that although the actual applications, software and tools may be free, using them is not and what you put into your social media engagement is what you get out of it. If you only have an hour a week to post to a blog, then don’t expect a lively conversation and community emerging from it. By evaluating what resources you already have in the organization, you will be better prepared.
Identify what success will look like: this is really helpful in order to evaluate the appropriate tools for your work. It is also important to remember that social media is a changing and evolving space, so your definition of success has to be flexible to the changing times and needs of your audience.
Identify the technologies you will need: there are many blogs, directories and lists available online to help you pick tools that match your goals. One way you can do this is to ask your community. What are they using now? How would they like to engage with your organization?
Identify what measures of success can be used: this includes metrics based on the functionality of the tools you choose and how you identify success. If you are using a forum, then measuring the number of replies to your posts (or, if your forum allows voting, then the positive feedback on posts) could be appropriate, as well as the ratio of people signed up vs. posting vs. replying, etc. If it isn’t working well, identify the issue and correct it with either an alteration to the current tool or set up, or by shifting the group to a different, more appropriate tool.
We think it is appropriate to close this article by looking at the impact on some on our leading Social Media platforms by the ever increasing wave of serial bloggers and ask our experts their opinions. Mostly, we are interested to understand if LinkedIn and Twitter are being diluted by serial bloggers and by people writing any old rubbish trying to raise their profile or becoming a hunting ground for too many sales people.
The answers we received, fortunately, are encouraging. Joan Curtis, writer of the book “The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media” (to be published on July 2010), and CEO at Total Communication Coaching, states: “There's no question that Twitter has plenty of noise. But, it also contains a wealth of information. As a business tool, I find Twitter most helpful for research. I find the best links to sites there. It's also a wonderful place for keeping up with the thought leaders.”
Moreover, as Andy says, on Twitter “it’s very easy to turn off anyone who is not of interest anymore”. Regarding LinkedIn, Andy underlines its restrictions in connection invitations, the wealth of contents, the quality of discussions, which make it the place “where you have to be”.
To sum it up, Jay Izso, Consumer Psychologist, Internet Consumer Behaviourist at Internet Doctor, says: “I think people miss the big picture of most of the social networks because they expect an immediate return on their investment. That being said, every one of these social networks has one thing in common that benefits every business...BRANDING. What other medium exists where you can create brand awareness for FREE and reach so many people?” Social Media is here for real and its benefits as a business tool depend on its intelligent application.
Anyone interested to find out more about this subject can post their questions here and engage directly with some of our experts. We also want to hear your own experiences and thoughts on Social Media and how it is or isn’t impacting your business? Have you found yourself the target of sales campaigns through your social media presence?
Useful reading and links to other SM articles:
Andy Gooday, Get Well Connected, My Brand Academy
Joan Curtis, The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media, Praeger Press (to be published on July)
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