Social media. Social networking. Social marketing. Let’s face it, there has been a paradigm shift in communications that companies – big and small – can no longer afford to ignore. The days of creating a message and shouting it out to the masses are gone. It’s now a dialogue, and your customer has a very loud voice.
Consumers are more sophisticated and have more choices. They have access to unlimited information and are less trusting of your sales process and declarations. The new economy has contributed an additional layer of pressure because consumers are also spending less. For your company, that probably means stiffer competition for a smaller piece of pie. The game has changed.
Acknowledging that the game has changed is an important first step in integrating social media into your strategic plan. In spite of the numbers, many small business owners still haven’t. In a July survey published on emarketer.com, 50 percent of small businesses described “Word of Mouth” recommendations as something their business could not do without, while only 4 percent said the same thing about social media. What are social media and social networking if not word of mouth?
Prepare Yourself & Your Team
Take it Seriously. You can’t direct someone in your IT department or ask a friend who’s “into computers” to throw up a Facebook page or establish a Twitter account and declare, “My company is engaging in social marketing.” You do have to integrate social media channels into your current marketing plan, and it must be at the strategic level. Social networking and media may look easy and fun, but they require a planned approach, a commitment to the objectives, and continual research and testing to maximize the results.
Define Your Objectives. As with any communications channel, what do you want from the social media outlets you decide to use? Improved customer service? Increased leads to your sales team? More email sign-ups for your e-Newsletter? Record-breaking event attendance? Defining your objectives first will help you in deciding which outlets to use, the type of content that needs to be developed and the resources to allocate.
“The No. 1 one benefit of social media marketing is standing out in an increasingly noisy world. A significant 88 percent of all marketers [surveyed] indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses. Improving traffic and subscribers was the second major benefit, with 72 percent reporting positive results.” (2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, “How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses,” by Michael Stelnzer, socialmediaexaminer.com)
Determine Your Audience. If you choose “improved customer service” as an objective, then your current customer base is an obvious audience. But, look beyond their demographics and evaluate how your customers use your product or service. Where are they in the product life cycle? Are they seasoned users or novices? Where are they in their own life cycle? Are they just starting out on their own, or do they have established families and households and little time? Are they using your product or service at work, at home or in a social setting? Completing this process will uncover the many faces of your audience and allow you to forge a plan to speak to them more personally.
Evaluate the Landscape. As the “Conversion Prism” seen here shows, social networking outlets are as varied as traditional advertising. You should apply the same assessment in choosing your social media channel that you would selecting a magazine for your print advertising or a mailing list for your postcard. Know your customer and know where they are spending their social time. Research the outlets and their users. Your customer might not be using Twitter, but they could be very active on LinkedIn.
Begin Your Integration Plan
Determine Where Social Media Fits in Your Current Marketing Mix. Remember, social marketing is not an all or nothing endeavor. You don’t have to abandon traditional marketing channels if they are working. Experiment with adding social channels to amplify your message. Can you use Facebook or Twitter to extend your reach for an event? Can you start a blog on your website that allows customers to post their own creative uses for your products? Can you get feedback on LinkedIn on how to improve your sales process? The idea is to find your company’s sweet spot of engagement.
The majority of marketers surveyed, (58 percent) are using social media for six hours or more each week, and more than a third (34 percent) invest 11 or more hours weekly. By spending as little as six hours per week, 52 percent of marketers see lead generation benefits with social media. (2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, “How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses,” by Michael Stelnzer, socialmediaexaminer.com)
Create Relevant Content. It’s the most important aspect of social marketing. Once you have your customer’s attention and permission to start the conversation, what are you going to say? Today’s consumer has access to more information than they could ever consume. What will make your information any different? The content you share on your blog, on Facebook or in 140 characters or less on Twitter needs to save you customer time or money; improve their life by solving a problem; prevent a potentially harmful incident; teach them something new; or entertain them.
Train Your Staff to Be Expert Social Marketers. The conversation begins within your own company. Everyone on your staff should be trained in what social marketing is and how to do it. Accept the fact that people – your employees – are communicating within this new medium and embrace it. Empower each employee with the ability to monitor social media to help protect your brand; teach them how to respond to both positive and negative feedback; and establish a culture of communications between all levels of management and staff.
The popular idiom, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” could have easily been coined to describe entry into social media. Once your company is out there, and you’ve invited your customers to come on board, there is no turning back. As long as you are prepared to actively develop and engage your customer in a beneficial relationship, you’ll find social media has a natural place in your company’s strategic marketing plan. I95