Don't be anti-social

March 21, 2012

A competitive business environment and the ongoing down economy have forced more and more companies to seek out new and better marketing alternatives. There is an increasing trend to use social networking as an affordable way to connect with customers and attract new ones as well.

A competitive business environment and the ongoing down economy have forced more and more companies to seek out new and better marketing alternatives. There is an increasing trend to use social networking as an affordable way to connect with customers and attract new ones as well.

Social networking-or engaging in “member communities”-is an effective (and mostly free) tool that companies and marketers can use to generate exposure, create opportunity, and ultimately grow sales. Social media marketing offers various media platforms, the most popular of which are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogs.

POPULAR & EFFECTIVE

How popular are social media? According to a July 2009 Nielsen report, Twitter is the fastest-growing social networking site, increasing 1,928% year-over-year, from 1 million unique visitors in June 2008 to 21 million unique visitors in June 2009.

Facebook has more than 350 million users worldwide, with more than 1.6 million active pages and counting. To put it into perspective, if Facebook were a country, its population would represent the third largest country in the world, just ahead of the United States.

How effective are social media for marketing? Well, it is entirely dependent on how a company uses the tool, but according to the American Marketing Association in 2009, “In the last year, on average, companies with high levels of social media activity experienced an 18% increase in revenue.”

Each medium has its own rules and methods on how to sign up and what you can or cannot do, all requiring some research on your part to choose which platform is best for you and your company.

NEW MEDIA, NEW FEARS

At first, I was unsure of social media. Being a little older, I was very skeptical and a little resistant when some of our younger team members wanted to start incorporating social media into our company’s marketing efforts-first for ourselves and then for our clients.

The fact that social media demanded transparency brought some concern. However, as I began to learn how it could be used as a tool to identify consumers’ needs, concerns, and interests, as well as a platform to build and foster relationships, my attitude changed.

Admittedly, it takes some organization and a definite time commitment to be effective in social media, and any lack of consistency in our company effort is probably due to my lack of social media understanding and direction. Nonetheless, I have learned a lot-perhaps mostly that there is a lot to learn.

Here are a few key lessons you should consider:

1. Be authentic. As I mentioned earlier, social media marketing is a great tool to generate exposure, create opportunity, and ultimately grow sales. But it only works if you have formed a relationship. People are looking to engage with the real you, so the veil has to go. Twitter is not the point, relationships are the point.

2. Don’t overtly promote. Consumers are looking to engage with brands they know personally and that add relevant value, not companies that constantly try to push their products or services.

3. Keep updates up to date. Social media, like a company Web site, need to have fresh and relevant information that should be updated or posted on a consistent basis. If this does not happen, people will recognize this lack of new data and just move on to other more interesting posts, tweets, or blogs.

4. Integrate. It is important to remember that social media marketing is most effective when used in conjunction with traditional marketing vehicles, and I wouldn’t recommend relying solely on social media marketing to achieve your growth goals. Obviously, if your company is small and you have not done marketing in the past, social media might be a great way to get started on a smaller scale.

5. Have fun. Social media marketing is a great tool, but it should be something you enjoy.

FIRST STEPS

Prior to starting a social media campaign, do some research. The Internet, as you know, has a wealth of information available and is a great place to start. One white paper I found, Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses, written by Michael A. Stelzner,  should prove to be an invaluable tool that you can download to help you make the important decision on which social media to use and how to get started.

Don’t let a lack of knowledge or information keep you from exploring social media marketing. Get a plan together, do your research and join the conversation! I promise you’ll have at least one fan (me!).