Every month, I write a column about social media for the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly. My June column offers some bad and good news for business decision makers who are tired of hearing about social media.
If you’re tired of hearing people talk about social media, I have bad news and good news.
The bad news is that people are going to be talking about social media for a long, long time. While individual sites and tools may come and go, the concepts behind social media represent a fundamental shift in how consumers want to interact with each other and with brands. Quite simply, they’ve turned to social media because it provides them a more efficient, more effective way of communicating, with unprecedented scale and speed. If you have customers, then, you simply must take social media seriously.
The good news is that if you have customers, you already know what’s most important about social media. Never even logged on to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, you say? Doesn’t matter. If you understand how to communicate with those you serve, if you know anything about marketing or if you simply understand that your efforts must always be directed toward keeping your company profitable and competitive, you are well on your way to social media success.
The truth is, social media is a means to an end, not an end unto itself. It’s simply another tool that can help you reach your goals. In some respects, social media is new. Facebook is only seven years old, YouTube is even younger and the concept of “tweeting” was virtually unheard of until 2007. However, while the ways in which we interact are changing, the under lying principles of social media are time-tested — and familiar to anyone in business.
Social media is about customer service. It’s just another channel through which your customers can connect with you, one that they are gravitating to in increasing numbers. If a customer walked into your store or office during your operating hours, you’d probably have someone there to greet the person, right? Well, your customers are very likely looking to connect with you via social media, too. Are you going to ignore them?
Social media is about research. A lot of companies try to guess what their customers are thinking, then craft products and messages that speak to those perceived needs. Smart companies don’t guess — they conduct research to learn what’s most important to their customers and to understand trends that might not otherwise be apparent.
The smartest companies supplement this by using social media as a research tool, placing a glass against the virtual wall so they can hear what their customers and prospects are saying. It’s like an ongoing focus group, with tremendously valuable information being shared about your company, your competitors and your audience’s changing needs. All you need to do is listen.
Social media is about branding. Brands are built inch by inch, not mile by mile. It’s not about one individual impression as much as the net impression: what we think about a brand collectively based on its advertising and marketing, others’ opinions and our personal experience with the brand’s products or services.
That’s what makes social media such a powerful branding tool. Your organization can use status updates, blog posts and YouTube videos, for example, to build your brand incrementally, and your customers can share those messages with their connections, allowing you to reach well beyond your existing network. No, their comments won’t always be favorable, but if you believe you have a story worth telling, social media is one of the best tools you have for making others aware of who you are and what you do.
Social media is about word-of-mouth marketing. As mentioned above, consumers are using social media to share news and information they believe their connections will find relevant. And they’re also turning to their social networks for advice when they’re looking to buy. This concept should be familiar — and enticing — to anyone in business because word of mouth has always been the best marketing vehicle.
Fifty years ago, consumers could gather information about their choices from the phone book, but they still turned to their friends, neighbors and co-workers for advice. Today, even with all the information in the world just a mouse click away, they still do, and they’re using social media to access those opinions. That repre sents a phenomenal opportunity for your businesses.
Social media is about making a profit. Your business won’t be very successful if you don’t turn a profit, and you should only use social media when it can help you do exactly that. Companies of every size and type are proving that social media can help them increase sales, improve customer retention and acquisition and cut costs. Of course, others are proving that social media can be a huge drain on productivity and resources. It’s all in the way you use it. Your job is to ensure that every resource you invest in social media provides a return. If not, it has no place in your larger marketing strategy.
If you’ve been hesitant to use social media because it seems foreign to you, consider this: There was a time when every aspect of running a business was foreign to you. You weren’t born with expertise in finance, management or marketing. And likewise, you know that neglecting these skills would make your business a lot less viable. Think of social media the same way. Learning how to use it isn’t optional, and it’s not dependent upon esoteric knowledge reserved for the young or the technically inclined.
If you know business, you know social media. And what you know makes it very likely that you’ll be successful in using social media to help your business grow.