fortune-cookies Image: Ksayer1/Flickr

An add-on, a bolt on, something we’ll get around to doing when we have a second, you’ve got to feel sorry for social media when it’s still treated this way by businesses. It’s not just small businesses that take this approach, many large organisations are also still acting this way too - but what has it done to deserve the cold shoulder? Why is it that it’s often kept in the dark?

Why? Time, resource, lack of understanding, fear of not keeping up in a fast-paced world, feeling that there’s a lack of accountability, not knowing where it sits in the business plan strategy - all of these are reasons we hear why social isn’t embraced like it should be.

Social media definitely still suffers from an identity problem. Maybe because it has so many split personalities with the different platforms, maybe because it’s not found its feet with regards to which marketing department it ultimately sits within, maybe to a degree it’s because most of its suite of products are free - and no-one trusts free…? Whatever it is, social suffers where PR has suffered before it - from a lack of love and respect compared to other marketing channels - and with this approach small businesses are most definitely missing a trick.

So why is it important to change the fortunes of social and turn if from the poor relation to at least an equal around the marketing family dinner table? Why do we need to ensure social is considered alongside the rest of the marketing plan, that it’s fully integrated from day 1 rather than shoved in as an added extra if there’s time?

  1. It holds a world of opportunities for networking
You can get to people you could never reach before.

Need to hook up with someone important as part of your marketing? It’s pretty likely that someone in your network will know them on LinkedIn or you’re in a shared group if you’re using it properly. Conversing with them through twitter you could strike up an alliance. Play the game of using hashtags and engaging in twitter hours to support others in your sectors and you’ll increase reach quickly and efficiently through alliances.

Trying to target a specific type of customer with a niche message? Facebook ads, and twitter and Instagram hashtags can get you directly in front of very targeted audiences to further increase your reach of your campaign, and to take it into a conversational level with your targets.

We have engaged journos, MPs, celebs, brand ambassadors & trade bodies as well as found clients pools of very targeted customers through social media campaign activity.

  1. It provides an extra strand to your comms plans
We all know it takes several touch points with a prospect before they become a customer and with content marketing what we’re trying to achieve is more inbound leads. Social provides further opportunities to see and hear your messaging, it provides signposting to your other campaign content via mediums where your audience are already comfortable consuming and sharing info, and it provides the added benefit of peer to peer endorsement when others share or interact with your post in any way. When integrated properly it is a powerful comms channel that can really elevate a campaign's message and boost its audience quickly. It is also, contrary to popular belief, very easy to track social’s success so from a reporting point of view it can often provide the dream stats to report back on in board meetings.
  1. It can play a part in customer service
If you are a business that relies on call centres you may be able to use social as a cost-cutting exercise, if you can encourage online interactions rather than phone interactions from customers with queries.

4. It gives you a voice and personality

Social gives you the chance to live the brand, illustrate the brand, have some fun with it. Through social you can really create a brand voice and tone, be conversational and tell the story behind the scenes - it’s what today’s customers want. You can show rather than tell them what you stand for, what your company is all about and invite them into your world, through a medium they are comfortable with, in their personal lives. Often social is used to illustrate CSR as part of a business’s marketing strategy. If you don’t take social seriously and just use it to post corporate promo content you will be missing out on how your brand can have an impact on people emotionally, which is hugely powerful.

5. Consumers demand more these days

If you don’t do any of the above and are simply using social as an additional channel through which to promote your products you might as well not bother. Social media is about conversation, it’s about building relationships, it’s about interaction - all the things that PR done well and authentically, is all about. If you are not using social media as an integrated, respected marketing medium but rather in an ad hoc reactive manner people will see through this - it’s not what they want or will accept ultimately.

To engage with today’s customer you have to be real, and social enables this - here lies the opportunity for social to shake off its underdog image and instead stride out ahead as the one everyone wants at their party…that we’d love to see.

By Jo Swann, director of Chocolate PR