By David Taylor, 2010media — co-author of Fusion, the new way of marketing — www.fusionbook.co.uk
In just five years, social networking sites have emerged from nowhere to become almost ubiquitous. However, they are still seen by large parts of the business world and the older population as a fad — just another thing for people to get worked up about.
The plain facts speak for themselves — one in 12 of the world’s population is on Facebook (550+ million people), there are 200 million Twitter accounts, 100 million LinkedIn profiles and YouTube is now the second most used search engine after Google.
Used in conjunction with a well optimized website and a dedicated online marketing campaign, social media can make a real difference to how you promote your business. In fact there are up to 15 ways in which you can use this exciting new form of media.
However, before embarking on any form of marketing strategy — social media or otherwise - you first need to understand who you are as an organisation, what goals you have and how you would like to be perceived by your target audience(s).
Putting together a clear vision, a simple mission statement, and developing an understanding of exactly how you wish to be seen by your target audience form the building blocks of any comprehensive marketing strategy and will influence every aspect of your communications with customers.
Also think about your target audience(s). Who are they, how would they like to be communicated to, which social networks are they likely to access and what sort of content should you give them.
Once you have a dedicated marketing strategy which includes social media, you can then look at how you can leverage it for your business.
Driving traffic to your website
Like with any form of marketing, social networking pages can be properly branded and tailored to reflect your key messages and appeal to your key markets. Therefore, anything you upload onto these sites should be pertinent to your business, add value to your brand or can even act as short advertisements.
Provides a clear and easy to read narrative
Building your brand online is of paramount importance. Previously, organisations had to rely solely on expensive marketing to communicate with their audiences, stakeholders or fan base. Now however, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have emerged as simple, free and efficient ways to strengthen brands.
Helps improve your position on search engines
Back in 2009, Twitter did a deal with both Google and Bing whereby tweets would be included in search results. Similarly, the more active you are on LinkedIn, the more likely it is that your name or that of your business will crop up on search engines.
The aim with all updates on social media is to include as many of your key search terms and put in as many external links to other websites as possible. In simple terms, news blogs or pages on social networking sites with the most references, will return the most relevant results and come
highest on search engines.
Can act as stand-alone sales tools
Pages on social networking sites can act as viable substitutes to a website, especially Facebook business pages. These make it ideal for schools, charities, struggling retail outlets or small businesses. Of course, if it is done in conjunction with a well optimized website, these pages can act as useful additions.
So successful can Facebook pages be, in fact, that for any organisation that cannot afford a website or if their website simply isn't up to the job, this can act as a very viable substitute. They can even be configured to synchronise with Twitter — helping to push your brand up search engines.
Promotion and sales
Like websites and other forms of marketing, social networks can be very effective, especially if used in conjunction with pay-per-click advertising. By segmenting your audiences and building up loyal groups of followers, you are marketing to a clientele who are already looking for your product or service.
Dell was one of the first companies to do this using Twitter to sell their computers in a successful and very cost effective manner.
Customer support and service
By monitoring social media, organisations can gauge what their customers think about them and act accordingly. The most high profile example of this is Trip Advisor where hotels are ranked online by guests. Hotels then have to make sure their service is up to scratch.
Building brand loyalty
Traditionally brands have wanted to build a loyal clientele — social media simply takes this to the next level. Using Facebook and Twitter, ‘Likers’ or followers can receive special offers or advanced notice about new product lines.
Monitoring the competition
As we are now living in a much more open society with large amounts of information visible online, it is possible to see what your competitors are doing by monitoring their social media sites. Of course they can see yours too. That’s why it is important to stress the characters and personalities of your staff as well as your brand.
Twitter and LinkedIn are great ways of networking without having to leave your PC or, as is now the case, your phone. Simply post what product or service you are on the look-out for and, as long as you have built up a decent sized network, you will usually get some form of referral or business lead.
Testimonials are always of paramount importance in business. Both LinkedIn and Facebook have the facility for people to give you feedback on your personal level of service (LinkedIn) or your company’s service (Facebook).
It must be said that in the case of Facebook (or, as previously mentioned, TripAdvisor) the feedback can be negative. In this case, it helps you to correct any mistakes that have been made so you can provide a better service in the future.
Brand protection management
The capacity for leaks or damaging stories is greater than ever, making the work of a traditional-style press office or marketing team more difficult, so companies need to be aware of this and have procedures in place to combat any threats which could be posed as a result. See the recent super-injunction furore.
Using Google Alerts, tracked searches and keywords on Hootsuite, it is possible to see what is being said about you and respond promptly.
Polling and product feedback mechanism
Both Facebook and LinkedIn offer the option of polls to gauge what your customers or those in your network think about a specific product or service.
Depending on your business, social networks can be very useful lead generation tools. LinkedIn is very much B2B while Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all primarily B2C lead generators.
Many organisations now use Twitter and LinkedIn as a way of distributing press releases, particularly as many journalists and publications are on the sites. As a result, many press officers and public relations professionals are having to upgrade the quality of their writing.
Journalists have traditionally relied on other journalists and publications for stories and at no time has this been more applicable than the present day. Active Twitter and Facebook pages will attract followers, many of who will be journalists or people who themselves have journalists as followers.
Also, the more prolific you are in updating social media and blogs, the higher you will be on search engines and the easier it will be for journalists to find out about you, your company or product.