Should I Be Using Social Media For My Business?

At Solidus, we get this question all the time from customers and potential customers. The answer: If you’re in business, YES! I have heard the sentiment a number of times from our customers: “I don’t feel like telling people where I am all the time or what I had for breakfast.” While some people use social media to broadcast the mundane details of their lives, for businesses, social media is a platform for providing information about your business and industry, starting conversations, and listening to customers and potential customers.

Why Should I Be Using Social Marketing?
Because that’s where people are spending their time. Recent research suggests that “nearly half of Americans use social media.” According to a new survey from Arbitron and Edison Research, 8% of teens and 77% of people from 18 to 24 have profile pages; 65% of people from 25 to 34 and 51% of those 35 to 44 also have profile pages. Also, 30% of Americans who have a profile on at least one social networking site visit them “several times a day,” which is a significant increase from 18% a year ago. There are currently around 400 million users on Facebook – if it were a country, it would be larger than the United States.

Of course people are using these sites for pleasure and to connect with friends, but they are also following brands and looking for information for purchasing decisions. The “2010 Social Media Report” released by ForeSee Results reports that 69% of online shoppers regularly use social networking sites to interact with their favorite brands. Approximately 56% of respondents reported using Facebook to interact with brands.

We hear a lot of “the type of customers I am looking for are not on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.” I don’t think that this is necessarily true, since the fastest growing users of social media sites are over the age of 45. Also, even if your target customers (in terms of age and demographics) aren’t currently part of the social networking craze, they will be – and, probably sooner than you think. “Over half of all consumers say that they have already purchased something – or switched to another brand or retailer – because of a recommendation they got through a social media site,” according to Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Marketing.

I Have Doubts about Using Social Networking for My Business
A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, “Entrepreneurs Question Value of Social Media,” as indicated by the name, looks at the pros and cons of entrepreneurs who have engaged social media for their businesses.

A survey released in January by the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and Network Solutions LLC, reports that last year, social marketing adoption by businesses with fewer than 100 employees doubled to 24% from 12%. The WSJ also article cites stats about entrepreneurs who say they have lost money on their social marketing efforts. I can’t believe that this true, and the article does give details regarding how they are losing money. I would argue that the organizations that are being cited here did not plan effectively or have people who don’t know what they are doing running their social media efforts.

The article tells the story of a woman who purchased a $1,900 folding kayak after she saw a Tweet on Twitter. Of course this type of result is not typical in that the value of using such sites for business marketing is usually more of a long-term relationship-building activity than a direct sales channel.

Another entrepreneur cited in the article argues that there is a direct correlation between is full-fledged entry into social marketing for his business and increased sales – a 40% increase in online sales in 2009, compared with 2008 when the company was just getting started.

Recommendations for Your Social Media Strategy
• Be strategic – Like any marketing or customer relations efforts, you need to plan effectively to connect with your audience and spark interest. You wouldn’t send out a direct mail campaign without carefully crafting the content or determining who the recipients will be; the same applies to social media.
• Tailor your social media content to your audience – What do your customers want to know or learn about? They don’t care about you; they want to know what can help them.
• Be careful about what you post – Make sure it makes sense, won’t offend people, and is error-free. If something does go awry with social media, you can quickly address or rectify the problem.
• Be consistent – Stay engaged and keep your audiences engaged. If you only log on and post once a month, people know that you’re not paying attention.
• Learn from others – Pay attention to industry and customer trends. Listen to what’s going on around you. You can learn a lot about your customers and competitors by following their social networking activities. What are they thinking about on a daily basis? What are the customers thinking about? If you follow their social networking activities, you can find out.

The New Face of Marketing Includes Social Media
“Marketing today is the art and science (dare I say the Zen?) of leveraging multiple platforms to get your message across so that you can motivate people to take action. Tools are changing – you need to keep up,” argues Kabani. “Your website is the place where you can SELL your products and services. Social media is the place where you introduce a potential customer to your brand.”

A recent report titled, “2010 State of Inbound Marketing,” released by HubSpot, emphasizes that inbound marketing through social media can double average monthly leads for small and medium-sized businesses; “creating a community of followers through Twitter and a regularly updated stream of content on a blog builds engagement, boosts the company’s presence on Google and ultimately bring in more potential customers.”

While some of us may feel like it’s a given to be engaged with social media, especially if you’re in the business of social media and content marketing, for a whole lot of people out there, social media are still foreign, shrouded in mystery, and not completely understood. However, we are almost to the point where not being part of social media is not an option for businesses. It shouldn’t be a question of whether or not to do, but how to make it work for you and your organization. Today, the hot social media venues are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Tomorrow it will likely be something else, but whatever IT is, if you’re in business, you need to be involved and part of the conversation.

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