Social Media: What Does it Mean for you and your Business?

Social Media: What Does it Mean for you and your Business?


I was taking some time out over the festive season when I picked up a copy of the December issue of Time, which names the magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ 2010. Time selected Mark Zuckerburg, the 26-year-old founder and CEO of Facebook. For “connecting more than half a billion people and mapping the social relations among them, for creating a new system of exchanging information and for changing how we live our lives,” Time awarded the Harvard dropout its highest honour.

While I lay on the beach reading the Time article, absorbing the crazy statistics related to Facebook (more than a quarter of people globally with access to the Internet are now active Facebook users) the reality hit me: Social networking is way more than just connecting with long lost friends, it has profound implications for how business is being conducted and will be conducted in the future. As the Time article points out: “What Zuckerberg is doing is fundamentally changing the way the Internet works and, more importantly, the way it feels…Right now the Internet is like an empty wasteland: you wander from page to page, and no one is there but you. Except where you have the opposite problem: places like product pages and YouTube videos, where everyone’s there at once, reviewing and commenting at the top of their lungs, and it’s a howling mob of strangers.

“Zuckerberg’s vision is that after the Facebookization of the Web, you’ll get something in between: wherever you go online, you’ll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends’ reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context. Not that long ago, a post-Google Web was unimaginable, but if there is one, this is what it will look like: a Web reorganised around people.”

In response to this important realisation I decided to explore what social media really means for business? What do business owners need to do right now to ensure they maximise the opportunity and do not get left behind? After reading more than 50 articles and interviewing multiple experts I synthesised the most important lessons into eight points for business people to digest.

1. Social media is about (two way) engagement

Marketing a product or service has traditionally been a one-way affair – you would put an advert on TV and people would be forced to watch it; you would take a spread in a newspaper and people might read it; you would sponsor an event and people would be bombarded by your brand as they participated in the event. In the social media space consumers can choose who they wish to interact with and they have a voice in the marketing conversation – they can post on your Facebook wall, reply to your Tweet or comment on a blog post. As Justin Spratt, the CEO of Quirk Agency Group, a leading South African digital marketing agency points out, “Social media, in its ability to allow information and conversations to flow freely, helps drive business and reduce service costs. From a branding point of view, if customers feel that they have the ability to engage with the brands, their emotional attachment and thereby lock-in to the brand increases.”

Kate Elphick, the founder and CEO of Digital Bridges, a Web 2.0 consultancy, says that the most important thing for business owners to realise about the rise of social media is that “social networking is about people. It is all about using your brain and spending time engaging, communicating with and entertaining your audience. It is not about shouting your wares like a street vendor.” In the Sun International Springbreak case study on page 104, consumers were given a chance to participate in the build-up to the event by uploading photos and participating in competitions. It was critical for the event organisers to recognise the contributions of those who participated and to make them feel heard. In that way, they created a strong, committed community around the event.

2. Not all platforms are equal

Over time there has been a proliferation of social media platforms. You can pretty much find a social media network for any niche community. Yet not all social media networks are equally popular and therefore the leverage from participation on a platform varies. Setting up a business profile and being an active participant on a social media platform takes time so it is important to decide where you wish to have a presence. “Facebook, LinkedIn and  Twitter are the big three,” says Spratt. “Blogging’s popularity has plateaued although a well crafted thought leadership blog can be the best way to engage.”

Elphick echoes his sentiments about the big players but also says that a number of bespoke media communities designed around special interest groups serve a particular purpose such as MBAConnect (for MBAs to network), Bizcommunity (for the business and marketing community), Moneyweb (for the business community) and MyDigitalLife (for some of the more technically minded), Women24 (for women’s interest) and (for self publishing authors). Different platforms are targeted to different audiences and it is important to ask “who do I want to engage with?” and then figure out which platform will help you best reach those people. As a broad categorisation, LinkedIn is targeted toward professionals and linking business people and businesses together. Facebook is geared toward those wishing to serve a broader consumer base. If you choose one of the more niche platforms as your primary social media outlet, or if you choose to use a blog as your online voice, it may be valuable to replicate what you do on your blog or niche platform on one of the larger platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. This can normally be done with relative ease via the applications that link the various blogging and social media platforms.

3. Audience matters

Because social media is about really engaging with your audience (see point 1), it is important that what you do on your social media platform appeals to those people. This may sound obvious, but there are many stories of failed social media campaigns where companies expected consumers to disclose information, upload videos or write long stories when it was just not normal or natural for that audience to do such things. As a hypothetical example, imagine Sun International liked the results from the Springbreak campaign so they decided to replicate it for an upcoming business conference at Sun City. Because they asked 18 to 25-year-olds to upload photos of themselves in beach gear in the lead up to the Springbreak event, they may try doing something similar with attendees for the business conference. It’s just not going to happen.

High-level business people generally don’t have the time or inclination to upload photos onto a public forum. Although this is an extreme example, it represents the problem with cookie cutter approaches to social media.
For social media to be effective, the campaigns must ask the participants to do things that are natural and easy for them to do. They must play to the intended audience’s strengths.

4. Learning through participation

For those who are not acquainted with social media channels it can be a daunting prospect to all of a sudden create an online profile for your business and begin interacting with customers. Don’t! Take it slow. Warren Sukernek, partner and vice president of strategies at Alterian, a social media monitoring company, says there’s a massive rush to get onto Twitter and launch a blog without a plan. He stresses that it is important to spend time upfront getting to know the landscape: “First, get active as a lurker on different social media networks to see what’s happening and what people are saying. For example, check out what other companies are doing on Twitter or Facebook and then assess what you like and don’t like.” It costs a business owner nothing to hang about on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Look at what your competitors are doing, observe what the big companies are doing, take note of what the innovators are doing and use all this experience to craft a social media plan that fits with your business and aligns with your customer base.

5. Tracking creates transparency

One of the beauties of social media marketing is that it allows for almost perfect tracking of response rates and interaction. In the featured case study, the statistics relating to the Sun International Springbreak campaign were accurate down to the last user: A total of 18 989 ‘likes’ on the Springbreak Facebook page; an average of over 90 interactions a day leading up to the event; 441 links to the Springbreak Twitter account; 4 500 views of Springbreak YouTube videos; 800 Pokens distributed; 4 012 Poken Interactions over three days. When have you seen marketing statistics that are so accurate and precise? And those statistics cost almost nothing to track. Because of this you can see what works and what doesn’t work; you can try stuff out and monitor response rates to all aspects of a social media campaign. Over the long term this will allow any business owner or marketing manager to make much better marketing decisions, thereby leveraging a small marketing budget for big results.

6. Integrate across platforms

As you make advances in the application of social media to market your business, it is useful to work across platforms. The various social media platforms can work in synergistic ways as illustrated in the Sun International Springbreak campaign. Working across different platforms allows different versions of the same message to get out and it enables different audiences to get the message. For example, Sun International used video (on YouTube); micro messages (on Twitter) and photos (on Facebook) all to communicate a similar message. The company also worked across a spread of ‘new’ and ‘old’ technologies. YouTube and Facebook can (in this fast-paced world) be considered older, more established platforms whereas Poken is a new, still to be proved technological device that allows people to quickly share digital information. By using Poken alongside YouTube the company is getting the benefit of what it knows will work (eg YouTube), while still being seen to be the innovator that’s leveraging cutting edge new products (eg Poken). Using all these different tools, the company was able to create an integrated, holistic experience which made its users feel that they were part of something big and meaningful.

7. Complement traditional marketing

Just because social media is rising up as a new and important media channel, this does not mean that the traditional forms of marketing are going to die. Social media can serve as an important complement to traditional marketing efforts. A case in point is the recent Super Bowl in the United States. The Super Bowl is the traditional showcase for American brands. The half time advertising slots are the most expensive TV advertising slots on any US network. For years the biggest brands have fought to secure these slots and to create the most interesting adverts to appeal to the large US audience that traditionally watches the Super Bowl. Enter social media and all of a sudden there is an opportunity to get much more marketing mileage from all the work that goes into creating a Super Bowl advert.

Every year, Americans wait in anticipation to see how creative the big firms have been in coming up with their Super Bowl adverts. Now with YouTube, millions and millions of people go online after the Super Bowl and re-watch their favourite adverts. They post them to their Facebook profile, discuss them on blogs and Tweet about them in the second half of the game. In this case, social media and traditional media (TV advertising) come together to create a marketing explosion. The best example from the recent Super Bowl is the Volkswagen Passat Advert with a six year old boy pretending to be Darth Vader. Having captured people’s hearts in the Super Bowl halftime slot, the advert was viewed more than 27 million times on YouTube in the three days after the Superbowl. In that same time, I saw at least 20 Facebook posts referencing the advert from my Facebook friends.

8. Be yourself, stand for something and be consistent

One of the biggest mistakes that anyone can make when trying to market a business through social media channels is to make the business appear to be something that it’s not. Being fake and superficial online is possible in the short term, but it is not sustainable in the long term. People will see though a façade and it will damage your brand if you pretend to be something you are not. I did a brief analysis of the blogs I read, the companies I follow and the people and firms which I think have created a valuable online presence. Three things are evident across this group:

  1. The people behind the online messages believe and care about what they are saying
  2. The people behind the messages are not scared to be provocative if it aligns with what they believe
  3. The people behind the messages are consistent in their interaction with their online audience.

If you choose to utilise social media as a channel for your business these are three crucial lessons: care about what you are saying, be provocative if you need to be and be consistent in interacting with your audience.


Springbreak: Social media fever
Sun International leverages the power of the youth to promote its brand.
By Nadine von Moltke

Each year, Sun International hosts Springbreak, a weekend of parties and fun on the beach at Sun City’s Valley of the Waves. The event attracts more than 20 000 people between the ages of 18 and 25. In 2010 the organisers decided to reach their target audience in a more active, engaging way, and asked Quirk eMarketing to design a social media campaign that would encourage the youth already attending the annual event to connect to the Sun International brand in a new way.

“The people attending Springbreak are highly connected and very tech savvy, so a social media campaign was the obvious choice to encourage engagement,” explains Justin Spratt, CEO of Quirk Agency Group. “Sun International has been active in the social media realm for over two years, so it wasn’t a new area for them, but because forming long-term relationships with their customers is key to their success, and the youth market has immense buying power, connecting with them in the spaces they play makes Sun International a chosen brand in their minds.”

The campaign
“We needed to create a campaign that embodied the ‘Suit Up!’ theme of Springbreak, built hype leading up to the event and reinforced the Sun International brand,” says Spratt. “We used the Facebook page that we had created for Stimorol Springbreak to promote the ‘Suit Up!’ campaign even before the offline elements had launched. We ran two competitions, one that allowed fans to be a part of the campaign photoshoots and the other that encouraged fans to upload photos of themselves in beach gear, preparing for the event.

“We also used the Sun International twitter account, @millionthrills to raise awareness and drive accommodation bookings before Stimorol Springbreak and as a live reporting tool during the event, coupled with videos and photos uploaded throughout the weekend. “We particularly wanted to encourage participants and Sun International to collect and share social media data ‘in the real world’ while at the event. We partnered with Poken Africa to distribute and sell Poken devices which formed the link between the digital and offline worlds. Users were able to register their social networks with Poken at The Valley of Waves in Sun City during Stimorol Springbreak and just by touching two Pokens together, share their digital ‘digits’ with new friends at the event.”

Forming a new community
Stimorol Springbreak received a total of 18 989 ‘likes’ on the Springbreak Facebook page and interactions on the page averaged over 90 a day leading up to the event. Springbreak related links from the twitter account were clicked on 441 times and the videos created at Springbreak have had over 4 500 views. Over 800 Pokens were distributed and there were 4 012 Poken interactions over three days. “By effectively utilising Facebook and other social media platforms, we reached our audience and interacted with them in a space where they felt comfortable,” says Jana Kotze, digital marketing, Sun International. “We are extremely satisfied with the results for Springbreak 2010.”

The engagement
Social media success is about engagement. “Our 18 898 ‘likes’ represent an opt-in database of people who fit within our target market and chose to engage with us without being asked,” reveals Spratt. “The interactions recorded represent comments and votes by users who wanted to share the channel with their friends.” According to Spratt, if used effectively, social media can be an extremely cost effective marketing tool. There are no media bookings required and most of the networks allow brands to interact at no cost. The viral nature of social media also means that if the content is compelling enough, users will advertise your campaign for you at no cost to you. In Springbreak’s case the page’s growth was almost exclusively organic, demonstrating the high ROI that social media brings when implemented correctly.

Implementing a campaign
Before launching a social media campaign, Quirk has one golden piece of advice though: Know your market. “Research what your target market’s preferred networks are, and whether they respond to competitions, promotions or informative content,” says Spratt. “What tone do they prefer brands to adopt when engaging with them? Users drive social media so you need to research and cater to their preferences above your own. Brands should have a strategy, a communications plan and an escalation process in place before stepping into social media. You can’t control the environment so prepare for any eventuality.” Keep in mind that a poorly constructed campaign can actually damage your brand. “It’s happened countless times before,” reveals Spratt. “Brands that enter into the networks and spaces where users play must do so cautiously. If you approach social media like traditional advertising, you will not succeed. It’s a liquid and unpredictable environment but, if handled effectively, it can bring you massive reward.”

Avoid These Social Media Mistakes

These are the worst social media mistakes as pointed out by the experts Justin Spratt of Quirk & Kate Elphick of Digital Bridges.

Mistake 1: Promoting products without offering value first.
“This will result in no followers and without a following of engaged users, it is a waste of time using social media.”

Mistake 2: Not having a human element.
“Social media is about engagement.  People don’t want to engage automated feeds; engagement relies on human to human interaction.”

Mistake 3: Not respecting your audience and trying to hard-sell online.

“Creating pages and harassing people to join, conducting a one way conversation about your products and services or bombarding users with rubbish will result in a failed effort.”

Mistake 4: Expecting to build it and they will come.
“Building an online audience takes time and effort. You need to interact consistently and allow the network to grow organically.”


Dos & Don’ts for Facebook Pages

Use these tips to make the most of your Facebook
marketing efforts. By Scott Gerber

Facebook may have 500 million users, but having an outpost on the social media site won’t necessarily increase sales or referrals to your website. But the right tools, used strategically, can help make Facebook an important part of your marketing, lead acquisition and customer service strategies. Here are some dos and don’ts for your company’s Facebook page.

1. Take advantage of Facebook Places
This location-based application allows users to ’check in’ – or alert their network — wherever they are. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, turn patrons into Facebook promoters by giving them freebies or special offers if they check-in from your location, using Facebook Places. But be sure to connect your check-in page to your company page, otherwise Facebook users who click check-in links on their News Feeds and Walls will be taken to a generic Facebook page that doesn’t contain your keywords or branding.

2. Use Facebook for customer service

Online support forums and live-chat services can be costly. But Facebook can help you communicate easily with customers who become your fans on the site. Facebook’s Wall, forums, status updates and other features let you answer technical and other queries, post new product upgrades or offer a frequently-asked-questions section. Additionally, your fans can help each other out.

3. Go ‘tag’ crazy
Tagging is simply to identify a Facebook user in a photo or video, an action that triggers an update to the user‘s News Feeds. Tag your business and your customers in videos and photos as often as possible. Why? Tagged photos and videos, especially those tagged by your fans, have a higher likelihood of being seen by more people. If you decide to launch a Facebook promotion, try to find ways to integrate tagging into the plan.

4. Befriend Facebook group administrators

Search out influencers on Facebook and offer them specials, coupons and other perks they can offer to their Facebook groups. A status update, Wall post or message from a group’s administrator will return better results than a mass message to their members from you.

5. Add a well-placed ‘Like’ button to your website and newsletters
Don’t just throw a ‘Like’ button on your site, integrate it into the customer experience and surround it with a call to action. For example, place one near your mailing-list sign-up form. Users are more likely to click a ‘Like’ button while opting-in for a subscription. Test, track and adjust this tactic until you see results.


1. Let your Facebook Wall be the first thing newcomers to your page see
The company page Wall is usually busy with status updates and user comments. Instead, use Facebook’s page settings to set up a ‘welcome’ page (see ‘How do I change the default tab’). Make sure it inspires action. Perhaps you can post a short YouTube video about your company with a vanity URL to a big promotion website or design a custom background showing users how to sign up for your mailing list.

2. Turn off your user comments function
If you promote your brand online, odds are good that you’ll receive some negative feedback. Whether or not these comments are warranted, your responses and communication with these individuals will demonstrate your commitment to customer service.

3. Use the Facebook Events tab for RSVPs

If users register for events that you list on Facebook, you will not capture their data for your mailing list. Always ask registrants to sign up for events on your own site.

4. Send mass messages to your network
Most users will never even look at your messages. Should you be compelled to send a message, make sure it offers something of real value. Clearly state that value in the message subject line. Avoid general brand messages and announcements, or you’ll lose supporters.

5. Link Facebook Ads to your Facebook page
Targeted and compelling Facebook Ads may get you results. But link them to a page on your website that hosts information about the promotion and encourages users to take action in as few clicks as possible. Remember to push users from Facebook to your turf – a web page – where you control the content, environment and functionality. Doing so may provide a higher probability of converting leads into sales and acquiring consumer contact information. n

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Greg Fisher
Greg Fisher, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Management & Entrepreneurship Department at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He teaches courses on Strategy, Entrepreneurship, and Turnaround Management. He has a PhD in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle and an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He is also a visiting lecturer at GIBS.