Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, You Tube – sound familiar? Sure they do, because most people’s lives have been touched in some way by these social media-based platforms. It turns communication into an interactive experience, with the emphasis on interactive communication. This expressly excludes one-directional marketing traffic that “dumps” unsolicited offers on the public through traditional media.
But, is it for you? One thing I can guarantee is that social media is here to stay. Most businesses are considering how best to use this medium, particularly to better understand their customers while servicing their needs and wants.
The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services recently surveyed 2 100 companies, of which two thirds said they are currently using social media or have plans to use it. Many still feel social media is still an experiment, and they are trying to navigate their way through understanding how best to use the different channels, gauge their effectiveness and integrate social media into the overall marketing strategy.
But, without a carefully designed and implemented strategy, it can be as catastrophic as it is successful. This is the viral world and if not managed against a carefully planned and controlled strategy, things can go wrong fast.
Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Analytics evangelist, considers how you harness the power of social media and comments as follows, “Too many companies have not evolved from what I call ‘shout marketing’ – think TV, newspapers, magazine ads – to influence by initiating and participating in conversations with consumers,” he says. “There needs to a generational shift.”
As businesses, we need to use social media to engage our customers in conversations with us to better understand the opportunities for us to grow in a more targeted and scientific way. In the world of social media, shout marketing is not the correct approach.
Targeted value adding strategies
When people interact with the social media, the emphasis lies in the connection with other people, not businesses. You generally do not join Facebook to go shopping. So, when businesses approach social media, their strategy needs to be part of the business’s overall marketing strategy. If your social media strategy is to work, it has to identify an area in which your business can offer something tangible through which people can connect.
So, how is this practically accomplished? A large US based construction material supplier adopted a four channel approach:
- Twitter to get company news out to the market in short sharp releases, usually picked up by business news reporters.
- Linkedin is where the company sales people posted articles to share with colleagues and customers.
- Facebook to focus on all aspects of the corporate social responsibility initiatives and activities.
- A company blog was reserved for a direct exchange with customers.
What does this illustrate as far as social media is concerned? If your business has a clearly defined social media strategy that is designed to engage the customer while offering something in return, it is more likely to succeed. If your strategy does not add tangible value, why should the public engage it?
Once the business has identified the value added strategy, decisions have to be made around what the chosen value drivers are. While this can apply to almost any business, the most obvious opportunities exist within retail.
Retailers can take it to another level with social media hosted product forums, which create loyalty to the brand. This creates engagement in an offering, while binding the participation to the social media forum. For this to have longevity, the customer has to feel the value add in the process. In turn the customer shares their experience with others, allowing viral momentum to take over.
A practical illustration of this is where electronic vendors start a user group around a piece of technology (a camera, tablet, smartphone). This is often initiated off existing data and participants are invited to engage through Facebook or the like. Here they receive instruction on set up, usage, tips or expert advice, along with preferential service or pricing on product. The customer receives value and in exchange tells others about the service, leading to new customer acquisition.
Customers use these forums to communicate with each other and share ideas, while receiving the value the retailer offers.
Carefully chosen social media strategies identify the goals in advance of the implementation, these are the ones that succeed and grow.
Embracing the opportunity
This is still an area of great opportunity. Many businesses will have to either grow into social media or be forced in. This modality of customer acquisition has taken on proportions that cannot be ignored.
If your business does not have the skills to engage this opportunity, there are services available to assist without disrupting the current business model you are engaging.
Remember, while this is a new frontier, for those who have adopted it in a strategic way the benefits have been significant. It is one of those opportunities in business that no one can afford to ignore.