As a small business social media strategist, I'm very happy to see so many companies finally beginning to recognize the need to invest some of their marketing dollars into social media. I'm even happier to see how many of them are willing and able to dedicate some internal staff to the matter. On the other hand, I'm finding that many of these companies have absolutely no idea WHY they need a social media strategy. They just feel the pressure to get involved and hope something will come from it.
Unfortunately, that's no way to build a strategy. What good does it do to invest time and money into a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or any other number of social media outlets if you have no goals, no measurement and quite frankly, no idea why you're there.
What companies need to do is embrace the benefits of social media while very carefully thinking through the goals of their outreach efforts. Different goals will require different strategies. Taking a shotgun approach of simply trying to "get out there" will rarely result in a solid payoff. It's far better to sit down and carefully consider what your company's goals are and to build backward to create a strategy that's most likely to meet those goals.
Here are four key reasons why your company needs to consider planning and launching a social media campaign.
Reason #1: Social Media Gives You Unprecedented Ability to Listen to Your Customers
For companies that don't already have some type of social media strategy in place, this is usually the best place to start. While it takes a little bit of common sense and guidance to create an active and vocal outreach plan that will deliver results, pretty much anyone is capable of listening to the existing conversation.
The goal here is threefold.
Basically, companies need to view social media as a sort of endless focus group they can tap at any point in time. For companies that invest in listening and really sit down to consider how this information impacts them, there's amazingly valuable information available. Using this information to impact all forms of marketing can make this specific strategy perfect for companies who don't have time to invest in a social media voice, but who want to reap some of the benefits.
Reason #2: Social Media Gives You the Chance to Build or Introduce a Brand
Sometimes, the entire goal of a social media strategy is to create awareness about a new product, a service or a brand. Consumers are heading online in droves to have conversations and thanks to the explosion of interest in microblogging, social networks and blogs, they're talking about more topics and reaching more people than ever before.
Getting a customer to talk about your product used to mean they mentioned it to a handful of friends or co-workers. These days getting them to talk about it might mean they share it with hundreds of friends on Facebook, thousands of contacts on Twitter or even tens or hundreds of thousands of readers on a blog. That's a massive amount of potential exposure.
Let's take a look at three different ways of approaching this one:
Reason #3: Social Media Gives You a Unique Way to Gather Feedback
Another excellent reason to turn to social media is the ability to gather feedback from your target audience. While this may sound similar to the concept of listening to the conversation, there's a strong difference in the two goals. Listening is focused purely on listening to the existing conversation without trying to influence it's direction. Using social media as a feedback channel is all about actively soliciting input, ideas and even complaints about your products or services.
The thing to remember with this type of social media strategy is that it takes some serious investment. You can't just show up on a popular social media channel and ask people to tell you what they think. You have make a heavy investment into building relationships first.
There are several different ways to do this:
Reason #4: Social Media Gives You the Chance to Demonstrate Personality
One of the single greatest advantages the Internet and social media has given small business owners is the ability to once again go head to head with their big box counterparts. A decade ago, this was because web sites gave no indication of business size. The small mom and pop shop could have a site that looked just as good, was priced just as good and carried just as much inventory as a company like Sears or Walmart. These days, smart small businesses are using social media not only as an equalizer, but as a competitive advantage.
You don't have to look far to find a story of a consumer who feels unappreciated or ignored by a larger brand who has made them unhappy. No one likes to sit on hold for 2 hours trying to lodge a complaint or have a product replaced. Smaller brands who sell the same product at the same price but actually answer the telephone have the chance to differentiate themselves and bring in loads of new customers. Beyond that, small companies who establish a voice via their blog or social media outlets have the chance to build credibility by building relationships directly with consumers.
Here are a handful of ways to use social media to do just that:
To be honest, there are dozens...maybe even hundreds of reasons to get involved with social media. These are just some of the strongest. What it all boils down to is this; your customers are online and they are using social media to communicate. If you aren't, you're business is missing opportunities. No one says you have to master every use of social media all at once, but you're doing yourself (and your bottom line) a disservice if you don't at least give some thought toward creeping into the social media space to do a little listening.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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