Lots of people are still asking themselves is participating in social media worthwhile for a business. Are you in that camp? Have you been wondering why bother?
If you are, let me share with you 3 reasons for taking social media seriously and for moving ahead with a social media marketing strategy for your business.
3 Reasons For Bothering With Social Media
1. It's where your customers are hanging out, interacting, learning and determining whether you are worth doing business with.
2. It's an important part of how businesses get found online.
3. It's a powerful means for building relationships with customers.
That said, especially for a business, social media alone isn't enough. However, you don't want to ignore it. You need to integrate it into your overall business plan and develop a social media marketing strategy so what you do on social media supports your overall business objectives.
Let's explore each reason in more detail.
1. Social Media is where customers hang out, interacting, learning and determining whether you are worth doing business with.
Whether it's on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or a forum, or even contributing reviews on Amazon, people are hanging out on social networks. Consider it the virtual water cooler where you can get news, updates and professional tips.
There's nothing new to that; we're social beings. We now have social places to visit online for perspective and to share stories. As with the IRL (in real life) water cooler, if you don't hang out, you miss out.
For a business, this public, virtual water cool is an unprecedented opportunity to gain (and also exchange) insights and information in a setting far more realistic and credible than what used to only be available through focus groups.
It's also messier and a lot more visible, hence the need to pay attention.
To put this into perspective, here is what GE Capital Retail Bank discovered when it conducted its Second Annual Major Shopper Study:
"... More than 80 percent start their search process online from home – up 20 percent from last year – and spend an average of 79 days (depending on the category, between 40 and 137 days) gathering information before making a major purchase."
They are doing so with the help of technology as the findings support:
Consumers say digital tools empower them to compare prices and find the best value.
Shoppers search for the following when they visit the retailer’s website (in order of importance): warranty information (66%); pricing (52%); specs/model information (51%); payment/financing information (47%); sales/discounts; availability; and shipping information.
Imagine the implications for your business given all of the research taking place online (also see Inbound Marketing and ZMOT: Perfect Together?). If you aren't participating or paying attention, your business misses out. Not to mention that your reputation is definitely at risk!
As Clara Shih and Lisa Shalett write in The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout, published on the HBR Blog Network,
"People are talking about you, your company and your brand, and your stakeholders expect you to be paying attention in real time, especially when they have a customer service complaint or positive feedback to give. You decide whether to participate in this conversation or not, but at least you are aware of what is being said... If you don’t tell your story, others will tell it for you."
2. Social Media is an important part of how businesses get found online.
The same HBR Blog Network article cautions that when you aren't visible, your credibility suffers. It's the flip side of being absent from the water cooler (bolding is mine).
"The social Web is changing how people communicate and access information. ...People are looking you up. Not having a presence means you are not easily “findable” and perhaps leads people to question whether yours is a credible business. People are increasingly turning to social networks as the easiest way to get their questions answered. Potential buyers are going online to research products or services before they purchase them, or new contacts before they meet them. On average, buyers progress nearly 60% of the way through their purchase decision-making process before engaging with a sales representative, according to Corporate Executive Board (link is PDF). If people are looking for information about you or your business, what are they finding?"
These are critical risks. If you don't bother with social media, your business will suffer! Social profiles offer distinct benefits for getting found online:
"A social page or profile at its most basic level enables you to provide accurate and helpful information about what you or your company does to your intended audience. Additionally, social media pages typically appear with prominence in search results — without these online presences, relationship managers and organizations risk not being present in the search results when an interested prospect goes looking."
3. Social Media represents a powerful means for building relationships with customers.
Ultimately, the tools of social media enable powerful relationship building with customers. Imagine what the telephone made possible... Social media takes 'reaching out and touching someone' to a new level. As The Perils of Being a Social Media Holdout explains,
"Social media is perhaps best thought of as a set of new and innovative ways for businesses and customers to do what they have always done: build relationships, exchange information, read and write reviews, and leverage trusted networks of friends and experts."
For that reason alone you need to integrate social media into your overall business strategy.
Speaking of which, here are a few thoughts about building a social strategy from Q and A: What Your Social Strategy Needs to Have:
Be focused on how you can use the tools of social media to "support and amplify all of the other marketing" you are doing.
Be committed to "put(ting) down your megaphone and stop interrupting people with ... brand messaging monologues"
Be focused on how to, "As (you) engage with people in dialogues, ...earn their trust to ...build long-term meaningful relationships"
Be thinking how to "generate compelling content that’s relevant and timely enough that people will want to share it"
Remember, relevance matters to your customers, often in real-time. The stronger the relationship with your customers, the easier it is to stay abreast of change and remain relevant.
Finally, now that you're convinced that you must bother with social media marketing, the best way to develop a social strategy is to,
"Start small. Chose the particular social network where you believe you can most effectively reach your audience and start providing relevant content your customers and prospective customers will find useful.
Social marketing isn’t about volume, it’s about relevance. When people find content relevant, they appreciate the information and are likely to become a fan or follower. At that point, brands can begin to engage them, and encourage them to participate in meaningful dialogues about what’s important to them — not what’s important to the brand. It’s essential to establish trust and listen during these dialogue, so one-to-one relationships can be developed over time, and brands can exceed customers’ expectations."
How do you plan to get started? Let me know.