The term “social media” has taken on epic proportions in the business world. Reminiscent of land grabs in the wild west, many feel that they must do something, anything using social media if they are to avoid being left behind. All too often, businesses decide to simply start posting once in a while without any sort of clarity as to what they hope to achieve. When nothing comes of it after a month or two, they get frustrated and decide it’s a waste of time and money.
But, the ways in which organizations can leverage the power of social channels are as varied as the businesses themselves. Social media is not the answer to anything in and of itself, it is the use of social media to achieve a purpose that provides value.
As a digital marketing professional, managing social media often falls under my job description, but when someone says they want to use social media for their business, the first question that comes to mind is “Why? What does that mean to you?” Below are examples of some of the many uses for social media in business:
Customers are increasingly using social channels to air concerns about businesses. Why? Because addressing a company publicly can be the quickest and most rewarding way to get its attention. Truly social companies embrace this, knowing that even angry customers can result in a positive impression online if their concern is handled with grace.
Social companies use tools to listen for mentions of their organization and products wherever they appear online (social channels, review sites, forums, etc.) so that they can respond quickly. These companies are readily accessible to address concerns, provide service and to right wrongs in real-time – showing that they are current and attentive to their customers. Done properly, providing customer service through social channels can quickly set an organization apart from its competitors.
This is a concept that has many definitions and it is often used interchangeably with “social media management.” It is essentially a hybrid of marketing and customer service. Community management involves proactively building a rapport with your current and potential customers so that you can gain a deep understanding and responsiveness to them as an organization. Community managers are typically expected to act as customer advocates to the organization and vice versa.
This type of activity within organizations is not new and it certainly is not limited to social media. Effective community management involves engagement with customers both online and off. But, social media has given the concept a fresh twist as it has created many new opportunities for engaging with an organization’s community. With social media, this might mean establishing or joining chat sessions on Twitter or hangouts on Google+. It could also involve participating in relevant groups or events on Facebook and LinkedIn in addition to interacting with your client base one-to-one.
The internet has changed the way customers make purchasing decisions. They perform their own research online and have little patience for smoke and mirrors. Social media is an opportunity for organizations to step outside the boundaries of their own websites, meet their customers wherever they are online and communicate that they are worthy of their business.
Marketing is responsible for establishing your brand’s message and communicating it to your target audience through whatever materials and channels resonate for them. For this reason, social media is often viewed as a marketing function.
Social media can be used for many marketing activities including:
- communicating your organization’s values, knowledge and credibility
- establishing brand recognition
- creating lead generation campaigns
- public relations
- building partnerships
- competitive intelligence
- market research
- event promotion
- driving traffic online (to your website, review sites, webinar registration, etc.)
- establishing relationships with industry influencers
The methods and channels that your organization will use to perform these activities will vary dramatically based on your industry. So do your research, know where your customers hang out and focus your efforts accordingly.
Personal branding describes the process of marketing an individual as knowledgeable and respected in their field. This can be done through both online and offline activities, but since it is now common to “Google” the people you intend to do business with, career minded individuals have grown keenly aware of the impact of their digital identities.
Although typically perceived as a career building activity, personal branding is also an opportunity for organizations to shine. For instance, any company that provides value by offering the expertise of their personnel would benefit from employees with strong personal brands. Consultancy firms, agencies or any company that offers a specialized service would be good examples of this. Organizations that offer products can also leverage personal branding by showcasing their company values through key employees or the words of their top executives.
An additional benefit of encouraging employees to nurture their personal brands is that companies show that they value and trust their work force. This creates happier employees and helps to attract top talent. Your employees will engage in social in one form or another. Recognizing that fact and working with it rather than against it will be helpful to your organization in the long run.
Not to be confused with marketing, which is typically aimed a wider audience, social selling describes the use of social channels to nurture relationships with individual prospects toward the goal of closing a sale. Social selling is all about being where your customers are and following up on leads in an efficient, yet respectful way. It allows sales people to stay in front of prospects by offering useful information rather than going for the hard sell.
There are many who try to use social as a hard selling tool, but in the social media community this is considered bad manners. The general rule of thumb is to treat social like you would a networking event – introduce yourself, get to know people and build relationships before asking for the sale.
As you can see, the possibilities for the use of social media in business are endless and I certainly have not covered them all. It is no wonder that many find the concept of embarking on this endeavor a bit daunting. I often feel that when organizations say they want to use “social media” what they really mean is “I need to improve my digital footprint” which is more about your online image overall. I will plan to elaborate on this in a future blog post because the use of social channels is just one piece of this puzzle.
Social media is sometimes viewed as a “young person’s game” and treated as a side project that can be assigned to recent grads or summer interns. I understand where this mindset comes from, but I worry for organizations that take this approach. While our youth have the advantage of being raised on social media, this doesn’t mean they have the skills required to manage your organization’s public image. Be mindful in your approach to social media. Hire people who have the background required to engage with your public daily and to establish your organization as knowledgeable, credible and trustworthy in your field.
In the end the way you choose to leverage social media will be determined by your organization’s goals and objectives and how you wish to be perceived as a brand. If you want to experiment, choose one or two channels to focus on and start posting information that is meaningful and relevant to your target audience. Keep in mind that people participate in social channels to be heard, entertained and to build connections so appeal to your followers on a human level. Avoid the hard sell, but weave in opportunities for your followers to depart from social and click-through to your website where you can strengthen those relationships. Start small and grow from there.
How do you use social media for your business?