Social Media: Marketing Considerations for Small Business
Social media marketing, will it deliver results for my business?
It’s clear that social media has grown dramatically over the last few years and that with more than 800 million active users, the number of Facebook users is easily more than twice the size of the entire population of the United States!
Its growth has been astronomical and today, millions of people are posting more personal and business information online than ever before. It’s happening at lightning speed with thousands of posts, tweets and uploads occurring every hour.
Recent research conducted by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA) commissioned by Sensis Pty Ltd (May 2011, p. 10) indicates, that “62% of Australian Internet users use a variety of social media sites, with many visiting every day and most at least a few times a week.” It’s no surprise that with the millions of prospective customers from all over the world using these sites, every day, that so many businesses have decided to include social media marketing into their marketing mix. However it also important to get an understanding of how these sites are being used and what’s involved in maintaining or resourcing your business presence on these sites. Your online footprint can stick around for a long time so don’t underestimate how this can affect the perception of your brand in the market place. Spend some time upfront thinking about whether social media is right for your business.
1. Seek first to understand – It is very important that you understand the fundamentals of how is social media actually works and how it’s being used. What are people and businesses doing with social media? What gets them results? Some of you may be thinking, how do I do this? Perhaps you could consider trying it out for yourself by setting up a personal account, then testing some of the features, or get a trusted friend to show you their account and guide you through. Alternatively there are so many resources and ‘how to’ items online about social media, that you could run a search on Google or on YouTube on a particular topic of interest and watch the video tutorials to get informed.
2. Understand your purpose – What is your purpose is for using social media? What do you hope to achieve for your business by using it? It’s really important that you identify your purpose for getting involved in social media (or any other marketing activity for that matter). You need to work out why you are taking part. What do you expect to achieve? Do you simply want to build brand awareness, engage with your customers or identify new sales opportunities? Remember to be realistic about what you believe you will be able to achieve.
3. If you decide to engage in social media, which sites are best for you? – With the plethora of social media sites available, which ones are best for your business? Think about where your target audience would socialize online, and think about the amount of time and resources you would realistically be able to commit to maintaining and administering your site presence. Which ones are right for you? You might find that some are a better fit than others.
4. Quality Content – If you decide that social media is right for your business, carefully consider the amount and quality of information you want to share in the online sphere. Remember it will probably stay there for a long time, so you need to make sure it accurate and reliable information that is valuable to your target audience. It has to be relevant, otherwise people will not read it.
There are a host of reasons for engaging in the social media community including:
It’s cost-effective. Many accounts on various social media sites are free to set up.
Huge global audience.
Enables you to receive feedback in real-time and communicate with customers in real-time.
Provides your business with an additional marketing channel, to increase the awareness of your product, brand or organisation.
However social media does present some obstacles for businesses that need to be measured up:
Time and Resources – you must be willing to devote the time needed to come up with fresh new content. So it is important to consider whether you have the time and the resources to effectively manage your social media presence.
Handing over brand control – You hand over some of the control of your marketing efforts and effectively your brand to your target audience. They will have the ability to comment on posts or other content and you need to be prepared for both positive and negative comments. However even if you are not administering a company Facebook page, it’s important to keep in mind that there is nothing to stop customers from posting comments on their own blogs or other public forums about your products and services.
Measuring ROI – The introduction of web tracking and analytics tools also brought with it the ability to more easily measure the success of certain online marketing and advertising campaigns. However the nature of social media means that you might not always be able to see the results of your campaign right away. Your social media efforts might allow your consumers to ask more questions or further engage with your brand or product, but like most other relationship building activities, it takes time to build brand loyalty and repeat sales, it is likely that your social media activities will not have an immediate impact on sales that can be easily measured, there may be a lag.
Social media, how is it being used?
When it comes to consumer adoption, the growth of social networking sites has been exponential, however as more research is being done regarding site usage and consumer behaviour, we begin to gain greater insights into the types of tasks and transactions people engage in when visiting social media sites. Interestingly, the top three reasons identified in the Sensis Social Media Report, for using a social networking site were:
1. To catch up with friends and family.
2. To share photographs and videos.
3. To co-ordinate parties and other shared activities.
The results of the Sensis Social Media report, Sensis Pty Ltd (May 2011, p. 18) were based on the responses of 490 telephone respondents located in Australia who identified themselves as using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As we can see from these survey results, people are still predominately using many of these sites for the fundamental reason that they were created. I.e. To “socially” interact with their network of family, friends, or peer group. I am not suggesting that we ignore the fact that 15% of the respondents did indicate that they use social networking sites to find out about particular brands or businesses, or that there are some excellent case studies where successful social media campaigns have been launched using Facebook or Twitter, however I think it is important for us to keep things in perspective and understand that just like traditional types of marketing and advertising, social media marketing needs include the fundamental elements of any good campaign for it to be successful. We need to remember that many of the same rules apply online as they do offline.
Further research findings seem to suggest that it is still more typical for a consumer to look to a company website when making a purchasing decision, than on ‘fan pages’ and that a company website provides a more influential source of information. “It seems that only about a third of respondents admit that they are influenced in their purchasing decision by fan pages while almost half say they look to company websites instead.”
It seems social media is here to stay, and that the Web 2.0 revolution and the Internet will continue to evolve, shaping the way we communicate and do business. There are clear indicators that consumers are now much more empowered to use the online sphere to voice their concerns, preferences and needs. This makes it increasingly important for businesses to figure out ways to respond to these evolving customer relationships in order to capture these markets and opportunities.