[The ‘A Look At’ series is intended for businesses and startups looking to improve their communication & visibility.]
It can be difficult to get a good understanding of social media. Managing a business is already a full time commitment with all the normal day-to-day requirements, so it’s hard to justify adding an extra layer of responsibilities with social media. If you are going to do it at all, you have to do it right: it becomes the voice of your business.
What is at the heart of social media?
Its more than just Facebook and Twitter! The term has come to explain how people interact and what they engage with when they are online. According to the latest statistics, of the 7.2 Billion people in the world, 3 Billion are online, and 2 Billion are active on some form of social media. Think about that: out of every 7 people on the planet, 2 are on social media!
When someone goes online, they do more than just check their emails, or browse the Internet. They go online to be part of a digital community. Interests depend on each personality- there are communities based on anything from food and shopping, to tech products and showing off luxury lifestyle. What is at the core of each community is that like-minded people come together to share their passion, tips and experiences.
How does this all work for a business?
Well, being social creatures, we place great importance on people’s opinions: especially on those whom we respect or aim to emulate. Social media allows us to see what people in our network think, value, like, respect. It gives us exposure to new products, businesses and services that have been ‘tried, tested and approved’ by someone you know. This gives it much more credibility that if we see an advert or promotion, and we trust the feedback much more.
So for example; lets say you are starting out your business as an artisan chocolatier. You have an incredible product, but limited budget to make a big communications impact. What are you going to do? To take out a traditional advert in a magazine, or newspaper, is a considerable budget for limited guaranteed exposure to your target market.
Lets see how social media can work for you:
You already know your chocolate is a popular amongst those that have tried it. Even if it’s just the beginning, you have advocates that believe in your product. When they tell their network on Facebook (or any other platform) about the lovely chocolates they just tasted, or post a photo on Instagram showing your nice branding, those in their network will learn about your business. The important ‘added value’ to this is that your chocolates have been ‘approved’, so as a browser, I will know that these chocolates are worth checking out. I will look for the Facebook page or Instagram profile which will point me to the website where I can learn more about you.
If you have a friendly and active community, I’m going to stick around. Maybe I’m not in the market for your product right now, but I like the feeling of your business, and I want to remember it in the future.
Your community grows organically. If you share content that I like, my network will learn about you, and the ripples start travelling further. And so the targeted growth continues!
However: a side note!
All too often, businesses set up social media accounts and realize it’s a commitment they aren’t ready to meet. But they think, since the Facebook page is already up, they might as well keep it active…”because everyone else is doing it”.
This tends to backfire because our use and expectations of Social Media evolve all the time. If you are not up to date with these expectations, then it gives a bad image to your potential customers.
For example, it is now becoming very common to communicate any customer service questions via Facebook or Twitter. If you are active on these platforms, you potential customers are going to expect you to reply.
Recently, we contacted the regional support of an international company. Their Facebook page was relatively active at a local level. The information we wanted about their product was not on their website, so we asked them through their Facebook page. It took 2 weeks for them to reply! In the meantime, not having heard from them, we found someone else to provide the product to the spec we wanted- who did give us a reply the same day.
One business looses a customer, another one gains one. Yes, that is the nature of a market, but Social Media accelerates the process.
The moral of this story is the following: if you are going to do something, commit to it, and do it properly. The benefits are there.
What is the hardest part of Social Media? To earn your customer’s loyalty!
Until a couple of years ago, it was much easier to grow a community. Social Media was relatively new, it was in the middle of its explosive growth, and people signed up fast, supported businesses…
Now there is a general fatigue. People switch off from the commercial elements of social media.
Millenials, Generations X and Y, are all becoming much more demanding as to what they interact with. Getting a “like” or a “follower” is hard work…
The reality about how we have evolved digitally is that we now expect to be engaged as consumers first. We expect businesses to earn our loyalty.
Looking on the bright side
Businesses are now starting to work very hard to become, in their own way, more relevant to customers. And its working- the quality of interaction has increased, as has the quality of service and customer attention. The businesses willing to go that extra distance are the ones that will ultimately come out on top.
The chocolate example works in every industry- from luxury travel (where we expect a business to create the desire and then offer the solution) to education services and everything in between.
Not being on SM tells me (as a consumer) that you are not investing in me as a potential customer.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Yelp- these are just a few of the tools that people use to connect with their community and network. Over time, new ones start out, old ones fade away, but the psychology that powers the use of these networks stays consistent: we like to give our business to companies that value us as customers.
Social Media is a very powerful tool: it gives us access to trusting networks which leads to much more efficient and successful communication.