What is social media and how does it work?
Social media can be defined as ‘social software or technology used to promote conversation and interaction between people online’. In other words, it’s using internet based platforms to allow a business owner to spread the word about who they are and what they do.
It also allows customers and potential customers to talk to each other about you, your product or services, review their experience and possibly refer others to you.
When a person signs up to a particular social media platform they will establish an online network called ‘friends’. These friends can then send each other information, photos or videos which they can comment on, like or share with others.
As of February 2014 in Australia:
- 13 million Facebook users
- 12.5 million streams viewed on YouTube
- 2.5 million active Twitter accounts
- 3.7 million LinkedIn users
- 4.8 million Tumbler users
- 1.6 million active Instagram users
- over 1 billion Google searches for products and services every month.
Your customers could be talking about you whether you realise it or not. Can you afford not to join the conversation?
Social media for business
With many of us are now using social media to interact online, research products and services, share experiences and offer reviews, it has become an important platform for businesses to engage with customers, prospects and employees.
For customer interactions, businesses can use social media to engage with existing and potential customers, reinforce their message (brand), guide or influence opinion in the market place, provide product or service information, testimonials, specific offers and even direct customer service.
Benefits and opportunities
Every day millions of people log on to social media from either their computer or smartphone.
Social media sites allow users to post articles, website links, photos, videos and reviews to share and interact with each other.
This builds an online based community in which to engage on a more personal level as it is built on trust and common interest.
Successful social media marketing campaigns can have a ripple effect and can be one of the cheapest, fastest and most effective ways to spread the word when compared to traditional marketing avenues.
Here are just some of the benefits of using social media to market a business:
- Minimal set-up costs. Most platforms are free to sign-up and there is a multitude of training available online in its effective use. The only cost may be the time you invest in it.
- Large volumes of traffic that can potentially find out about your business.
- As social media sites and online communities are essentially built on trust, it is a fantastic way to build credibility in your brand. It allows for clear messages to be sent right to your customers, making it more visible.
- Great way to build up followers of your business. This is effectively like building-up a business client database, one of the key parameters when valuing a business.
- Your followers can become your greatest advertising asset. When people start to spread the word about who you are or what you do, there is no better form of advertising. When client satisfaction leads to referrals, it will result in greater lead generation and a potentially higher conversion rate.
- Real time feedback. Positive feedback may be able to be used as a testimonial. Negative feedback is also vitally important as it gives you the opportunity to deal with an issue in a timely and professional manner, plus this demonstrates that you care enough about your customers to listen to their complaint and deal with the issue. This is an excellent way to build credibility with your audience. Feedback also lets you know more about your customers, allowing you to fine tune your marketing efforts to have greater impact.
Which social media platform is right for me?
There are hundreds of different social media platforms available. The best way to decide which ones are right for your business is to create a social media strategy. This will not only assist in selecting which platform(s) you use, but will also assist in creating a strategy about what type of things to post and how often.
Social media is all about connecting with your audience on an authentic level. To do that, you have to intimately understand your current and potential customers.
Here is a list to help determine just who your customers are:
- Who would use your product or service?
- How old are they? Gender?
- Married, single or divorced? Do they have children?
- Where do they live?
- What is their level of education? What type of work do they do?
- What are their interests?
Research on just who your potential customers are, is a key part of developing your strategy. It gives you an insight into what your customers want, what their values are and how they gather information.
Next, define your message. Based on your target audience, what are the key messages that you want to communicate to your audience on a regular basis.
Now consider which social media platforms they prefer. Remember, social media is about your customers, not about you, so choose what your audience likes, not what you want to use.
Here is a list describing some of the key social media platforms that you may choose to use:
- Facebook – A social networking site for individuals and businesses. It is used to stay in touch with friends and keep up to date on events, topics, products and services.
- Twitter – Best described as a micro blogging site. Users send ‘tweets’ of up to 140 characters. It is perfect for making announcements as people who use it follow topics and people/businesses which deal in issues they care about.
- Blogs – They allow you to post articles, mostly self-written about topics and issues relevant to your business. They are also suited to gradually building your credibility in your chosen field. They are an easy way to drive traffic to your website, generate a following for your business and are also excellent for search engine optimisation (SEO).
- YouTube – A video sharing website where users can upload, share and view videos. It can be a powerful business tool to visually describe your product or service.
- LinkedIn – A social networking site particularly for professionals and business owners. The purpose of LinkedIn is to allow users to maintain a list of contact details of people they know and trust in business.
Tips and tricks on what to post
Once you have determined your target audience and decided on which social media platforms you will use, it is time to build your social media strategy and timeline.
Use a calendar to draw up a framework of days/times of when you intend to post.
Don’t worry if you are not sure if you’ll have time, concentrate on setting your posting structure.
Consider the messages and information that you think your audience would find interesting and relevant.
Remember, social media is about quality, not quantity.
Here is a list of some tips for using some of the key social media platforms:
- Secure your own Facebook address as soon as possible (e.g. facebook.com/yourbusinessname). You will need at least 25 ‘likes’ to get your own address.
- Make your posts fun and educational. If you find an interesting article that you would like to share, post it on your page. Remember to keep a good balance between sharing others information and creating good content yourself.
- Make sure you have a ‘like’ button on the homepage of your website that is easy to find and links to you Facebook business page. Better yet, consider a live Facebook feed on your website. This will also assist with search engine optimisation (SEO).
- If you ‘like’ similar pages to your own, you may see a flow on effect. As your name will start to get a broader reach. Comment on others posts as well as making your own as this will have a multiplying effect. The more quality activity the better.
- Use Facebook to promote an event you are hosting or are involved in. Or use it to promote specials, new release products or services. Remember that social media is all about connecting with others, not a hard sell!
- Use the search function to find out if your business is being spoken about or if your competitors are using this tool to market themselves.
- If you come across a conversation about a topic in your industry or something you are passionate about, join in. If you have meaningful things to add, people may start to follow you. You can also post links to your website to offer more information, an image or even a video.
- If you stumble on a topic of conversation that you think might be of interest to your potential customers, forward it on.
- A good way to research what potential customers are looking for is to ask them. Twitter is a great way to get people’s opinion and find out about their true interests.
- Start slow. Find some topics or people you are interested in and start by following them.
- Write using a combination of your passion and your expertise in your field. This will give your blog better credibility and still ensure it is fun and interesting to read.
- Interaction is key. Encourage others to comment and interact with them. The ultimate goal with social media is to have your customers telling others about you in a positive light.
- Keep it friendly and conversational. Using corporate style language quickly gets stale.
- Make sure you link or embed your blog onto your website. It will assist in driving traffic to your site and provide continual fresh data.
- Plan what you may write about for the next 6 – 12 months by coming up with a series of articles relevant to your product or service.
- It takes time to gather even a small number of followers. The key is interesting, informative content on a regular basis. You need to be patient and stick with it.
- Record any presentation you give and upload it.
- Create short videos of tips relating to your business.
- Put together a promotional video about your product or service.
- Add call to action prompts on your videos that drives traffic to your website.
- Make sure you add your business information including your logo, email address, website address and phone number.
- Monitor any comments your video gets and respond accordingly.
Dealing with negative comments
People will talk about your business whether you are aware of it or not.
Social media has created large numbers of online communities so it is very easy to spread the word – good or bad.
Use social media to interact and converse with your audience, but you don’t need to respond to every single comment.
Sometimes you may come across a negative comment.
It is easier for someone to type negative comments onto social media platforms than bring it up in real conversation, especially to you.
The non-physical aspect of social media reduces potential embarrassment on the part of the person making the comments.
You may find that often negative comments are blown out of proportion so it is important to monitor and respond to them quickly.
Here are some tips to deal with negative comments:
- Most importantly, don’t over react – carefully consider your response before replying.
- Most social media platforms allow for personal, non-public messaging. Ask the person who made the negative comments to contact you privately so that the issue can be dealt with privately if possible.
- If you have a quick and easy solution to a negative comment, post the response and action publicly. You will build credibility for dealing with an issue quickly and efficiently. In many cases, the person who originally made the negative comment will become an advocate.
- If an issue has been dealt with, ask the person who made the comment to delete it. This may not always happen, but by dealing with their comments to a satisfactory level (win-win), they are more likely to delete the comments or perhaps post a positive comment about the solution.
How to stop social media from taking over
Social media can potentially give you a far greater reach than any other form of promotion for your business and because it is social in its nature, it is not a pressure sell.
But with so many platforms to choose from, it can easily take up too much of your time.
There are a number of ways that you can use social media effectively without spending all day every day posting, interacting and monitoring what is happening online.
As previously mentioned start by creating a schedule or timeline which shows the day and time that you wish to make a post.
If you have seasonal aspects to your business or know that you have new product releases throughout the year, this can easily be incorporated into a schedule.
It may also be worthwhile taking some time out to think about what type of topics you may wish to share and plot them on your calendar.
There are a range of internet based websites that can be used to schedule and monitor your social media activities.
There are programs that have been designed for you to set up what social media platforms you wish to use, allow you to schedule and enable you to monitor nearly all platforms at the same time.
Sites like this are free for a limited number of features but may attract a fee if you want to get the most out of them.
- Make sure you monitor your social media accounts regularly and respond within a reasonable timeframe. Social media is very much about current issues so responding to a post that is weeks old will not be effective.
- You don’t need to respond to every comment or thought you see. Judge which posts to respond to by how much engagement or conversation it will create. Remember quality, not quantity.
- If you have a smart phone, install your social media platforms as apps and place them all in one folder. Management programs can also be downloaded to your phone making for easy management on the go.
- Your smart phone is a great tool to create social media content. You can post directly from your phone to any social media platform, including photos or video. Some of the best social media content will be created from being in the right place at the right time!
- Make sure your social media profiles are complete and consistent. Use the same cover images and logo across all of your social media platforms. Complete the about sections and make sure you link other platforms and your website. This is usually just a case of entering your website address in the designated section of your profile.
- Use your website as the main hub of your marketing efforts. Make sure you have links to your various social media platforms easily accessible on the home page of your website. If you use a web developer, they should easily be able to embed a ‘button’ that can lead people to a social media page. If you have used a DIY website linking buttons will be available in the editing software.
- Don’t be afraid to jump in. If you are not confident about using social media or are unsure what type of topics to post, find businesses or topics that interest you and follow them first. You will soon spot trends from those who post successfully. The key is the number of people who like, reply or share the post.
Lastly, start small. You are far better to have people who engage and respond to your posts than who just see them. Consistent quality is the key.