Over the last few years, technology has made businesses re-evaluate how to market with current customers and reach potential customers. Social media has become a very valuable and important part of many businesses. It has been said, "It's no longer an option to err on the side of caution and not get involved [with social media]. Your clients expect, and need you, to take the lead."1 But what is Social Media? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines social media as:
"Forms of electronic communication (as Websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content."
Marketing with social media is different than traditional marketing methods because customers must choose to interact with you. With traditional marketing, a business sends mailings and emails, advertising to both current and potential customers, information about its products or services. To reach customers with social media, a business cannot simply push out its promotional materials to an audience. The use of social media is all about collaborative interactions. You want to not only attract users, but also keep them engaged so they continue to follow your business, comment about the information on your social media page and spread the word about you.
There are many benefits of implementing social media into your marketing strategy. One of the biggest benefits is its low cost. Most of the social media platforms are free to not only join, but also to interact with people. Social media is also basically unlimited in scope and reach. It allows your business to cater to a large audience all at once. It is especially beneficial if your business wants or needs to disseminate information in real time. Press releases and other types of communication take time. A post on a social media platform is broadcasted immediately. This allows a company to be proactive if necessary and quickly respond to complaints. Another benefit of social media is that it nurtures brand development and loyalty. By giving people the conscious decision to follow and regularly interact with the company, people begin to feel an emotional connection to the company. It shows people the company cares about what they think and breeds trust. While there are many other benefits of using social media to market the last biggest benefit is it allows a company to reach more potential customers than traditional marketing methods. You never know when a follower will recommend or direct others to your social media page. How often have you heard the phrase, "That just went viral." All it takes is one person to share, like, retweet, or comment upon something your company has posted before more and more people are doing the same.
Despite its many benefits, the use of social media to market is not without its faults. The biggest fault is that social media is extremely time consuming. If your business wants positive results from using social media, you must be willing to put the time and effort into regularly interacting with your audience. You must constantly churn out fresh content that is relevant and interesting to keep your audience engaged. Not only does this take time, if your business is planning on handling the maintenance of the social media page in-house then it also can consume your talent. The more time an employee has to put into updating your page the less time their talents can be used elsewhere.
As beneficial as the virility of Social Media can be, it can also be detrimental. Social media opens a company to greater risk for negative criticism being posted by unhappy customers, disgruntled former employees, and competitors seeking to cut out their competition. It is how you respond to the criticism that will make all the difference in garnering the trust and loyalty in your business. Further, using social media as a marketing tool means you will lose some control over your marketing efforts. Anything you publish on your page is up for grabs for use by others including your competitors. Finally, there are no overnight rewards from using social media. You must be in it for the long haul, because it takes time to garner lasting relationships. All of these faults speak more to gaps in understanding, strategy and analysis than the medium itself.2 To be successful, a business must properly plan and strategize before jumping into creating and using a social media platform. By carefully preparing policies and procedures prior to launching a presence in the social media realm, can help a business to manage its risk.
A business must first select the Social Media platform that will work best for it. There are numerous options out there, the most popular of which are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs.3 With Facebook you create an online profile that allows you to post as much as much as you would like. There is no limitation on the number of characters or number of times you post new content. It allows users to include pictures, events, status updates and other information about the organization. It has many positive features including the ability to include location, contact information and a calendar of events on the page. There is a specialized setup for businesses, which allows a user to "like" your page. Facebook also gives access to analytics about your page so you can see how often a specific post was viewed. If you have multiple personnel to manage your page, Facebook may be right for you as the creator can set up individual log-ins for several contributors.
Twitter on the other hand, allows users to post short messages called "tweets." There is a 140 character limitation to each message, but it does allow for the attachment of pictures, documents and videos. You have the ability to protect your "tweets" if you choose to by requiring your approval of a follower. There is also the option to leave your “tweets” open for anyone to see. It is perfect if you only want to deliver short concise messages, but it requires more time than some of the other platforms since you'll need to check regularly and "tweet" often. Twitter is organized so that the most recent "tweet" received by a user is at the top, so to keep your "tweets" at the forefront you'll need to update frequently.
LinkedIn was specifically developed for the business world. You can display your products/services, post articles, employees can link to your page and people can recommend your page. It is the most professional platform available. Since many users list both current and previous companies they have worked for, the number of followers and recommendations can be endless. Businesses can interact with employees and other contacts it chooses to link with. One of caveats is the format which makes it difficult to market to new customers, but it does provide a way for current clients to keep an eye on your page.
Blogs provide a space for you to write long, well written, full posts. You can share news or plans about the business, post informative articles in your area of expertise, or basically anything else you want. There are many different blog sites to choose from. The creator has complete freedom to design the page and post as much as they want. To customize the page you should have some IT abilities, otherwise the sites give novices several different themes to choose from when creating the page. Your page can be designed to be more personable allowing you to disseminate your information in an informal and unintimidating way. Although followers can comment and provide feedback about what you post there is no way to create an open dialog.
As you can see, each platform has its own unique qualities. You should select the platform(s) that will work the best for your business. What will work for you will depend upon what you want to accomplish with social media, how you want to communicate with others and how much time and resources you want to dedicate to it. Once you determine your platform, make sure you create a schedule for updating it, keep followers engaged by being informative and make it interactive. Remember that social media is not meant to be a direct way to push out promotional materials. "The power of social media marketing comes from the relationships you develop with your online audience."4 If you take the time to plan, social media can add real value to your business.