Besides the fact that social media offers you the chance to hear what your customers have to say about your company, studies show that there are direct business benefits to having an online community.
How can you benefit from social media?
1. Increase brand awareness
Due to the public nature of most social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter and the sheer number of people globally using these platforms - social media offers the quickest way to promote your company and your brand. It also allows you to interact with the public directly and respond to issues directly which is one of the greatest benefits of social media. You can hear what people are saying and respond so it is a discussion rather than one way communication.
2. Building trust and credibility
When done right, social media can help build the trust of your customers and followers. Having an open and honest conversation about what is going well for your business and what isn't, combined with your willingness to make changes will without a doubt build the trust of your customers. Using your expertise and sharing good articles and content will further build your credibility as a leader in your industry.
3. Increase traffic to your website
If you have an engaging online community presence, with campaigns that can add value to your customers or get them talking, they will be inclined to click through to your site. And like most forms of online marketing, this traffic can be measured so you can see the effectiveness of your campaigns.
4. Improved SEO ranking
Likewise, when your social media presence is consistently engaging, your followers are more likely to publish a link to your website on their site or blog if they like a particular campaign or an article. These kind of inbound links are recognised by Google and will help your website rank higher in natural search results. So when anyone on Twitter either retweets your article or someone on Digg publishes your article as something they like, your website's SEO will benefit from it.
5. Low cost marketing tool
Compared to any other form of marketing or advertising, social media is a low cost and a high return medium. But don't forget that in order to do it effectively, there is time involved - which is will in turn cost your business. However, it trumps spending thousands of dollars that is required in print and radio advertising!
6. Customer support
One of the great benefits of social media is being able to improve your customer support, especially because of its immediate nature. This means that you can instantly tell people if there is a problem of some kind that your customers need to know about and also respond to any queries quickly. A great example of this is the way Heathrow Airport handled the huge influx of calls and queries through their customer support lines during the eruption of the Icelandic volcano. They had support staff dedicated to Twitter and Facebook who would frequently update the status of the flights and also responded to any queries. This proved to be a win-win situation for both passengers, who got frequent updates, and Heathrow, who was able manage the chaos a bit better. On a smaller scale, Orcon Internet also uses social media to update clients on any outages or issues and answer any queries.
7. Improved salesA social media marketing company called Syncapse surveyed 4,000 people who have joined the top 20 brands on Facebook page by 'liking' them and figured out exactly how valuable these fans are. The study ('The value of a Facebook fan: An Emperical Review') estimates that someone who has 'liked' a brand will spend an average of $71.84 more each year on their products or services compared to someone who has not 'liked' them on Facebook. Not to mention, every happy and engaged follower can also result in referrals.
A great Kiwi example of social media presence...
Zeald clients Louisa and Heidi started Belly Beyond in 2008 - a website that specialises in ergonomic baby carriers, nappy bags, maternity lingerie and a huge range of gifts and essentials for mums and babies. As part of establishing a great website and business, they turned to social media to improve their results further. Louisa says, "We are an online company and always saw social media as a way to communicate, market and listen to our customers. Once we started down the path of creating Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as blogging - we got the bug and there was simply no turning back!"
The results certainly speak for themselves - in Jan/Feb 2010 Belly Beyond averaged around 16,500 visits and 135,000 page views per month. Using campaigns that crossover Facebook, Twitter, Belly Beyond blog and the website, the traffic to their website increased 170% to around 30,000 visits per month and 230,000 page views!
After noticing how successful these campaigns were, in March Louisa and Heidi came up with an online Treasure Hunt promotion using social media and their website - this time round their website visits peaked at 34,000 visitors and had a massive 333,000 page views! The sales for the same period also went up by 180% so their social media presence is making a significant difference to their bottom line as well.
Belly Beyond's Facebook page has also become the second most effective tool in driving traffic to their website, second only to Google. Their blog features regularly in the third spot - which goes to show that using Facebook for targeted campaigns and the blog to provide good useful information has really helped bring in the results for Belly Beyond.
Louisa and Heidi have also launched their YouTube channel, Belly Beyond TV and are developing it further to draw traffic to their website using YouTube as a search engine.
Needless to say Louisa is a big supporter of social media for small to medium size businesses. "It’s a low cost way of getting your brand out there, perfect for small to medium businesses who have a strong identity and message. It is time consuming but we are an example that it can and does translate to traffic and to sales."
Make the most of social media nowEven with all the positive aspects of social media and all the great stories like Belly Beyond, the 2010 Business Monitor United States report shows that when it comes to small to medium size businesses, social media hasn't quite been utilised at its best. Only 24% of respondents from this study said that they've received sales leads from social media, and only 1% said that it was an actual factor for business growth.
Since this is an American study, it's safe to assume that New Zealand will be trailing by a year or so in terms of the results companies are producing using social media. Social media is something that is still relatively new and not every business is using it very well yet which is exactly why getting involved right now could give your business the edge.
It's up to you to make it happen for your business
When done right, social media can be a really valuable source to attract new customers and make sure that the customers you have right now stick around and recommend your services to others. A big part of this is taking part in the conversation and listening to what people are saying - ignoring this is lazy and will not help you with your sales.
It's also up to you to find the opportunities in the social media platform, information is there for the taking - for example, a customer that tweets about a poor experience or a woman that is talking about how she is finding event organisation stressful - if you are not listening carefully, all these messages are missed opportunities. For example in the case of the woman that is stressed out, all you have to say is: "is there anyway I can help?" That goes a long way in building a great relationship. And who knows, your business might be actually able to help her too!
As a small business owner, it's your responsibility to use these bits of information available publicly to build relationships, improve your customer service and improve your products.
Your size is a great advantage
There are a number of big brands that have adopted social media and done an amazing job of it like Starbucks for example. But their big size means that they cannot engage with every one that mentions them.
As a small business owner, you have the advantage of being able to respond to everyone that mentions you. Make sure you are always searching for your brand name on Twitter to see if anyone is saying anything about you.
So how do you get started?
Finding the best way to use social media for your company can seem like a daunting task - especially when you hear stories in the media about all these big companies doing big, amazing and creative things on Facebook and Twitter. But even the big guys sometimes fail to realise that the smallest of gestures can have a huge impact when it comes to social media.
As a first step, Louisa (from Belly Beyond) recommends signing up to Twitter with your company's name as the username as soon as possible, so that way you don't miss out on that particular username when you do decide to get started.
From here you can start simple - spend a bit of time listening. You want to know what people are saying about your company, about your competitors and about your industry. Go where they are pointing to and listen to the conversations that are happening - this will also help you learn the social media language.
Find out what others in your industry are doing. Don't be discouraged thinking I'm a builder or an engineer so how can I use social media? The best thing to do is to see what others are doing and work from there. Giapo is a small gelato shop in Queen Street. There are a number of gelato shops around and there is nothing different about Giapo's product but the owner has set himself apart by a mile simply by using social media very effectively. His core philosophy is enabling conversation. The owner will do anything to get people talking to him and between themselves. So whatever your industry, there is a way - you just need to look outside the box.
Take the plunge
Don't spend too long listening - take the plunge. Start by acknowledging anyone that mentions you. Say someone has been in your restaurant or talks about your products - just a simple "thank you for dropping by" or a "how can we make your experience even better?" can go a long way in building great relationships and repeat purchases. Not to mention, you'd be gathering valuable information along the way, which would normally be very difficult to achieve.
Identify your strategy
The effectiveness of your social media presence comes down to your business - how fast it's growing, how committed you are and also what your overall goals and objectives are. This is something that should be identified very early on and identified as your 'social media strategy'. Your strategy ultimately determines the success of your social media presence. Read our blog post on how to come up with a great social media strategy for your business.
Twitter is a powerful social networking service that allows anyone to say anything about anybody in 140 characters or less – this includes spaces and all punctuation. The short posts, known as 'tweets' and are delivered to other users that have signed up to receive them. By default the messages are published publicly, but this can be changed by the user if they choose to restrict delivery to just their community.
What is unique about Twitter?
Twitter is unique because the text-based posts can be no longer than 140 characters. It was designed this way to work with mobile phone text messages (SMS), so users can update anytime, from anywhere. In a way, Twitter is used in a similar manner to instant messengers like MSN, but the majority of posts are published to the world and recorded for anybody to find at a later date.
So where does Twitter fit in the social networking landscape?
The public nature of Twitter means that it is less about family, and unlike LinkedIn, it is used more by regular people than businesses. It is “what are you doing right now” type of messaging but people are using it for a lot more than that. Twitter has become the way to instantly share links, reviews and comments about experiences people are having so it has become an information hub on a wide range of topics.
People are also using Twitter to research information that will help them with their jobs and to discuss and review services and products before buying them. Twitter is also being used to voice concerns and complaints in a public forum about individuals or companies. On the other hand, it is also used to share and inform the community about good experiences.
In fact, Twitter has become so popular for sharing experiences that on any given day, the average number of Tweets on twitter.com is now around 3,000,000!
An alternative to Google?
This has become a valid question because Twitter, like a Google search listing, is a directory of links. Twitter listings are also short and sharp, which is very similar to a Google search results page. In fact each post is like a personalised Metatitle. But it is different in that the links are personally recommended by friends, colleagues or simply like minded individuals.
Twitter is being used as an alternate method for finding information on the Internet. Twitter posts are timely, relevant, of good quality and not influenced by businesses or advertising. It is honest and transparent.
So what does this mean for business?
Twitter allows you to interact with public while increasing brand awareness. The primary objective of this medium is to manage a company's brand online. In a way it has revolutionised branding. For the first time, it allows companies to respond and discuss issues openly with their customers and potential customers.
This also means that you can get instant access to what people are saying about your brand, people and service and use that information to manage your online reputation.
It can also increase traffic. Social networks have taken over email in terms of popularity.
You can write articles and announce them with Twitter. Since you only have 140 characters to post a message, there is no way you can tell a story. All you can do is post a link to the information and provide a summary as to what the information is about. Twitter works really well with a blog. If you would like to broadcast a message to your followers, use your blog (or dedicated area on your website) to convey the message and use Twitter to broadcast it.
Users opt in by 'following' to be your friend and see your messages. This means your messages will be targeted specifically to people who are interested in your product or service. It's a great way to make announcements to loyal customers.
Twitter is also a great way to network with others in your industry or others who share your interests.
Tips for effective Twittering
Twitter is about networking, learning, helping and most importantly listening. Be active in the community and participate in discussions.
To get started
- Build an account and link your profile to your company's website. That will give you more chances to get visits to your site. And where possible, introduce your work colleagues to other twitter users. Likewise, post a link to your Twitter profile from your website – Twitter is all about building a community.
- Add a clear picture of yourself and personalise your page. Remember this is about a personal brand, users want to know you and see you.
- Set yourself objectives. What are you trying to achieve from this tool? For example, do you want to promote your brand or find out what people are saying about your brand or simply build a network?
- Find people to follow. Start with your friends, family and your work colleagues. Then find New Zealand’s 'most powerful tweeters'.
- Use Twitter Search to listen for your name, your competitors' names and words that relate to your space. By listening you will know if you are achieving your objectives.
What to Tweet?
- If you want to use Twitter effectively, don't make the mistake of answering the question, “What are you doing?”. Instead answer the question, “What has your attention at the moment?”
- Point out interesting things in your space, not just things about you.
- Commenting on other users’ tweets, and retweeting what others have posted is a great way to build a community. Learn the Twitter lingo to find out how you can do this.
- Talk about what other people are doing as well. This may not directly help your business but shows that you are human and that you are interested in events that not just 'work-related'.
- Share links to neat things in your space so you are actively contributing to the Twitter community. Remember to make every Tweet count.
- If someone says something negative about you or your brand, don't get defensive or just apologise. Offer help and useful tips instead.
- Steer clear of becoming a 'salesperson' on Twitter as most people will see through this and tune out. You will have a lot more success being a 'real person'.
- Promote your colleagues and employees, not just your business. Social media is about people connecting with people and your followers want to know hear about human-related things.
- When promoting a blog post, ask a question or explain what’s coming next, instead of just dumping a link. And make it useful.
- Ask questions. Twitter is a fantastic way to get opinions.
- Follow interesting people. If you find someone who tweets interesting things, see who they follow, and follow them. You can always 'unfollow' someone if their Tweets are not relevant to you.
Make it efficient
- Remember you don’t have to read every tweet and you don’t have to reply to every tweet directed to you (try to reply to some, but don’t feel guilty). Twitter can be time consuming and if you spend all your time on Twitter, your employer will surely find out!
- Use direct messages for one on one conversations if you feel there’s no value to the entire Twitter community.
- Use third party clients like Tweetdeck and Twhirl, which make it a lot easier to manage Twitter.
- Learn quickly to use the URL shortening tools like TinyURL. It helps tidy up your tweets. If you use a third party client like Tweetdeck, the URLs can be automatically shortened.
- If someone says you’re using Twitter wrong, forget it. It’s an opt out system. They can unfollow if they don’t like what you're saying.
Things not to do
- Make sure that you’re avoiding overly repetitive tweets (or too many RT’s).
- Remember this is your personal brand. Avoid creating arguments and flaming users.
- Be very careful what you announce and who you are announcing it too. Check out this famous case of a girl who Tweeted before she started her new job.
Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is doing it. So what is social networking?
In simple terms, social networking is building an online community of people who share common interests or are interested in finding out about the interests of other people. Majority of social networking is done using the social media services available online for free.
And why should you care about the social media frenzy?*
- Because 2/3rds of the global internet population visit social networks
- Because visiting social sites is now the 4th most popular online activity – ahead of personal email
- Because time spent on social networks is growing at three times the overall internet rate
Still not convinced? Watch this short video on Social Media Revolution to help you understand the power of social media in the world today.
Common social media options
Twitter is a social networking device that allows users to send and read other users' updates, which are known as 'Tweets'. Tweets are typically short and sharp as they can only be up to 140 characters in length and most messages by default are published publicly. This service is widely used by businesses to launch campaigns and to increase brand awareness. Twitter is also great for posting reviews and comments so it can be used a powerful platform for improving customer satisfaction by being able to directly listen to what the customer is saying about your brand. To find out more about using this tool read our article on 'How to use Twitter effectively for your business'.
Facebook has become an extremely popular tool for individuals to connect with friends and family online and share personal information such as pictures, social events and birthdays. Facebook can also be used to connect with customers. Tips on how to use it for your business.
LinkedIn is a professional tool used by businesses to network online. Individuals can use it to build an online portfolio by listing their work experience and gathering references so companies can use it as a tool to hire staff. But it is really only used by businesses and does not reach customers.
Then there is Bebo which is like Facebook but largely used by teenagers to share gossip and personal information.
Myspace was one of the first social networking sites, though over time it has lost a lot of its popularity to Facebook. It is still being used by musicians as a way to promote their albums and concerts.
Youtube and Flickr are designed for sharing images and video. They offer free space where users can put up holiday pictures or videos of things they are interested in. This medium is less about the conversation and dialogue.
Delicious was designed as a simple tool that allows users to categorise and save their favourite web links to one centralised online space and share them with other like minded people around the world.
*(Stats taken from Nielson, Global Faces & Networked Places, 2009)