While it often doesn’t sit comfortably with many old school business executives, social media is here to stay. It will certainly continue to evolve apace and the reality is that it is a movement that now touches almost everyone’s lives.
So what actually is “social media”? There are probably more definitions out there, than social media platforms, and indeed, even its definition is evolving as the technology and platforms also evolve. Here’s one definition of many:
“A category of sites, tools and platforms based on user participation and user-generated content. They include social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or My Space; social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us and Pintrest, social news sites like Digg or Simpy, and other sites that are centred on user interaction.” – www.Lazworld.com
The Social Media Movement is changing the dynamics of the Internet by creating layers and layers of connections in time, space and channel. It is making the online world more complex, more social … more human…
In Australia alone, there are almost 12 million Facebook accounts (52% of the population); 11 million Unique Visitors on YouTube; 2.5 million on LinkedIn, and almost 3 million Australian active Twitter accounts. Smartphone penetration in Australia is the second highest in the world.
So people are connected – inside and outside work. They are in the driver’s seat when it comes to relationships with brands and businesses. Societal changes are occurring in ways that could never have been imagined even 10 years ago. People interact with brands, services and organisations constantly. Both in real life and virtually. Friends recommending to friends, family to family and colleagues to colleagues.
Take banking for example, 63% of customers seek advice from friends, family or colleagues on their banking choices. And while only 20% source banking information through social media in Australia, with the global average being 57%, we can only expect this to explode in Australia in the coming 12-18 months.
Some recent statistics (HubSpot):
- Marketers who spent 6 hours a week or more using social media and engaging/sharing content on it saw 52% more leads than those who did not.
- Companies that use social media on average generate double the amount of leads per month than tradeshows or direct marketing.
- Social media conversion rates are 13% higher than average conversion rates.
- Both B2C & B2B companies are acquiring customers through Facebook and more than 1/3 of them say Facebook is critical or important to their business.
Most enlightened businesses want to get in the thick of it, the challenge of course is how they enter and engage in that connection and conversation with their customers in ways that they have never previously done. Gone are the days of businesses feeding content to passive customers. To successfully harness the potential of social media, businesses need to design experiences that deliver tangible value in return for customers’ time, attention, endorsement and data.
With such a huge percentage of daily time consumption being accounted for on social networking sites, it would be ignorant for businesses not to use these platforms to catch up with their target audiences in these spaces. Social media and Inbound Marketing provides a direct link to followers of a brand and prospective customers, and while it is not inherently a business-transaction medium, social networking sites need to be used in the way their name implies: for interacting with others in order to build relationships and form communities.
Companies of all sizes will need to transform their business and existing infrastructure, and reverse engineer the impact of business objectives and metrics,” predicts prominent thought leader of new media, Brian Solis. “Businesses will have to embrace all of the disruptive elements, such as mobile and social technology, in a new, cohesive organisation that is focused outward and inward.”
So what are some of the key guidelines to the social media game for businesses?
- Post regular updates on what’s happening in your business or brand. Don’t disappear for huge stretches of time – your followers might just forget about you completely. Keep the content fresh and engaging.
- Be transparent and authentic in your communication. If you do the hard sell – you will lose trust and respect – trust is the digital currency.
- Engage with people who take the time to interact with you (whether positive or negative), and use it as a way to build relationships.
- Respond quickly (within 24 hours). About 70% of questions companies receive on social media never receive a response, so if handled properly, you’ll be surprised what is stimulated – including better processes, product development and a real-time, direct dialogue with customers.
- Actively build your brand’s personality in line with your company values, before engaging.
- Share a variety of content. Use different social media sites for their strengths; post pictures and videos, share interesting links, and find out what others have to say about them.
Be knowledgeable and up-to-date with issues around your industry. Be a thought-leader in your field.
- Keep across social media etiquette. Treat your customers as you would like to be treated. It’s a very quick way to lose your reputation by breaking the rules and making social media blunders.
And finally, if you don’t understand this fundamental shift or the rules of engagement yourself, surround yourself with those who do and will act in your company’s (and most importantly your customers’) best interests.