Social media has come a long way in the last ten years. Of course, it’s common knowledge that the digital world travels at light speeds and anything online that’s a few years old is seen to be positively ancient by offline standards, but there are few other places where this trend is so pronounced.
Just ten years ago Facebook was starting to take its first steps into existence. Back then it was limited only to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s fellow Harvard students, but was soon expanded to other universities across America, then to anyone on earth who claimed to be 13 years or older and who didn’t find the path blocked by their government.
Facebook came a year after LinkedIn and MySpace, but pre-dated Twitter by two years.
Whilst MySpace’s stock has since plummeted, the others have gone from strength to strength. Facebook now has more than 1.25 billion users, whilst Twitter can boast around 650 million and LinkedIn; 277 million.
These mind-boggling figures don’t just provide good news for the founders and shareholders of these sites, of course. They are also positive for brands and marketers alike, who see this vast, engaged network as a rich vein of opportunity for promotion. Recent successes have even led businesses that wouldn’t ordinarily have turned to the social market to give it a whirl. Now, it’s not just tech firms or retailers using social media, but B2B companies, official bodies and a great deal more.
These figures are all well and good, but what can businesses actually do in the real world to use social media for their own promotion? Thankfully, there are plenty of options.
Build an audience
All businesses will need a touch-point with their customers, clients or partners. Existing in a vacuum simply isn’t an option, so the channels of communication must be kept open and accessible at all times. One simple and effective way of doing this is to use a network for which the majority of people have already signed up.
Creating and cultivating this audience is easy and can be done in a number of different ways. On Facebook, for example, Business Pages can be created where customers (both existing and prospective) can gather to share information. This will not only boost brand reach, but also provide a chance for engagement.
Twitter users, meanwhile, can set up a business page for users to follow, who can then interact whenever they want to share something or elicit a response.
Answer the critics
Nobody wants to read negative opinions of their business online. When hidden behind a screen and internet connection, people can be scathing and often use terms they may otherwise avoid in a face-to-face scenario. This ferocity will only make any negative comments even less appealing to read for businesses, but the worst thing to do is avoid them entirely.
A much better option is to be more proactive and giving people a space online to vent will offer numerous benefits. Not only will it allow the company in question to offer a response and address the issue, it will also ensure few comments slip under the radar.
This is because, where online complaints are concerned, the most well-received are those where a business has addressed the issue and sought to rectify it. Simply ignoring what people have to say will paint a business as one which cares little and does even less. With the magnitude of the online workplace, however, finding then responding to each issue can be a mammoth task all in itself, so providing a small patch of land online for people to raise issues will ensure they don’t slip by unnoticed.
All of the above has detailed some of the “softer” benefits of social media marketing. It’s not all about the intangibles of reach, relationship and awareness, though. Instead, brands are also offered the chance to advertise across social networks, then see in real, numeric terms just how well the campaign has done.
Facebook in particular has a strong advertising platform, which it has honed over the years. From its breakthrough in 2007 when Microsoft added support, the Facebook ad marketplace has grown from strength to strength, in the process becoming a firm contender against Google’s widely-touted Analytics platform. Now, users are able to view just how many clicks their ads have generated, how much each of these cost and even the demographics of those who clicked (such as gender, age and so on).
These can then be used in a self-serving fashion – illustrating the markets for which a campaign is achieving the greatest success, which can then influence future ad roll-outs.
Whilst Facebook is unlikely to enter the world of online retail (prior forays into this territory have proved unsuccessful), it still provides a valuable way of getting people to navigate through to a business website. This means that even though businesses aren’t able to sell their goods directly on social networks, the opportunity is there to push users from the social network and onto a dedicated site, where the sale can be made.
This doesn’t start and end with posting a hyperlink on social networks, of course, as there are a great many other ways of getting people to make that jump. Special discount codes, for example, can reward Facebook fans or Twitter followers, giving them a limited-time discount.
Another option is to use social media to push out invites to join a brand’s mailing list. With freebies, competitions or extra discounts for those who do so, this is a proven way of using varied channels to open up methods of communication. The same system also works in reverse, with those who are already email contacts provided with the links to social media pages where they can interact there as well.
All of these widen the sales funnel and provide consumers with reminders of the business in question, as well as direct routes to their item listings.
The above options are just some of the many ways in which social media can help online business owners improve their offering. In having been around for ten years or more, social networks have had the chance to become sophisticated, mature marketing tools. As such, the days of seeing Facebook et al as timewasting tools for young people are well and truly over.