The idea of social media marketing is growing in popularity, demanding new strategies and practices much the same way that search engine optimization altered online success. In an effort to identify the best practices and formulate new ideas, we will examine the relationship of your company’s website and your social media network.
This is fairly obvious and everyone probably starts with the same answer in mind as they begin the design and launch of their site, but after time passes you need to re-visit this question and evaluate your needs. Your website represents your company within an industry, covering the products you sell and how you do business. When people view your website they should be able to come away with what your company is about, what it offers, and how competent you are at supplying those needs. When I visit a site and I’m looking to spend money or gather information before I spend, I want to know the specifics about that company and product. Where it is located, how long it has been in business, product images, descriptions, pricing, etc. While I’m browsing I’m assessing where the company stands within their industry by the look and feel of the website. There are times where I have chosen a competitor’s product because the first company’s website looked unprofessional; it just didn’t instill faith in their company.
A good website will remove the guess-work. I was recently looking for shoes online and found a site that allowed customers to rate how true to size the shoes were. This was immensely helpful because I know I wear a 10 in most brands, except for those few brands that run large or small. By the time I found what I wanted I was confident in purchasing from that site because 42 other customers confirmed a size 10 fit like a 10. Your website defines your company within an industry and the content that you provide will make or break sales.
Social media sites give you the opportunity to sell yourself, not your product. What I mean is you use Twitter/Facebook/ etc. to breathe life into your company; you take on a persona and interact with your community. You meet your customers outside your industry, where they meet one another, congregate, and possibly feel more comfortable. Here, you are able to be recognized differently than the image conveyed by your website; it all depends on your interaction. Your presence establishes a unique persona for your company—one that people can relate to.
Websites like Twitter allow you to be personal and ask or answer questions just as if you were in a town-hall meeting. For instance, Best Buy’s Twitter account @Twelpforce was designed around the idea that customers could ask questions about anything within the tech world. These questions would be answered by any of the thousands of Best Buy employees who signed on to the Twelpforce project; they turned online customer service into a peer-to-peer experience.
To date, Twelpforce has tweeted over 38,000 responses to questions. What does Best Buy have to say about Twitter? “People trust other people over a brand. Be human.” Twitter users who have had questions answered by Twelpforce are more inclined to do business with Best Buy based on the community they helped to create.
The goal is to establish confidence in your community. Not just confidence in your product, but in your design, style, thinking, and ultimately in your persona. One effective method to achieve this goal is to take time listening to what people are saying. Join in on conversations and respond to your followers–that feeling of having your voice heard is key to building personal relationships. And it’s never been easier than with social media. Here is another good example, in the Business Week Online article “Why We Tweet,” Suzy Welch said the following about Twitter:
By asking questions to your followers, you get valuable input and they get the sense of being heard. But, are people listening to you? That depends on what you’re consistently saying, fortunately these sites provide you with the cold hard statistics of your influence. However, don’t be disappointed by low numbers. Use the information to understand which of your posts people are reading, or what links people click most. More often than not, I’m surprised by the popularity of the oddball posts I had considered not sharing.
The accessibility, informality, and reach of Twitter ended up landing several great interviews (mainly with bloggers), generating crowds at book signings, disseminating dozens of reviews, driving traffic to the book’s Web site, and best of all, developing a warm and encouraging community of the book’s readers.
Best of all, for us, Twitter helps you test—and improve—your ideas. A few weeks ago, for instance, @jack_welch tweeted that two events might be the “green shoots” of a new bipartisan movement. The thoughtful pushback improved the column we went on to write about the topic. Similarly, when @suzywelch was preparing to interview financial guru Suze Orman she reached out to the Twitter world for input. One comment—”I love Suze Orman, but I’m not sure she’s walked in my shoes”—ended up sparking Suze’s much discussed “Are you kidding me?” response.
The social media community is made up of more than just your customers and potential customers; you will also find your own people, your staff and your employees. I used to work for a towing and parking enforcement company while I went to school. The job allowed me to work nights so that I could go to my classes during the day. I hated the work but loved the job because of my relationship with the owner and everyone else who worked there. We became incentivized to work harder, not just because he rewarded us for that extra effort, but also because I valued my relationship with the company. To be fair it was easier for the owner to get to know us since there were only fifteen employees; however, these social media platforms can provide that type of camaraderie to any sized company through the interactions of the community.
If you take a look at Waste Management’s Facebook photo album you can find an album dedicated to their employees. Hundreds of those employees have shared comments on their photos, recalling positive experiences they have had while working or attending work functions. A massive company with thousands of employees can suddenly start to have that tight-knit feeling.
The answer depends on your company and your industry, but these are a few of the largest and most used:
Then there are the sites that are more beneficial to specific companies and industries:
Decide what audience and community best fits your company, but don’t be afraid to branch out.
Don’t sacrifice your persona by using it as an alternate way to advertise. Your typical Facebook /Twitter/etc. user isn’t logging on to find out if you have a sale on laptops–you will quickly find yourself being ignored if your next sale is all you post. Instead, talk about that interesting article you read over lunch, or retweet industry related news. Look for conversations to join where you can share intelligent and meaningful input, or pass along your experiences and advice through blogging. Remember, your goal is to establish confidence in your persona. When I log onto our Twitter account, @BrightOak, I end up running into a lot of “robots,” people who see social media as an opportunity to push their product or place an ad for free. It’s amazing how quickly you recognize those messages and gloss over the text, looking for someone real to talk to or read about.
There is some room to talk about products or sales, but it needs to be done sparingly. In this regard, a little creativity goes a long way. A few weeks ago a friend told me about how his favorite pizzeria offered a free pizza, via Twitter, to the first person to come in and show the tweet. He ran over right away but didn’t end up getting there first. However, he was in the mood for pizza now and bought lunch anyways, as did several others who came in because of Twitter.
Another example is Foursquare, a social media application designed to let users “check in” to their current geographical location. This tells their friends where they are and also gives a history of where they’ve been and who they were with. Companies have used this app to creatively offer specials and freebies to the community. One seafood restaurant offered their customers free sides for checking in at their location four times. Another restaurant had a coupon pop-up when foursquare users checked in nearby. These businesses have seen an increase in their customer base and can easily track this new traffic. When we take the opportunity to talk about ourselves and share what we are working on with new clients, we do so with the intent to keep our community up to date and showcase our work. We aren’t looking to make a sale. Your followers are incredibly intuitive and will recognize when you’re only concerned about selling them a product. In a recent blog post, Taylor Ellwood discussed the advertising issues on social media:
Getting in front of the people that need your services is part of what marketing is based on. Knowing who your ideal audience is helps with your marketing effort, but reaching that ideal audience involves developing some kind of story or providing some information that’s relevant to that audience.
The problem that occurs is that many businesses have taken a shot gun approach to marketing, on social media, and other mediums. Instead of identifying that ideal client and focusing the message for that client, businesses shoot the message out to everyone in the hopes that whoever is interested will come to them. This obviously is not an ideal approach to take, but I think it occurs as a result of businesses falling out of touch with their clients. For marketing in social media to really work it needs to involve creating a relationship with the client that goes beyond pitching the product.
Taylor’s message shows that social media marketing works when you establish a relationship. You must treat your website differently from your social media network because the interim goals leading to the big picture differ vastly. Social media marketing has launched a new school of thought and requires completely new strategies than those used for conventional ad campaigns. The benefits of thinking outside the box are being seen everyday.