Many businesses don't take the time to harness the power of social media or, worse, do it badly. Social media is free – it doesn't cost anything to set up a Facebook page or Twitter account for your business – and it can be a very effective tool in spreading awareness about your products or services.
Social media is primarily about relationships, interest groups and communities. Therefore a strong human element will help people to identify with your brand and create credibility.
Many companies believe they would be better at social media if only they had more time to spend on it, yet if used well it need not take up a huge amount of time in order for it to be effective. In most cases, those managing social media channels just need to be given the right direction and focus. In gaining that focus, it is helpful to have the collaborative input of other departments such as marketing, product development and customer services.
To take full advantage of social media as a tool for progressing your business, it must be seen as an integrated part of your overall communications strategy – not as an added extra that has been bolted onto existing operations. There should also be a system within your organisation to ensure that relevant feedback from customers i.e. via Facebook or Twitter, is passed onto and processed by appropriate decision makers.
Much customer goodwill can be created by dealing swiftly and appropriately with customers grievances, for instance, and in so doing a potential negative can actually be turned into a positive. Good two-way communication is essential so that feedback results in actual change, meaning that customers are more likely to continue giving useful feedback to the business.
So, where do you begin in utilising social media?
Here are a few simple strategies. Even if you are a small company without a marketing department, you can always implement these ideas yourself. It won't cost you anything other than some of your time.
There are software packages available that specialise in polling customer opinions, such as Uservoice, GetSatisfaction or OpenMind. Or you can simply browse and 'listen' to what people are saying on Facebook, Twitter, blogs or forums. There are also tools available for 'listening' to what is being said on these platforms (see point 11).
Better than simply reacting is proactively informing people about upcoming products, features or services. This can stimulate demand before the actual product arrives. Apple constantly use this approach to create a buzz around the release of a new product.
Offers and Discounts
Customers love an exclusive deal. You can gain a significant following on Facebook and Twitter by offering web-only discounts or offers. People will follow you and also buy.
Social media is all about engagement. Saying something important, meaningful or just humorous can gain you attention and raise awareness.
Spread The Word
Once you have gained the attention of followers, maintain the momentum by broadcasting relevant messages with appropriate frequency – don't bombard people with too many updates, but don't disappear for weeks at a time either. Announce new articles on your blog, give out news about upcoming events of importance, share special offers and provide information about upcoming products.
Build Brand Loyalty
People who associate with and like your brand will buy from you again in the future. Create brand loyalty by rewarding returning customers with something for free.
Establish A Community
Social media thrives on community. People who love the same things gather around online groups to meet and interact with like-minded individuals. Bring your fans together and get them talking about what you're doing.
People use the web constantly to seek information. Take time to answer questions and be helpful, whether the questions concern your own products / services or are wider. Don't ignore potential customers.
Some times customers are annoyed, angry or desperate. Your produce or service may have inadvertently caused their suffering. A simple tweet can help. Show your sympathy, offer support and always remain polite!
Be savvy about using social media to widen your customer base. A simple sign-up widget on your Facebook page can capture new customer's email addresses and help you build a relationship with them.
Many social media tools (such as Topsy for Twitter) will allow you to watch trends unfold. Facebook have now introduced a "trending" tab at the top right of their home news feed. Surveying trends across social media platforms can quickly inform you about what's cool, what's current and what's in demand.
Tools such as Topsy will also allow you to discover who tweets about your business. You can check how many clicks these people directed to your site via Bit.ly or Twitter's own statistics. In this way you can determine who is influential in recommending your product / service and seek to engage with them.
Once you know who likes you, you can reach out to them. Blogger outreach, for instance, is an effective means of promotion. Simply contacting someone who has recommended your product to thank them can generate further goodwill and referrals. Send your influencers new products to test and keep them engaged.
Feedback is great, but nothing more than a monologue by disgruntled customers is not very helpful. Properly engaged, users of a product or service can suggest helpful improvements. A discussion will yield much more than simply collecting feedback.
People often exaggerate on social media because there is little regulation or opportunity to respond. They may misunderstand your product or go overboard with their annoyance. A wave of negative feedback can make a hotel look like the worst in history or a restaurant horribly overpriced. Defend your reputation without appearing defensive or like you have something to hide! You can do this by politely apologising for a customer's bad experience and countering with the positive feedback you have received from others to redress the balance.
Market Your Offerings
Some consider trying to sell on social media a big negative. Note that platforms like Facebook actually analyse your post content to detect any hard selling and will block the post without warning. You can, however, direct people to your website to highlight new products and offers.
If this is all you do on Facebook, for instance, then there is a problem. You have forgotten to engage people and now you are merely advertising. Product offerings are fine, however, if kept in context – e.g. as long as the majority of your posts are informative, helpful, conversational, topical and relevant to your customers' interests.
Amassing Facebook likes and Twitter re-tweets can improve your ranking on search engines and make you more discoverable, so building your social media links can be time well spent.
Social media is used by old school journalists as well as trendy bloggers, so social media press releases can result in publicity beyond the social media domain.
Watch The Competition
Even if you are not active on social media, your competitors probably are. You can monitor how they use the medium, learn from it and, if they are excelling at it, mimic it.