Chances are you’ve probably heard of social network sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Chances are also that you’re on a social network yourself, especially if you consider that social networks are growing around the world at more than 1 million users per day and well over half a billion people already use Facebook.
Adoption of social media started predominantly among younger people but the networks are increasingly being used by all segments of society. With a large and growing proportion of Internet users’ time spent on social networks, it’s important for anyone hoping to market online to be completely familiar with the opportunities and threats. So, how can merchants use social networking effectively? The problem for marketers is that Twitter and Facebook are about conversation and interaction. And the numbers are misleading. There is no way to broadcast to all of these users, indeed if there were, it would be entirely counter to the culture.
The way to engage with people is to be interesting and interactive. But doing this implies small scale interactions, and this is where a lot of advice on marketing to social networks falls down. It’s true that you could gain a vast number of followers on Twitter, a vast number of friends on Facebook and possibly huge numbers might join your fan page. But why would they? You might achieve this by producing something that truly goes viral, but by definition only a very small number of people can succeed at this. Very little has a true wow factor, so very little (relatively) gets passed on to friends.
So a lot of rubbish is talked about social network marketing, and much of the guidance means that either it will be cottage industry style and of limited scale, or you are shooting for the moon with a low chance of success.
With this all in mind, here are some tips on building online sales and improving customer relations using social networks.
Go with the flow
Obviously social network sites give users the ability to communicate with each other and share information, but they also enable users to find like-minded thinkers. In contrast to traditional communication tools, it’s much easier to expand your network with relevant people, or communities based on mutual interests. These communities have brought much more power to individuals. It potentially heralds a major shift from company to consumer. The market you operate in, and maybe your company are going to be the subject of discussion, so it’s good to be involved.
Find your customers
The first thing any business needs to do is research. No doubt you already know, but social networking can use up a huge amount of time. Researching the medium takes substantial effort, so make sure it’s concentrated in the right place. Check your demographics and find out if your customers use social networks. If so, which ones? Chances are they are on Facebook, but don’t forget LinkedIn, Twitter or Friend feed. Next time you’re speaking with a customer, ask what they use.
Listen before you talk
Once you have found your customers sit back and listen. Social networking is renowned for its real time opinions, use this to your advantage and use search engines to find people talking about you or your company. Unplug your keyboard and gather as much intelligence as you can, its often a fascinating insight. Even better take it a step further and listen for your competitor’s name, or search keywords that relate to your products or services. Never give up on listening, things are always changing and social networks can help to keep you ahead of the competition.
A person’s online social space is sensitive; so respect it by being smart and polite. You wouldn’t barge into a normal conversation with blatant advertising, and social networking is no different. Within my business, Sellerdeck, we actively spend time helping customers. We direct people with queries to our online resources such as our knowledge base and online articles. If you engage, sales will follow. But once you start, try not to give up. Schedule at least an hour a day for involvement in answering questions and engaging with others.
Integrate social networking into your site
Provide buttons that allow information and products to be shared. Make sure that you have a Twitter account and Facebook page.
Provide real value on your company Twitter account
Building up followers on Twitter can be very useful. However, to do this you must ensure that you provide interesting material such as tips, and maybe some offers accessed by unique coupons. So whenever you have something worth saying, make sure you put it out on Twitter and other relevant networks. Failing to do so is an opportunity missed.
Provide useful information on your Facebook page
Provide genuine items of interest on your page. Don’t make is seem like a sales pitch – that will be counter-productive.
Although we are principally looking at social networking as a marketing channel, it has another benefit. If you monitor for any discussion of your company, you will find queries and also be able to pick up service issues before they are broadcast too widely and become a big problem within your company. Helping with inquiries and problems boosts the perceptions of your brand, or service. The key is to remember the connected nature of social networks, recommendations prove to be the best type of sales lead and social networks can act like a mega phone for both praise and condemnation
Get ideas and research
Social Networks are brilliant for asking questions. The open nature of these communities allows anyone to ask, view or respond, so the potential is obvious. Thinking companies use these networks to gain insights into the market as well as broadcasting their own messages.
Advertise on Facebook
The most likely route for producing results on social networks is to advertise on them. Facebook advertising allows pay per click or pay per impression. You bid on displaying, can select on demographics that includes age, sex, education, relationship status, location and interests. You can include an image in your advert as well as text. There is a case study that gives an example where Facebook advertising was 1.5% of revenue generated, but that’s likely to be the best possible. With their phenomenal growth, it’s worth experimenting with advertising with them, then rapidly ramping spending if the results justify it.
Consider other players
Just as with search engines, there are the giants, then there are smaller players that tend to be more specialist. It may be worth looking at some of these such as Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon. Remember that you must understand the unique culture of each one before starting any marketing.
Use sites like bit.ly and Hootsuite so that you can track what users are clicking on. That way you will understand better what is of interest.