“Should we be using social media?‘ is a question being asked in many boardrooms and mom and pop stores around the country. Yes, even today in 2013. From the business’ perspective, it’s easy to see why they are hesitant to use social media. Yes, you can throw all the stats at them about how Facebook has a billion users, Twitter has 200 million, Plus growing etc etc, but that’s not what they care about. In order to start using social media they would need to take time and money from marketing sources that have (mostly) proven returns, and invest that time and money into social media, whose return is very difficult to measure. If the local print shop starts running a radio ad today, they know they can count on seeing new customers come in the door as a result by this afternoon. So if you want a business to invest in social media you are asking them to divert time and money from sources that they understand and know are working, and invest that time and money into a source that they don’t understand and can’t really measure the return on using.
So let’s start by explaining in very simple terms what ‘social media’ is. Social media are online/mobile tools and sites that people use to create, share, collaborate with and distribute content. That’s it. Some of the ways that people frequently use social media include:
1 – Peer to peer communication. Simply talking with friends and family. This is by far the most popular way to use social media.
2 – As a way to share your opinions with the world. Many people simply use social media as their way to share their thoughts and opinions on subjects that interest them, or to share what they do throughout the day. Many people that social media frequently do this as well as use social media for talking with friends and family.
3 – As a way to establish your expertise or build authority around a particular subject. Now we are starting to get into a more professional or business use of social media. Some people use social media as a way to create content that helps to establish a level of expertise around a particular topic. Often, the goal is to establish that expertise so that the person can sell products or services related to their area of expertise. This blog is a good example of creating content to establish expertise.
4 – By curating valuable content from other sources in order to build your own level of influence. This area has begun to emerge in the last few years as the rise of Klout and other tools that attempt to measure influence came into the market. The idea is that if a person can share valuable content around particular topics, it will help to identify them as a ‘go-to’ source of information on those topics. Which helps to establish their influence and expertise around these topics.
Those are some of the most popular ways for people to use social media. Keep in mind that if your customers are using social media (and the odds says they are) the overwhelming majority of their usage will fall into the categories of communicating with friends and family, and using social media to share their opinions.
So if you think about it, social media is really digital word of mouth, in very simple terms. This is a very simple yet incredibly profound distinction to make. If we think about word of mouth in an analog sense, our ability to spread a message was typically restricted by the analog tools available to us at the time. Such as a landline phone, snail-mail letters, or simply interacting with other people face-to-face. So in general, if we wanted to spread a message in the pre-digital world of the internet and social media, our ability to do so was typically one person at a time.
Social media has changed that dynamic completely. Instead of one-to-one communication, I now have tools that let me engage in one-to-many communication. Every piece of content that I share publicly can be easily shared by others. For example, this blog post will likely be read by around 1,000 people that visit this blog today from various sources, including social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Another 1,200 or so people will have it delivered to their email inboxes that subscribe to this blog, and another 2,500 or so people that subscribe to this blog’s feed will see it. All told, around 5,000 people will likely view this one piece of content over the next 24 hours.
If we rolled back the clock to before the internet and social media, how would I be able to get this message in the hands of 5,000 people? I’d likely have to pay someone to help me distribute this message. But thanks to social media, I can distribute this message with the only real cost being my time in creating the message, and building the network to distribute it (which DID take a good amount of time).
So the biggest change that social media has made for your current and potential customers is their ability to more easily create, share and distribute content. Plus, the huge advantage that social media offers your business is that the majority of that content is available publicly! When word of mouth became digital via social media tools, it gave your business an incredible level of access to your customers that you really never had before. Now you can not only easily see what your customers are saying about you, but you can interact with them. This is a huge change in the customer/brand relationship, and it creates an enormous opportunity for your business as well.
So we’re back to the should my business use social media question. If we approach answering this question from the standpoint of viewing how customers can easily create online content about and around your brand, then we need to consider what impact this content has on their decision to do business with you. If your business is a fruit-stand that you run yourself in Houma, Louisiana, then investing in using social media to reach online customers might not make the most sense for you. But if you work for a global brand that’s primarily a B2C company, then it’s all but a requirement that you invest serious resources into social media.
Then in very simple terms, your business should consider the role that online content created about your products and services influences your customers before they make a purchase. This can be very difficult to track sometimes without sophisticated software and tools, so in general ask yourself one simple question:
1 – How likely is it that my current and potential customers are using social media to discuss my products and services before making a purchase?
If you can determine that social media content plays a role in influencing a customer’s intent to purchase, then it becomes much easier to justify investing money in social media.
In short, if your company derives any significant portion of its business from online sales, then it should be investing in social media. Now the extent to which you invest in social media will depend greatly on understanding your own customer base and how they use these tools.
Not sure if you are ready to invest in social media or how to get started? Then fill out this contact form to connect with me and we can discuss your options!