You may have noticed a lot of coverage over the past couple of years about the rapid growth of social networks and how they are changing the way we communicate? Perhaps, you have also stumbled across one of the many articles professing how to ‘double your sales’ with Twitter or Facebook and maybe feel you have missed the boat with your own marketing? But, it’s actually worth asking the question as to whether marketing through social media actually works in the first place, and, if it does, how can you make it work for your business?
The Changing Face Of The Web
Many social media web sites have been built on the back of a technical evolution on the Internet – something paraphrased as “Web 2.0”. It’s a term that many marketers talk about with great authority and it is used in many different contexts. But, what exactly is it?
In the early days of the Internet, a website contained words and pictures – like a magazine or brochure – and it wasn’t an interactive environment. But, with the advent of Blogging, Wikis and commenting (to name but a few) we can all get involved with conversations online by writing (and publishing) directly onto web pages.
We can easily create our own Facebook profiles, Blogs and Twitter accounts and share information with people who have similar interests. For this reason, Web 2.0 is often referred to as the read/write web.
Of course, one of the main reasons social networking has become mainstream so quickly is that many of the websites don’t charge – they are free to use. Companies looking to raise their profile online have taken advantage of this to promote their profile to a whole new audience, often in an inappropriate way.
When it comes to marketing your business through social networks, are people even talking about your brand in the first place? Are they discussing your industry? If so, where are those conversations taking place so you can join in and raise your profile too?
As with most marketing case studies, many of the success stories you will read about are consumer brands; brands that people want to talk about; brands with a mass market.
From this feedback, companies from all sorts of industries have picked up on the buzz and started Twittering, Blogging and setting up their Facebook fan groups, and, because the cost of entry is virtually zero, it’s not just the big boys. Startups and small businesses have also jumped on the bandwagon.
Move into the business-to-business space and getting your voice heard becomes somewhat harder than the success stories suggested it would be. Who wants to talk about widgets or your bespoke niche service, especially when so many other companies occupy the same space? It’s like exhibiting at a huge trade show with all your competitors setting up a stand right next to you.
Interestingly though, some people do want to talk about the same thing as you and may be interested in hearing what your company has to say. The key is to find out where the most appropriate conversation is taking place and to then to understand how that conversation is taking place.
With Web 2.0 technology everybody can have a voice. So the way you engage with people through social media works very differently from traditional offline marketing. If you say the wrong thing in the wrong way, people have the right to reply and, in terms of reputation, they may have a lot less to lose than you and potentially a much larger audience listening to them. Treading carefully and mixing with the right people becomes even more important.
Business marketers in the social space often overlook rules of interaction and social etiquette. They try to sell too quickly and too aggressively without gaining trust, looking to control conversations and relationships. But let’s face it, who wants to stop around and listen to the person controlling the conversation in the real world? Why on earth would we put up with it any more online?
In fact, in the social space we can un-follow, de-friend and block at the click of a button; the relationship gone in a second, along with trust in your brand. It’s happening to a lot of marketers in the social space – no-one is listening to them because they have nothing that people want to hear.
Creating a successful marketing strategy using social networks requires the ability (and patience) to develop trust with people. Like many marketing techniques, it’s a case of creating your pipeline of new relationships and developing them over a period of time – not pushing the sale from the outset.
Gaining initial trust is essential.
One trust-building strategy for social media marketing – whatever your industry – is to answer the questions that people want (or need) the answers to. If you can engage your audience with relevant information, they will not only buy into you, they will also spread the word – your word.
Platforms such as Blogs, Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to demonstrate your product and industry knowledge in an open forum. Of course, you can also create relevant links to your website through these platforms to drive traffic to your website and increase your brand profile – as long as you are subtle in your approach.
Then, as people begin to trust your social profile, you can begin to drive them through to the next step in developing the relationship. For instance, why not ask them to subscribe to your e-mail marketing?
This overcomes audience apathy. If you have developed enough trust in your social relationship, leverage it to a medium whereby the onus is not on your audience to collect the message, rather on you to send a relevant and regular message – the next step in developing further trust, and one step closer to delivering a customer to your sales team.
But beware. As in any personal relationship, trust can be lost in an instant if you say the wrong thing. Keeping one eye on the end game and never abusing the relationship is an absolute must.
Where Do You Start?
Having a strategy for your social profile is often overlooked but is essential to give you focus with your approach. Questioning your objectives is essential:
- Should your profile be you (as a person), your CEO, or your company? Who will gain the most trust and credibility online?
- Which social platform is the most appropriate to focus on? Where are your existing customers? Why not ask them how they use social media?
- What are you going to talk about? What do you want to be recognized (and found) for? By sticking to a subject (however niche), you can become an acknowledged expert.
- How much personality should come through? Is it yours, or your company tone-of-voice?
Setting up a profile in any of the social networks is a straightforward process and often free. It pays to explore the media to see if the audience is right for your business and be prepared to switch off your efforts if they do not yield any results.
There is no doubt that engaging people on the right social media platform can help you reach a new audience and increase your online profile. The challenge is to create a focused strategy aimed towards a specific audience and engage them in a conversational dialogue to encourage trust.
Only when you have gained trust can you leverage the relationship and lead the conversation to the next level. Where many marketers want quick wins, social media is much more of an effective marketing medium if you are not pushing too hard. So, you may have to be prepared to wait until trust has developed. That said, when your pipeline begins to fulfill itself, social media offers a very sustainable route to generate awareness and, ultimately, potential new sales leads.