Has your company joined the social media community yet?
Whether you have or not, social media will have a significant impact on your business in the year ahead.
"We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in,” says Craig Davis, vice president at J. Walter Thompson, the world’s 4th largest ad agency. I could not agree more.
Social media is not a fad. It’s a significant shift in how consumers want to interact with companies and brands. A company’s participation in social media – or lack of participation – sends a clear message to consumers about their willingness to connect and engage with consumers.
Consumers have clearly embraced social media. Nearly two-thirds of internet users in the United States regularly use a social network, according to a 2011 Emarketer survey.
For small business decision-makers, it makes sense to broaden the general definition of social beyond Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Business owners should look at the Web as a whole as a social media platform. It’s where you will find your customers and potential customers, and by strategically using online social tools, you can drive people back to your website or other home base. In this context, social media allows you to maximize opportunities with keywords, search, content marketing, relationship building, and more.
Small and medium sized U.S. businesses have moved toward social media marketing in droves in the past year. They are actively using social media marketing to promote their business, with 70 percent using Facebook, 58 percent using LinkedIn, and 40 percent using Twitter, according to a 2011 study by Merchant Circle.
Most businesses start with social media because it’s relatively inexpensive. As they get more familiar with the social media tools, they increase their comfort level and effectiveness with social media. And now, they’re starting to see measurable results. According to the Hubspot State of Inbound Marketing Report 2011, 57 percent of marketers say they have acquired a customer through a company blog, another 57 percent say they have acquired a customer through LinkedIn, 48 percent through Facebook, and 42 percent through Twitter.
In the year ahead, more businesses will start looking at social media marketing as a strategic business driver, according to social media expert Jason Falls. "You’ll see a lot more insistence on accountability, measurement and quantification of what social media means for companies.”
The quantification aspect will be challenging. New research by NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey Company, shows that the primary thing consumers use social media for as it relates to their favorite brands is not to get coupons and discounts, or to get information about new products or even to provide feedback of their own, be it positive or negative. The primary reason consumers use social media as it relates to their favorite brands is to read. They want to know what others are saying about their favorite brands or products or services.
That means you need to know what’s out there about your brand. You have an opportunity to influence the conversation by providing helpful content. In this context, it’s important to understand that helpful content is not sales content. It’s relevant and engaging content that social media users can interact with and consume.
This is a big shift for many companies. Many of the best-recognized consumer and retail brands were built using a Madison Avenue formula that included generating a well-defined brand message and trumpeting that message via mass market advertising.
While a good brand campaign will still include this approach, today’s marketers must also engage customers in multiple ways online, because that’s where the consumers are spending their time.
We are living in a consumer-driven society. Consumers call the shots. Social media is their world. Marketers and advertisers just live in it. And if marketers and advertisers want to keep living in it, they need to figure out how to connect with consumers on their terms in ways that ultimately impact the bottom line. That means social media marketing needs to be in your 2012 plan.
This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.