Social Media For Business
By Patty Briguglio with Gloria Lesher
Why Social Media?
A study conducted by Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group found that almost 80 percent of Inc. 500 companies used social media in 2009 – up 31 percent from 2008. The study measured engagement of the top 100 brands online and found that those companies with the deepest levels of engagement saw revenues grow by an average of 18 percent in 2008. Those brands with the lowest levels of engagement saw an average drop in revenue of 6 percent.
In October 2009, a provider of strategic research and analysis known as The Kelsey Group released data around social media usage by small to medium-size businesses (SMBs). When asked whether they plan to use social media in their marketing mix in the next 12 months, 32 percent of SMBs said yes, with 9 percent currently using Twitter for promotional purposes.
If your company is not among those already participating in social media with a presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites, it is time to take action. Executives at your company may be asking, “How do we get into the social media game? What is our strategy? How do we know which social media Web sites are right for our business?”
This white paper is the first in a series that will provide an overview of some of the major social media sites and how our clients and others are using them for strategic business purposes.
Engagement With Consumers Through Social Media Correlates To Better Financial Performance
Your public is out there, networked and interactively discussing information of vital importance to you. You must decide how, when and where to participate.
You cannot afford to ignore social networks on the Web. Gen Y-ers—those born between 1977 and 1995—outnumber baby boomers by 1.3 million, and more than 95 percent of them have joined a social network. This population demographic trusts peer recommendations from their social networks about brands, products and services far more than they trust advertisements, pronouncements by so-called “experts” or even Google rankings.
Many Gen Y-ers consider e-mail to be a second tier choice when it comes to communicating. How do they communicate? They tweet, often using their cell phones. They write on Facebook walls. They text. They instant message. Sometimes they do all of these to several people at once.
Gen Y-ers may be ahead of the curve, but the rest of us are catching up. People of all ages are beginning to use social media tools, and so is the business community. The business benefits of social media are manifold. This white paper discusses some of the major benefits. The primary benefit is that social media technology allows you to bypass traditional media such as newspapers, television and trade journals, so you can communicate directly with your target public.
Your Overall Social Media Strategy
How do you get into the social media game? It might help to begin by reading the blogs of the social media and public relations thought leaders, such as Chris Brogan, Peter Shankman or Brian Solis. Then give some thought to your overall social media strategy. Is it your goal to:
- Build awareness of your personal or company brand?
- Tell potential customers about your products and services?
- Educate yourself about the latest trends in your industry?
- Connect with potential employees?
- Engage with or build a community around a similar interest?
- Extend your customer service into new avenues?
- Increase qualified online leads?
Because participation in social media can be a time-intensive activity, be strategic about which social media tools you use and how you use them. Concentrate on networking online with the same goals you have face-to-face, seeking to link up with potential customers or people who can help you with specialized knowledge, access to funding or with a wide network of their own.
Social Media Engagement And Measurement
Traditional media, especially newspapers and magazines, are bleeding staff, and many newsrooms have closed their doors. Television and radio stations have also seen mass bankruptcies, layoffs and losses in revenue. We are in the midst of a revolution when it comes to the ways in which we as a society consume news, entertainment and information. The old rules and the old tools seem to apply less and less these days.
Before we get into an overview of the major social media tools in use today, so that you can begin to decide which of them may or may not apply to your business, it is important to understand how to engage with your target audience in the new media landscape and how to measure your return on investment.
Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), an independent research company that provides pragmatic and forward-thinking advice to global leaders in business and technology, has proposed that engagement as it pertains to social media is a new metric that includes four components:
By measuring these components, you will be able to obtain a truer picture of the results of your social media efforts.
Company spokespersons, business owners or professionals should engage with their customers or target market by sharing information, being helpful, commenting on blogs and in general participating in conversations with entire communities. The deeper this engagement, the better. If you are the one handling social media for your company, the point is not just to collect followers but to ensure that you are responding to them in a meaningful way. Communication is more than a “two-way street” when it comes to social media—it is more like a multi-lane highway traveled by bewildering numbers and types of vehicles at all hours of the day and night.
Efficient reach means that you are connecting with the right people. Reach starts with the traffic on your Web site, blog, Facebook page and so forth. But reach is only the beginning. Your levels of interaction and intimacy determine your success with social media. What are the geography and demographics of your audience? How well do you know them? How influential are you within the scope of your followers? Who is retweeting you or writing on your wall, and how influential are they? And finally, how do you measure these levels?
Measurement can begin with something as simple as using an Excel spreadsheet to track the names and numbers of your followers. Other areas that benefit from quantification include numbers of referrals, numbers of @ replies on Twitter, numbers of subscribers to a blog, numbers of viewers of a YouTube video, and so forth.
But beware: Forrester Research suggests that online metrics like unique visitors to a Web site, number of pages viewed, and time spent per page fail to demonstrate your target public or audience’s true level of engagement with a brand, a product or a Web site. Straightforward impression measurement misses the real power of social media.
Google Analytics is a free and powerful tool with which to track Web metrics. For more sophisticated measurements, look into some of the products available on the market. For example, Radian6 is a software platform that helps businesses listen, measure and engage in social media. Cymfony’s Orchestra aggregates, classifies, quantifies, and benchmarks both traditional and consumer-generated media and provides a dashboard to analyze them. And the Social Media Optimization Solution from Omniture is a comprehensive tool to help customers gain actionable insight into what social media efforts are or are not driving the results they want.
Social media measurement is still evolving, and as we move forward, the market will undoubtedly continue to provide more accurate and actionable analytics and reporting metrics. Now let’s take an overview of some of the major social media sites being used by businesses today. Keep in mind that this is just the 30,000-foot view. MMI has or will soon have in-depth white papers on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other major social media tools.
Business-oriented sites such as LinkedIn, an online network of millions of professionals representing hundreds of industries, can extend your existing network of trusted contacts. When you join LinkedIn, you create a profile summarizing your professional accomplishments. Your colleagues, clients and business associates can view your profile, and your connections grow as you invite your contacts to join LinkedIn and connect to you, and you are invited to do the same by others.
Ask to get introduced to other professionals through the people you know. Move into new networks via your existing contacts. Getting introduced by a trusted colleague is preferable online, just as it is in face-to-face networking. The value of your network on LinkedIn will grow as you begin to reach out to colleagues for help and to offer information and resources. As a networking site, it has moved far beyond being just a place to post one’s qualifications and conduct job searches or find employees.
LinkedIn is not just for personal networking. Companies can create LinkedIn profiles that aggregate information about the company and its employees, and promote its products or services. Having a company profile on LinkedIn is increasingly becoming expected.
Your LinkedIn strategy should reflect your personal networking style. Are you someone who knows lots of people on a limited basis? Or do you concentrate on fewer relationships that are more in depth? Once you answer this question for yourself, you can proceed accordingly.
In terms of sheer numbers of users, Facebook surpasses most social and business networking sites. Originally launched in 2004 as a social network for U.S. college students, Facebook is transforming into a hub for entrepreneurs, small businesses, corporations, consultants, speakers and authors to grow their businesses.
As a B2B or B2C marketing platform, Facebook shows promise. Since it opened its application program interface to third-party developers, there have been thousands of applications created that you can add to your company’s Facebook page. The Visa Business Network, for example, is a social networking app for small business owners. With this app, you can connect with other small business owners, reach out to customers and learn ways to manage your business better. You can also blog or tweet and have the same text published to your Facebook page.
Facebook’s power to quickly generate a community around an issue is one of its strengths. A student at Appalachian State University in North Carolina once created a Facebook page called “Help Joshua Watauga Get Back To Boone.” A fixture in the small town of Boone, Joshua was a homeless vagabond who disappeared for a while and showed up far from home at a hospital in another town. Within two weeks of its creation, the Facebook page had more than 14,000 friends!
From airlines to restaurants, businesses use Twitter to engage with their target audiences to build their brand, improve customer service and drive traffic to their Web site(s). Traders, analysts and farmers are sharing information about commodities and market moves using Twitter. This social media tool is all about word of mouth and listening. It allows you to communicate with hundreds and even thousands of people with one short message and is a natural outlet for public relations.
Use Twitter to build a following. Well-regarded experts regularly tweet about their opinions, the latest facts and happenings. In their tweets, they provide links not just to their own articles but also to articles written by others in their industry or profession.
Instead of answering Twitter’s question, “What are you doing?” answer the question, “What are you thinking about?” or “What are you working on?” Focus on providing value to your followers with each tweet. One way to provide value is to include links to interesting or informative Web sites for your followers. Work to establish yourself (or your company) as a subject matter expert on Twitter. Focus on substantive tweets and avoid the mundane, because let’s face it, no one really wants to know what you had for lunch today.
Other Social Media Sites
An amazing number of social and professional networks flourish on the Web. Juggling multiple profiles on social networking sites has become problematic and time consuming because there are so many online communities from which to choose. The obvious solution is to focus on those two or three communities that mean the most to you. Remember that your goal is not to collect a large number of “friends,” but to engage in conversations and facilitate actual relationships online—relationships that benefit your company and career.
Robert Scoble built an audience of 4 million on the Internet with an inexpensive video camera. It’s possible for you to do the same, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale. There are many Web sites that will allow you to upload videos to the Internet. Some of the more well-known sites include:
- Yahoo! Video
YouTube is currently the third largest search engine on the Internet. Its phenomenal growth from its founding in February 2005 to its present size shows the importance and growth of online video on the Web. The site has deeply affected our national political arena. In 2008, YouTube and CNN held two presidential primary debates in which people asked questions of the candidates through videos submitted on YouTube.
Business uses for online video range from capturing executive presentations to providing user support tips to publicizing events to demonstrating products. Realtors are turning to sites such as YouTube for home walk-throughs and to promote their listings. But be careful. You cannot just put up a company commercial on YouTube. It should be instructional, educational or entertaining. And you should participate in the YouTube community by watching and commenting on other videos.
Sites That Allow You To Share, Bookmark and Promote News
Web sites such as StumbleUpon help you discover and share other sites. A site called del.icio.us is one of many social bookmarking sites, where members store and share links to content on the Web. Link aggregators such as Digg or Reddit are all about user-powered content. Members can post articles or blog and share, discover, bookmark, and “vote up” the news that is important to them.
Online networking can facilitate unexpected collaborations, such as those between specialized researchers in biotechnology or medicine. There have been cases where researchers didn’t even know colleagues in their building were working on the same problems until they found one another through a social network!
Social networks are great channels for providing customer service or winning new customers. Identify the demographics of your target audience, define your goals and strategy, and then choose the social network that will allow you to most effectively reach your goals. By doing this, you will be offering real value, establishing yourself as an expert and providing yourself the best opportunity to succeed in the social media space.
A little research will uncover gatherings of those who share your passion, your interests and your dreams. The opportunities for online business networking are virtually unlimited, and no doubt some of the information we have just discussed will be considered out-of-date shortly after this white paper is published. The pace of innovation online and in related technologies is changing our social and business spheres in ways none of us could have predicted. Remember the debate associated with purchasing your company’s first fax machine? In five years’ time, social media use by companies will be considered the norm and will be necessary for a company to succeed.
Your Company’s Future With Social Media
Harnessing social media, having your business join the conversation and establishing your expertise can provide enormous value, if performed correctly. Spend some time planning how you will use social media to enhance your networking efforts. Emphasizing your brand, putting a human face and voice with your instant customer feedback, creating a community and even adding to your bottom line by increasing sales are all benefits of integrating social media into your business strategy.
Because the advent of social media is still a relatively recent phenomenon, you may feel uncertain about the business benefits or skeptical about how your company can participate. The business benefits of social media are undeniable, however. Social media allow your company the ability to:
- Establish your organization’s expertise online
- Discuss timely topics and current events with shareholders and potential customers
- Engage and build relationships with online influencers
- Generate recurring Web traffic (social media content is SEO friendly)
- Personalize your company
- Promote transparency
- Build your brand online
Blogging, tweeting, producing online video and podcasting can create huge buzz and drive traffic to your Web site and your place of business. Yet building passionate communities is not about the tools—it is about connecting with others. If you keep that goal in mind, you will undoubtedly experience success with your social media efforts.