Before social media sites came along, a company’s only communication with its audience and customers was advertising. The influence of advertising has been studied extensively, but paid, wide-scale marketing is often tough to accomplish for many small businesses in their first couple of years, so in order to help expand customer bases, websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others are providing similar tools for business owners to communicate with their customers openly, delivering fresh content and expanding the digital footprints of their business to extraordinary heights.
“It’s important to think of social media as a medium to have a conversation with, not push advertising messages at, your audience,” says Jim Hobson, president of E-Platform Marketing LLC in Marietta. While keeping up a consistent and relevant image on social media is often a full-time job, companies using social media are able to accomplish certain business objectives such as increasing annual sales growth, facilitating two-way communication with its stakeholders, managing customer relationships and cost-controlling initiatives, sales, recruiting and public relations. Product marketing, market research and customer retention are all made possible through social media engagement.
What Sites Are Best?
Social media is all about relevance: Keeping your pages up to date, engaging and apposite allows you a direct outlet to your audience and customers beyond what your usual services can provide. Not all social media platforms are necessary for all types of businesses; for example, a local bakery, jeweler or furniture company would benefit from using Pinterest and Instagram as visual galleries of their work, whereas service companies may only need to post tips, articles and specials on Facebook and Twitter.
“Consumers are spending more and more time on mobile and on social media sites,” says Carol Morgan, managing partner for Georgia based mRELEVANCE. “Half of Americans get product reviews and recommendations from their friends on social media.” Morgan says businesses can have a variety of goals for social media, including increasing brand awareness, engaging with consumers, getting reviews and feedback directly from customers, using links to send referral traffic to their websites and improving search engine optimization.
“The breadth of your social media presence is less important than being on sites where your customers spend time,” Hobson says. “Actively posting information of interest to your followers and customers builds brand loyalty, and in turn can drive sales. Having current content matters because it creates a buzz and timely information engages.” Social media works best when you’re active with deliberate intent and utilize sites that your customers use.
Senior Lecturer of Marketing at Kennesaw State University Tyra Burton says the companies with business-to-business offerings should have a presence on LinkedIn as well. “Not only is it a great platform to find leads, it is also where companies go to find out information about other companies,” she says. “It all goes back to being where your target market is engaging.” KSU Social Media Specialist Cheryl Rodewig says it’s most likely you’ll need to be on more than one of these platforms, but that social media levels the playing field. “You may not have the multimillion dollar marketing budget a global corporation has, but you, too, can upload a video to YouTube that goes viral,” says Rodewig.
If you need to engage and network with professionals in your field, head to Twitter. If you have great photos of products and events, Instagram will suit you. “Each site has its benefits, and each can work for your company in different ways. Remember, it’s all about where your audience is and how they want to engage!” says Morgan.