“Social media has become mass media. It’s the oldest form of marketing—word of mouth—with the newest form of technology.”

~Marc Pritchard, Chief Marketing Officer, Procter & Gamble

Since my grandpa Varnum (real name) had a bakery on Bourbonus Avenue (real street) in Kankakee, Illinois (real place), word of mouth has always been the most reliable way to build a business. Studies show it is more effective than ever: word-of-mouth converts a sale orders-of-magnitude more than paid advertising.

I stare, mouth agape, in a semi-drooling state of befuddled awe, when companies say to me: “We don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to social media.” I wonder: “Where are you dedicating your time and resources? There are hundreds of millions of people—your past, current and future customers—who are defining your brand, making product recommendations and influencing one another’s purchase decisions more broadly and more rapidly than ever before. One satisfied customer can bring 50 new customers to you in a single Tweet. One displeased customer’s scathing review on Yelp can prevent hundreds, or thousands, from ever doing business with you. You don’t have the time or resources to dedicate to this? Um, hello?”

Social media is like a freight train. If you catch it just right, “oh, the places you’ll go!” However, if you wait too long or if you make a misstep, at best, you will miss an historic ride. At worst, you and/or your business can be left behind with blinding speed. Let’s say you catch the train. Here’s what you can realistically stand to gain from social media.

Let’s look at it like a pyramid, in the following order, with Brand Awareness at the base. The first few benefits are relatively easy to achieve. As you move “up the pyramid,” the benefits get tougher to realize.

Brand Awareness

When you start engaging in social media, you can get on people’s radar relatively quickly. They see a Tweet or a post and within minutes, they’re moseying over to your website (or more likely checking your social footprint) to see what you’re all about. This raises a salient point: people are learning about your brand in ways you wouldn’t expect. Think they’re forming impressions about you from your website? Think about. They’re savvier than that. They know that your website was planned and edited and honed and refined ad nauseum.

To learn what you’re really about, people will Google you. They’ll study your Twitter timeline. They’ll scour your Facebook page. They’ll even dig into what individual employees work for you, and what those people are saying from their personal social profiles, in their free time. While you cannot control what others are saying about you or your organization in social media, you can guide the discussion in your favor. It’s imperative that you do. People are talking, and if you are not part of the conversation, they will lead it, and in the process they might undo all of your best branding efforts and well-laid plans. Social media puts the “public” back into public relations. If you are in business, you must take the time to listen, engage, care—and take part. It no longer something you can ignore.

Customer Service

Authentically engaging in social media shows your customers—and the world—that you care enough to invest the time and resources to talk with them (and not at them via traditional marketing). Two-way conversation is the best branding there is. Brands that do not engage on Twitter—a free and easy-to-use social media platform—are essentially saying to past, present and future customers: “We don’t have the time or energy for you, our customers.” That is a terrible blow to a brand. Twitter and Facebook are the two most powerful customer service platforms in the history of business. They allow brands to address customer concerns and issues in real-time: one-to-one interactions, via many-to-many platforms. If you properly cultivate your community, your loyal, informed customers will start helping and serving one another in these channels! That’s the Holy Grail of customer service.

Our social media agency sees this a lot with our clients’ Facebook pages. These living, breathing, thriving communities are so passionate about these brands that they volunteer their time to answering one another’s questions! It not only saves our clients time and money by easing the burden on customer service, it actually elevates the customer service to another level. For free.

Word-of-mouth Marketing

This is social media’s most obvious benefit. Social media is now the fastest-growing form of communication in history. Brands that disregard this new paradigm may be left behind with blinding speed. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of “Connectors” as: “…people who link us up with the world…people with a special gift for bringing the world together. They are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances.” Influential Twitter followers and Facebook fans (we’re still calling them “fans”; we refuse to call them “likers”) are Tipping Point Connectors.

But, take heed: these sophisticated TPC’s won’t generate word-of-mouth marketing for you or your company unless what you produce is awesome. Not salesy. Awesome. (See Timeless Truth #8: People Share Awesome Stuff.)

Customer Loyalty

Next is customer loyalty. This occurs when existing customers find you in social media; they develop an affinity for what you’re doing—and they become more inclined to keep doing business with you.

By engaging with, and listening to, your customers—and providing them with stellar service—they will not only remain loyal to your brand, they might evangelize it. Therein lies the secret sauce of social media: enlisting evangelists through superior service and interaction. Getting others to speak favorably about you is the Holy Grail of marketing. Social media can help you achieve that, but you’ve got to be willing to work at it, just like you would a human relationship.

Market Research

An effective way to conduct market research in this digital economy is to put it to your communities in social media. Tap the collective wisdom; it can provide a richer and more textured result than a few experts (just look at how Wikipedia is faring against Encyclopedia Britannica!). Asking a large number of people a question in social media is known as “crowdsourcing” (a play on the word “outsourcing”) and it is arguably the most effective and economical form of market research there is. But for it to be statistically significant you need critical mass: You need a few thousand followers and fans. Quality is important in social media, but so is quantity.

Countering Critics

Negative press can inflict terrible damage on a brand. As a business, you should be listening 24/7/365. Ten years ago, it wasn’t as important. If people had a problem with you, they might send an email to their friends (which would almost invariably flame out), or they would write a blog post (which was largely hidden from view). Now, everyone is a veritable media outlet. Sweet, demure Karen from Kansas has a captive Twitter following, loyal Facebook friends, an engaging YouTube Channel and an influential LinkedIN business network. Do not underestimate Karen. She’s a powerhouse, and she’ll take you down. Right down to Chinatown.

Engaging Evangelists

In Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” he speaks to another critical group of people who help “tip” a brand. They’re called Mavens, and in social media, they are more empowered than ever.

Not engaging with, and thanking, your Mavens could be the biggest mistake you could make in growing your business. These people have enormous influence—and are ready, willing and able to serve as your volunteer marketing department. Your social media efforts should bring them into the fold and empowers and inspire them to be “forces of nature” for your brand. It breaks my heart when I see dormant Facebook brand pages where these energized Mavens are posting—and the brand is cavalierly dismissing them because they’re “too busy” with other matters. Please: Pour yourself a glass of wine and spend 30 minutes a week loving on your Mavens.

Feeling Good

Social media has a way of focusing us on the things that matter. What would you publish on Twitter? What do you want people to know about? Generally, that holds meaning for you—and in that way, you social media properties become online journals for yourself, or your business.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wrote a piece: “How Twitter Makes You a Happier Person.” Hsieh believes social media can make you a happier person, because it inspires you to catalog those little moments that may have passed you by.

“Twitter helps me reframe reality. Anytime something that used to get me upset or frustrated happens, I try to find the humor in the situation and think about how the situation can be reframed. I’ve found that almost every “bad” situation is actually an opportunity that can be entertaining to my followers on Twitter, which also forces myself to see things in a different light. In fact, I now almost looked forward to situations that would normally be frustrating, because I’ve learned that almost any situation can be reframed to be funny as a tweet, which then makes the situation in real life funny as well. For example: Recent Tweet: “Airport bathroom: guy tries washing hands – auto faucet motion sensor broken. He tries voice recognition instead by yelling “Wash!” at sink.” If it weren’t for Twitter, I would have instead probably been a bit annoyed waiting in line behind this man who was unfamiliar with motion-activated sink faucets. But instead, Twitter forced me to search for and find the humor in the situation by taking a step back and realizing that it actually was a pretty funny situation.”

Doing Good

I resolutely believe that social media can unleash a world of social good. I’ve seen it first-hand as charitable organizations raise awareness, and dollars, faster than they’ve ever been able to do it before. If your business does good, let the world know and let them amplify that good. Don’t be bashful or have false modesty. You can lift up the world in these channels. If you aren’t engaging in social good, resolve to do it. It can be good for you, good for your business and good for our world.

Driving Sales

This benefit is listed last for a reason: it is outrageously hard to move conversations to conversions. It’s just tough to drive transactions via social media. People are inundated constantly with sales pitches. For them to purchase something, they need to be significantly compelled. It can be done, but trust, care and service must precede this benefit.

By optimizing a website for the major search engines on relevant keyword strings—and producing the most effective “inbound marketing” there is via blog content—a brand can drive sales and track where every dollar came from. That’s a powerful attribute of social media: it is measurable to the most minute detail. You can code a Tweet, a Facebook post or a YouTube video with a trackable link, and see, almost in real-time, how your message is impacting your market, and if it’s compelling them to purchase. That’s because, at the end of the day, social media ought to drive your economic engine and power your businesses to greater heights.

What’s your opinion? What have been some of the rewards you have seen using social media in your business?

Original Article By: Eric Harr

Posted By: Jeff Pulvino


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