Social Media: What is Social Media and how can it help me?

Social Media headerSocial Media – the future of marketing?

Social Media is definitely the currency of the internet.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the landscape and in many ways have altered the way that we interact forever, and with a major player like Google jumping on board with Google +, to ignore social media will lead to missed opportunities.

Due to the lack of barriers to entry (it’s free) and their universal appeal, Social Media sites present a tool to communicate to large groups of prospective and actual customers and are a great tool for businesses to progress and develop their customer base.  However, as with every tool, to get the most out of it, you need to understand what it’s being used for and therefore how a business can work closely with it to maximise it’s usefulness.

Social Media: Facebook – the daddy

Facebook has undoubtedly captured the imagination of the world and was recently the subject of an oscar nominated film.  According to an August 2011 survey, UK users spend on average over 25 minutes on the website each time they log in, and in other parts of the world, this is much more!  There is much documented about the history of Facebook and how it started off as a tool to ‘socialise’ at high end US colleges, but it’s more important to focus on where Facebook is now and how it can help you in the future.

Small and Medium sized businesses can use Facebook effectively to develop a community around their business and to support their activities in other channels.  A specific page dedicated to the business can help customers link in, and gives the opportunity for regular communication to these key people.  Although recent changes to Facebook have changed the game slightly, Facebook is still very much about ‘community’ and communicating with those people who are in your community.  A good example is a holiday firm letting people know about great deals and late availability bargains.

Another benefit of Facebook is that the site is always optimised for whatever medium it’s viewed on, that way, it doesn’t matter if you are using a phone, a tablet or a computer, it will still look good – and thus is a very cheap and effective way to give customers a mobile experience.  Facebook is definitely the top of the social media tree with more users than most counties have population, but making it work is very much about understanding how customers use it and how they might want to interact with a company.

As with all social media sites, setting up a Facebook account is free, and so it becomes a useful tool in the challenge of getting and keeping customers.

Social Media: Twitter – tweet to the world

As a social media channel, Twitter has several major differences to Facebook.  It’s called a ‘micro-blogging’ site, as in you can write updates and posts for the world to see, but you are limited (hence the micro) by being only able to use 140 characters.  In the past, twitter posts (or tweets), were very similar to status updates on Facebook, but as Twitter has gained and broadened it’s user base, it’s now used for a much wider variety of purposes.

As opposed to Facebook, which is focused on communities and communication within a group of friends, Twitter is more of a broadcast media, in that anyone can read a tweet that you put up. Thus it’s a great way to ask questions, announce new ideas and let the world know about your business.  On the flip side, it is a very good way of identifying resources and information that are useful to you – as well as identifying potential customers and monitoring your sector/industry.

On a personal basis, you might find Twitter to be rather impersonal in nature – the nature of broadcasting – but on a business basis, it is a valuable tool in your social media toolbox, and of course, it’s free, which always helps!

Social Media: Linked In – Socialising in a professional environment

LinkedIn is a different type of social media again compared to Twitter & Facebook.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a web site for professional social networking, and is very much all about business.  On LinkedIn you can complete a full history and background of your career and companies worked for and connect to work colleagues, customers and the like.  The power of LinkedIn comes in the way it can allow you to leverage your contacts and who they know to develop new contacts. As an example, you may want to find the person responsible for purchasing in a company you’ve targeted.  You may not know this contact directly, but you can identify the people you do know who know them, and connect through them.  One other benefit of LinkedIn is that it allows colleagues (past and present) to give recommendations on your work.  This gives credibility and testimonials to help your business.

The other 2 main strands of LinkedIn that can benefit you are groups and answers. Groups are all about linking with like minded individuals, and you can both join and create groups. LinkedIn Answers gives an opportunity to collaborate and demonstrate expertise in a certain sector.  It also helps develop credibility.

Dependent on the market that you operate in, LinkedIn could be the social media of choice for generating leads and contacts and providing credibility.

Social Media: Google + – the new kid on the block

Seeing the mass development of Facebook and Social Media in general, Google didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity and so Google + was born.  In operation, it’s quite similar to Facebook, but offers the chance to limit what you say to others, using a function called ‘circles’.  Recently Facebook has adopted a similar route, so it obviously touched a nerve with them!

From a business point of view, Google + is still very much in it’s infancy, but it’s use of the ‘+1′ icon, which allows users to ‘endorse’ a post/business/webpage, much in the way Facebook users can ‘like’ will have some impact, especially as it will potentially integrate with other parts of the Google empire – especially the search function for websites.  At the moment, Google + doesn’t have it’s business page side set up, but as with anything Google do, they aren’t doing it ‘half-hearted’ and at this stage it is worth businesses paying attention and getting familiar so when things do start moving forward (and things get linked into the search engine function), they are ready to jump on board.

When one of the global players develops a solution for Social Media, it’s time to ensure that it’s part of your communications portfolio.

Social Media Not Going away

As with other tools, Social Media can easily be integrated as part of a larger campaign utilising email marketing (to drive people to a Facebook page), feeds from a blog can be fed from a website to Social Media, and as local marketing progresses, the ability to use social media on the go will lead it to be a big part of pushing a local company.  It can even be incorporated in direct mail to generate awareness and activity.

There is no doubt that social media will be a key part of the competitive environment moving forward.  It’s universal impact means customers will be using it, and so if customers are using, business should be there.  Understanding the pro’s & con’s of different channels is the key to making the most of social media.