Social media is the buzzword of the 21st century. The term is being used by all and sundry with businesses of all sizes recognising the need for it and many are trying to implement it. The problem is though, that not many people actually understand what social media actually is and what it can achieve. Most people have heard about social media and know they could and should use it, but this is far as many people can go due to that lack of understanding.
What is social media?
In the simplest terms social media is a media that facilitate social communication. Social media is not a new concept; it has been around as long as the internet itself. Social media in its earliest form was probably as bulletin boards, in the earliest form these would be hosted on a private computer requiring people to connect directly via an analogue modem. Bulletin boards (aka BBS) were an amazing way to share knowledge and communicate with people worldwide almost instantly.
Bulletin boards evolved into forums. Hosted on the internet, web forums were suddenly available to a much larger audience. Web forums are in my opinion, one of the best ways to find and improve your knowledge on almost any subject. Forums do have a disadvantage though and that is that the information can’t always be 100% trusted. If you are prepared to dissect and make sense of the information and its merits, the advantage of forums and similar communities becomes instantly clear. Web forums are so powerful because they allow pretty much free speech. If someone shares information and something is incorrect, you can almost guarantee that someone with more knowledge will come in and correct the information. It is this ability of communication that made web forums exponentially grow to probably the largest form of resource available. At this stage savvy business people were already capitalising on social media and the sharing of information to generate business. Along with Web forums social media was also developing in the form on instant communications such as internet relay chat and instant messaging. Fast forward to today. Social media is the new hip thing, it has replaced the cries of “you must have a website!” now everyone is shouting from the rooftops that a website is no longer enough. Facebook and Twitter are the most widely known but there are many competitors trying to grab their share of the social audience.
So what is Social Media to a Business?
Many people fail to recognise what social media actually means to their business and more importantly its proper implementation. From a business perspective social media is simply a method of personification of a business. Social media is a method for a business to try and contribute towards recreating that vibe of a traditional corner shop. Social media can go a long way to giving assurance to a potential customer that you are a bona fide and trustworthy source.
Why is social media important to a business?
Social media is important to a business because it helps to make a business more attractive to a customer. Customers often know their local shop keeper, their friendly chat and open manner are a priceless business asset. With such a rapport customers trust the shopkeeper and their wares, and especially their recommendations. Trust is a powerful selling tool.
With the explosion of the internet every man and his dog has a website. Websites are easy to create and you do not need anything special to have one. This is where trust becomes an issue. Many people are already wary of purchasing products over the internet, especially with the explosion of internet fraud. There are sadly many people with experience of rogue internet traders or internet fraud.
There are two main types of social media
On-site social media
Onsite social media comes in several forms and has several initial functions:
Blogs are the height of fashion in the current web climate. They are a hugely powerful tool when used correctly. Allowing the business to engage with its audience and more importantly, allowing the audience (potential customer) to contribute and comment. A great example of using a blog to its full potential is by giving information. This could be a guide, or a product review. An even better usage would be inviting customers to write a review for a new product.
Product feedback and questions are a great resource to a potential buyer. Often people like to read other people’s feedback on a product, if the product has any flaws or benefits highlighted it can help reassure and secure a sale. Having the opportunity to ask questions is equally advantageous. This gives customers a chance to query compatibility or product suitability without committing to a purchase. Often people can read other peoples questions and answer their own queries without actually needing to make contact with the business itself.
Instant chat is becoming a feature on more and more websites. This allows direct contact with a staff member to answer queries or offer advice without the worry of peer pressure or the hard sell.
Off-site social media
Blogs can be an off-site form of social media. This holds far less benefit that an on-site solution because it lacks the branding and credibility of the business that it represents.
Facebook is one of the most well known forms of social media. Many businesses’ first venture into social media is to get a Facebook page. With Facebook having such a wide user base it offers a great opportunity to benefit from recommendations from users in the forms of likes and sharing. Facebook also allows discussion by followers on the company page making this a highly engaging media with huge potential. Sadly it is often poorly implemented.
Twitter is the other of the most well known forms of social media. The micro blogging platform is close to the size of Facebook. People can also follow you on Twitter just like Facebook and promote you and your reputation by means of tweeting and re-tweets.
On-site versus Off-site social media
Both on-site and off-site forms of social media have great benefits. The two types do serve slightly different purposes that run parallel for the same result, which is to provide reassurance to the buyer. On-site social media such as blogging and allowing product comments and reviews are a great way of offering reassurance to the buyer. A downside with this though is that the cynical buyer might think that any bad reviews or comments could be censored. This is where the off-site social media benefit is felt the most. Off-site social media such as Facebook and Twitter serve as great tools to bolster on-site social media forms. Even the most cynical buyer will find it hard to doubt great comments and reviews on the likes of Facebook and Twitter because it is harder to manipulate. This gives the buyer more reassurance to the validity of the seller and their products.
Common mistakes in implementation
While most people know that they want social media implemented for their business, the actual process and purpose isn’t given a huge amount of thought or planning. Often someone in the company will say “we really need Facebook and Twitter because everyone is doing it”. The accounts get created and this is where it stalls. Often there has been no planning of the actual content delivered. Many companies use the social media channels as an extra path for junk mail. “buy this” and “buy that” and no actual social reaching which will just put people off of the brand.
On the subject of brand, another failing on many occasions is the lack of branding on the social media profiles. Often a simple design of a Facebook page or slight change on a twitter profile can give more consistency for the potential customer visiting these pages. Blogs also often suffer from the lack of design. Many people think that creating an off-site free blogging account and blog is enough. Sadly though, these hold little benefit because there is little or no brand consistency. Many on-site blogs hold a similar fate. A non branded on-site blog looks very unprofessional and reflects badly on the seller.
Social branding is an often overlooked part of social media. The aim of social media is to provide a personal side to a business. This makes it extremely important that the social channel in use shares some form of identity with the company branding to promote association of the social channels to the business. This would help to make the brand more memorable too for people that see the social channels as a first point of contact to the company.
Social media has a place in business, it’s no secret. The secret is making sure you and your business keep your social platforms as a mainly social platform. If your social content is a continuous practice of blatantly shoving your product down someone’s throat, long term all your efforts are wasted.
Thanks to Rosaura Ochoa for the use of the image for this post.