Social Media as a Business Tool

Social media has changed the world. Along with the web and mobile, social media has changed how we communicate. More than that, it has changed how we behave and that in turn is changing the world of business. Today every organization needs to make social media a part of their business strategy.

Gone are the days where social media was the purview of millennials and digital natives. Generation Xers and even the baby boomers now check their social media channels daily. This makes social media a powerful tool for anybody who wants to be heard. It can sell products, promote services, highlight good causes and build your personal brand. But we must be careful not to treat it like a traditional marketing channel.

More than traditional marketing

Despite the importance of social media, few organizations understand how to get the most from it. This is because they are too blinkered by traditional approaches to marketing. Even those of us seeking to build our personal brand make the same mistake. We fall into the trap of treating social media as just another marketing channel.

The problem is a simple one. People use social media to broadcast their messages rather than engage with their audience. This is because the approaches of the past still influence their thinking.

Our approach to social media has been influenced by marketing channels of the past. Channels like TV.
Our approach to social media has been influenced by marketing channels of the past. Channels like TV.

In the age of mass media and mass production, marketing was rather simplistic. You created a product, defined your message and broadcast it far and wide. You hoped that if you shouted loud enough people would listen and a fraction of a percent would respond. But social media is not the place to broadcast. Social media is a place to engage.

Social media is about engagement

Think about your own use of social media for a moment. You have launched Facebook or Twitter and scanned down the stream of updates from friends and family. Posts about their kids, updates on what they are watching on TV and complaints about their bad day at work.Scattered between these updates are various conversations. People asking advice on what new camera to buy or whether a film is worth seeing.

Amongst this personal content you read “20% off high street prices on the latest fashions”. How does this update make you feel? The chances are you’re just annoyed at the intrusion. You do not use social media to read advertising. Social media is a place you go to engage with friends and family, not to be shouted at by brands.

Social media is a place to engage with friends and family, not to be shouted at by brands.
Social media is a place to engage with friends and family, not to be shouted at by brands.

Yet despite the fact that we hate this kind of update, we use the same approach when using social media for work. Without thinking we fallback on the old model of doing marketing. If we want people to listen to us and choose to follow us we must provide them with real value. We must show them that we value them and do not just see them as a cash cow.

Providing value

We spend so much of our time trying to work out how to get users to do things that we forget to provide them with value. We fixate on gaining followers with little consideration of why people would want to follow us in the first place. We bombard our followers with links attempting to drive them to our site. We don’t consider whether the content beneath those links will help them in any way. Meanwhile on our websites we publish content and then ask people to share it even though the content is rarely worth sharing.

Waterstones Oxford Street has 69,000 followers not because people want to be sold books. They follow them because they are funny.
Waterstones Oxford Street has 69,000 followers not because people want to be sold books. They follow them because they are funny.

Perhaps the answer lies in re-evaluating what social media is. We like to call it a marketing tool, but I believe we should think of it as a customer service tool. Social media should be a place where we help our customers (and potential customers). We should give them content of value, address their complaints and listen to their opinions. We should start engaging and stop broadcasting. But how do we ensure we do not fall into old habits? How do we ensure social media becomes a customer service tool and not a broadcast channel?

Changing our mindset

We need to start by recognizing that when it comes to social media it’s not a numbers game. When we stop focusing on the number of our followers we can start considering how engaged they are.

What matters is how much your followers interact with you and share your content. This indicates they value you and the content you put out. At the same time it will also help you reach a wider audience. If you have 5000 followers that never share your content then you only have an audience of 5000 people. And a disengaged audience at that.

But if you have 1000 followers, who are sharing your content, you will reach a much greater audience. For this to work, your content has to be worth sharing. I would encourage you to ask a simple question before posting to social media: “would I share this?

Too often we post content that we would never consider useful or worth sharing ourselves. At all times we must be challenging each update to justify its existence. An update must either be worth sharing, provide tangible value or encourage followers to engage with you.

The power of engagement

I cannot overstate the importance of getting users talking with you. Through discussion you build relationships and through relationship you build loyalty. When they are talking to you, you can listen. When you listen to somebody, you tell them you value them. And it is worth listening! Users will tell you everything you need to know about how to improve your products and services, not to mention your online image. The more you act on the feedback they give, the more invested in your product or service they become. Do this enough and they will feel a sense of ownership and that will turn them into evangelists for you.

Even traditional marketers know that word-of-mouth recommendation is the holy grail of marketing. If you provide your followers with value and listen to their opinions they will promote your products for you. That is more powerful than even the most compelling of marketing campaigns.

Learn how to use social media as your key marketing tool in Paul’s course – Social Media: Today’s Key Marketing Tool.Social Media: Today's Key Marketing Tool

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About Paul Boag

Paul Boag has been working with the web since 1994. He is now co-founder of the digital agency Headscape, where he works closely with clients to establish their web strategy. Paul is a prolific writer having written the Website Owners Manual, Building Websites for Return on Investment, Client Centric Web Design and numerous articles for publications such as .net magazine, Smashing Magazine and the econsultancy.com. He also speaks extensively on various aspects of web design both at conferences across the world and on his award winning web design podcast boagworld.

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