Understanding the Benefits of Social Media

As you read the following list of the benefits of social media, decide whether the benefit applies to your needs. Ask yourself how important social media is to your business, how much time you would be willing to allocate to it, and what kind of payoff you would expect.

In the Network Solutions 2011 Survey shown in the following illustration, you can see how small businesses rated the relative effectiveness of social media and the profitability of social media.

[Credit: Courtesy of Network Solutions,  LLC]
Credit: Courtesy of Network Solutions, LLC

If you can’t imagine your company gaining from one of the following benefits, perhaps social media is not the marketing answer for you:

  • Casting a wide net to catch your target market: The audience for social media is huge. By mid-2011, Facebook claimed more than 800 million active users, more than half of which log on to Facebook on any given day. Twitter claims 175 million accounts with perhaps half of them actively following others. Surely, some of these people must be customers or prospects you can tempt to visit your site.

  • Branding: Basic marketing focuses on the need for branding, name recognition, visibility, presence, and top-of-mind awareness. Call it what you will ― you want people to remember your company name when they need or want your product or service. Social media services, of almost every type, are excellent ways to build your brand.

  • Building relationships: To build effective relationships in social media, you must establish your expertise; participate regularly as a good “citizen” of whichever social media world you're inhabiting; avoid overt self-promotion; sell softly; and provide value with links, resources, and unbiased information.

  • Improving business processes: Although individual applications depend on the nature of your business, consider leveraging social media to respond to customer problems; solicit feedback and input on new products; provide technical support; improve service delivery; locate qualified vendors; collect critical market intelligence; drive traffic during slow times; and acquire new customers.

  • Improving search engine rankings: Just as you optimize your website, you should optimize your social media outlets for search engine ranking. Now that search engines catalog Twitter, Facebook, and other appearances on social media, you can gain additional front-page real estate for your company on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.

  • Selling when opportunity arises: Conventional thinking says that social media is designed for long-term engagement, for marketing and branding rather than for sales. However, a few obvious selling opportunities exist, particularly for B2C companies, that won’t offend followers:

    • Sites such as MySpace, which caters to music and entertainment, are considered appropriate places to sell CDs and event tickets.

    • Social shopping services such as Stylehive, which recommend products ― particularly apparel, jewelry, beauty, and decor ― generally include a link to your store.

    • Many businesses offer promotion codes or special offers to their followers on particular networks to encourage them to visit a hub site to make a purchase. Others announce sales or events.

    • Companies may place links to their online or third-party stores on their profile pages on various sites. Rarely can you sell directly from a social networking service, but some permit you to place a widget that visually showcases some of your products and links to your online store, PayPal, or the equivalent to conclude a transaction.

    • Including a sign-up option for your e-newsletter can offer a bridge to sales.

    • Scattering sales offers within a stream of information or news prevents your social media from becoming a series of never-ending advertisements. The chart shown in the following illustration indicates that many businesses that make the effort succeed in acquiring customers by way of a social media channel.

  • Saving money on advertising: For many small businesses, “free” social media services are the only advertising they can afford. If you decide to approach social media for this purpose, construct your master campaign just as carefully as you would approach a paid one.

    [Credit: Courtesy of Hubspot]
    Credit: Courtesy of Hubspot

Should you join the crowd? If you want some reassurance, a 2011 CMO survey found that “businesses already spend 5.6 percent of their marketing budgets on social media marketing, with that figure predicted to grow to 9.8 percent by 2012 and 18.1 percent by 2016.” In the end, however, only you can decide whether social media is a good investment for your business.

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