I use social media- a lot. Not only do I use it for myself to maintain personal connections with friends, family, clients, colleagues and old acquaintances, I also use it to promote my business and my clients. The benefits of social media for both my personal life and business are obvious to me. But I’m finding out as I talk with some in the small business community that they are not aware of social media’s many benefits or sold on its effectiveness. So I’ve decided to do a little research and write some articles presenting the benefits of social media. Here is a recent article from my December 2009 newsletter listing what I believe are the top 10 benefits of social media.
The first major benefit of social media is that it brings awareness. It is a low-cost way to get your name or the name of your organization on the web and into the minds of customers, patrons, and prospects. Anyone can set up an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Merchant Circle, Plaxo and dozens of other sites free of charge. The only cost involved is the cost of your time.
Identify Customer and Prospect Wants and Needs
Once you have established a presence in social media your business can connect with and stay in touch with customers to identify wants, needs, and problems- and communicate your solutions. Ask questions to find out what customers are looking for. Create forums on your Facebook fan page for fans to speak their minds about likes and dislikes. Since space is limited on social media sites (especially Twitter) when you need more detailed information, create surveys and questionnaires with a free tool such as Zoomerang or Survey Monkey and simply post the link on social media sites asking people to take the survey. Used with survey tools, social media is a great place to watch trends and get feedback from customers and potential customers. Bonus tip- if you want to get a bigger picture of the marketplace by knowing what your competitions’ customers want, check your competitor’s sites. Follow them on Twitter and join their Fan pages. Sign up for their emails. This is a good way to pick up on trends and get ideas for new product or service offerings. It’s also a great way to discover how you compare to your competition so you can know how to further differentiate yourself from them.
The third major benefit is that you can monitor what your customers and others are saying about your brand. Sites like Yelp let customers post reviews of businesses. You can use Yelp and similar sites to find out what is being said about your company or brand and respond through social media. In fact, some companies are using Twitter as a customer support platform because of its ease of use and real-time updates. Likewise, you can monitor what your customers and others are saying about your competition’s brand. These types of conversations used to go on out of listening range of business owners and managers. Rarely did they know what a customer said about them- good or bad. However now, with so many taking their thoughts, complaints and comments online, we have the privilege of being able to “listen” in on these conversations and respond accordingly.
Increase Online Exposure
A fourth major benefit of social media is increasing your online exposure. The Google and Bing search engines pick up Facebook and Twitter posts and updates and include them in search results. If your website in referenced in your Facebook or Twitter profile (and it should) people who visit your profiles can see and click your website link and be taken directly to your business’ website, increasing your traffic directly. Indirectly, these searches put extra eyes on your business name, your name, and/or your brand name thereby increasing your exposure. Additionally links from social media sites back to your organization’s website often increase your website’s page ranking by being associated with a well-known and trusted website such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Merchant Circle. Kind of like the instant boost in credibility or coolness nerdy high school kids get when a member of the cool crowd accepts him into his group.
Generate Targeted Traffic
A related benefit is that businesses and other organizations can generate traffic to their website, blog, or events- by posting relevant information and links to your website, blog, etc. right in their social media posts. Twitter is a terrific tool for this and I use this when appropriate. Not every post can contain a link to your stuff or a plug for it or you won’t have fans and followers for very long. But after you have earned the right to promote yourself this is an excellent way to let people know about your business or cause.
Generate and Nurture Qualified Leads
Through search features and third-party sites like Twellohood, Localtweeps, iPhone apps, and even TweetGrader, you can generate and nurture leads. Just use the tools to find people by place, title or interest to follow them and connect with them on Twitter. Check their Twitter profiles to see what other social media sites they belong to and look for ways to connect with them there as well. Here is a link to a great article on Mashable about finding local fellow tweeters http://mashable.com/2009/06/08/twitter-local-2/.
Social media networks are a good place to toot (or tweet) your own horn. You can announce new products, services, enhancements, awards/recognition, etc. on social sites to spread the word more quickly. Just be sure to mix in helpful advice and conversation and not to toot your own horn too frequently.
Find new business partners, vendors, suppliers and business opportunities and stay in touch with current business partners, vendors, and suppliers. I’ve met a few business associates through both LinkedIn and Twitter and did so within only a few months of using each service. I was not looking for this, it just happened naturally. If that is your goal, however, there are strategies to follow to make your search more productive and efficient.
Learn- people post all sorts of information on social networks that are helpful to small businesses such as marketing advice, management advice, customer service advice, and personnel advice. You just have to know how to find it. One excellent way is to use Twitter’s search feature and search for words or phrases using the # (hashtag) symbol. Use hashtag directories to understand what abbreviations mean and find useful hashtags. Twitter recently unveiled a service that lets you organize and follow lists tweets that are relevant or interesting to you. You can create the list using your own criteria. The great thing about these lists is that you don’t have to follow people to follow the topic. All the tweets are grouped together and you can keep these private- meaning no one can see the list you have created- if you like.
Build Trust and Credibility
And the one that I think is most crucial to small businesses- especially if you sell a product with a long sales cycle that takes multiple touches with your customers, is that social media helps you build trust and credibility. Customers want to buy from people they know, like, and trust. Social media is a wonderful tool to get to know customers as people, become personable to them and get them to like you. Using social media is a convenient, and even fun, way to develop and cultivate relationships with your customers and prove your credibility and trustworthiness.
Used the right way social media holds many benefits that will help your business find customers new and old, better understand their needs/wants and purchase drivers, and develop long-lasting relationships that result in satisfied and loyal customers- and a healthy bottom line for you.
Copyright 1st Position Marketing 2009