This is a guest post by Beth Hrusch.
Why do businesses need social media? It’s a good question, and one that everyone should ask before they get started. After all, spending time, money, and other precious resources on social media marketing before you have an understanding of what it can do for you is kind of like putting the cart before the horse (not advisable).
What are your goals? Just because you’ve heard that other companies are doing it doesn’t mean that social media will magically work for you. Like any marketing strategy, it takes maintenance and a clear vision of the bigger picture. Your tweets, posts and comments should all be coordinated to meet the ultimate goal, which is to establish trust, build your brand, and increase sales.
Which is why, of course, your business needs a killer social media strategy. In order to tap the potential of this fabulous marketing tool, you’ll want to first determine if social media can meet your goals and objectives. If you’re still figuring out your marketing plan for 2010, consider the following 10 reasons why a social media strategy may be well worth the effort.
It finds your customers
Companies using traditional marketing methods (e.g. surveys, focus groups, test marketing) often spend millions to locate their target markets. Where are the people most likely to buy your products and services? Establishing a social media strategy will help you see where potential customers are hanging out. You can search for related groups and Fan Pages through Facebook, start accounts on social bookmarking sites such as Digg or StumbleUpon, and check on who is linking to your site to find out who’s interested.
It tells you what they like
…and what they don’t like. Social media gives businesses on small budgets the ability to find out what people are saying about them (and others) in their industry, without paying large sums on market research. With your ear to the ground on social media, you’ll be the first to know if your product is working or if changes need to be made. Does your brand need a makeover? You’ll find out here first.
It reveals their interests
Regardless of what people are saying about you, it’s important to know what they’re talking about in general. What motivates them? What are their issues? In every industry, there are existing conversations going on. A social media strategy will allow you to get in on these conversations so that you can offer solutions, push buttons, and get people talking.
It introduces your brand
Is your company new? Or has it been around awhile but hasn’t been using social media? Starting a fan page on Facebook and a business account with Twitter is sort of like moving into a new neighborhood. You can introduce yourself, hold get-togethers and talk about topics of interest. Friends and followers will soon start inviting their friends over to see what’s going on. This is an effective way to make the connections that lead to sales.
It expands your reach
Even an established brand may be missing out on potential customers. Through social media, you can find out what online communities your existing customers belong to. These places can become portals to a larger audience for your products and services. And don’t forget that your customers can spread the word for you to these communities. Interest them with compelling and useful content, contests and giveaways, etc. They’ll soon be telling their friends and colleagues to check you out.
It gives you feedback
A big advantage to using social media is the “give and take” built into it. While large corporations are paying people to give them feedback, you can invite comments and opinions through your blog posts and fan pages for free. Then, channel them into improving your products, your brand image, etc. When you listen and respond to your customers’ opinions, suggestions and even criticisms, they start to feel invested in you.
It provides a test audience
No company wants to throw a new product or concept out there without first testing it out. You can tap into your pool of social media groupies to find those willing to test out your ideas and give you valuable feedback before you launch. Your social media pages offer places where people interested in your ideas are already gathered, so you don’t have to take a “hit or miss” approach to beta testing.
It showcases your company’s personality
Engaging through social media lends itself to more personal contact with customers. You can avoid being a faceless, impersonal storefront by letting people know who you are. Commenting, posting blogs and inviting conversation allow customers to connect with you and your brand. This builds stronger relationships over time.
It makes you accessible
Fans, friends, and followers have direct access to you. Unlike the pre-social media days, when consumers often had to deal with companies that they perceived as unreachable, you can quickly respond to your customers’ problems and frustrations before they balloon into a big mess. Likewise, being able to personally respond to positive feedback strengthens bonds by making people feel that their opinions matter.
It lets you share
Through social media, you can create all kinds of content and post it in one place. Make videos, write articles, and post blogs and podcasts to your pages, where everyone can access them. You can communicate in fun and inventive ways because there are no rules for how to best reach your audience, so you can mix it up and appeal to everyone. Sharing also gets people to share back, and gives you access to resources and links that could become invaluable to you.
There are many things that social media can do for your business. Developing a strategy for using it means that you need to think about what you want to accomplish this year and determine how social media fits into the plan. One of the benefits of a social media strategy is the fact that you can customize the available tools for your particular needs. You can choose to concentrate your efforts on the sites that seem to offer the best return on investment, while taking a “wait and see” stand on the others.
The bottom line is this: your customers are out there having conversations on social media with or without you. You can choose to join in or not. But when you think about the potential that social media marketing offers, it may be well worth your time to at least start exploring the possibilities it offers.
Beth Hrusch is Senior Editor at Interact Media, a business blog writing service that teaches writing tips and best practices.