Engaging social networks & other ‘free’ technologies costs time & effort. What are some ways to make a financial return from these tools?
Don’t attempt to gain a presence in every social network. Instead, pick winners. You should be where your target market is. Generally, if you’re seeking to create business for customers above 20, stick with Facebook, Twitter & possibly LinkedIn. If other candidates emerge, evaluate them for their potential benefit to you. There may be industry of demographic specific sites that will be of far more value to your business. The value in social networking comes from being able to engage people at their own level, increasing your brand’s emotional appeal.
Should the receptionist be doing it, or the CEO?
One of the biggest decisions to make is who will be controlling communication channels. Consistently monitoring social networks can be time consuming, and exec time is expensive. The receptionist is cheap, but will he make an expensive gaff? Let’s see how other NZ organisations have done it:
Most take a mixed approach. Xero has a dedicated community manager, but often includes snippets from CEO Rod Drury & other senior execs. Oxfam NZ has their pro Andrea Walker at the helm most of the time, with support from one of her volunteers. Both approaches seem to work. The most important thing seems to be having someone clued up enough to represent the brand effectively.
Social media can be fantastic tool for your business. However, like every type of activity that you engage in, make sure you’re getting involved because you will receive a return – even if it is long-term or indirect. Here are some some ways social networking can help:
..as a tool for market analysis
Even more than other forms of marketing, social networking for business can offer you very detailed statistics on what your community is up to.
..to get the ear of influential people
Bernard Hickey, John Cambell, NBR’s Chris Keall & other media players are active users of Twitter. They’re notable in how responsive they are to comments directed to them, even from new faces. You can take advantage of this. A positive relationship with the media can be very beneficial. If you’re a small business, social networks make it very easy to level the playing field and start getting your name in influencers’ memories.
..as an advertising medium
The most obvious way to think about the online world, especially social networking, is as a way for your copy to advertise. This is especially the case now that many online technologies actively promote content sharing.
The trick here is to be sure of your strategy. Content is only shared if something thinks it will be of interest to others. One of the best things about the use of social networking is that it enables your business to be multi-dimensional.
..to position the business
Social networking & the Internet allow your business to appear as you would like it to be. Consider these highly successfully New Zealand businesses:
- Ponoko enables inventors to access high-tech manufacturing technology over the Internet. No one in the USA needs to know that the company is based in New Zealand.
- Givealittle is the opposite. The peer-to-peer donations company plays up its local credentials. Even though it has competitors, such as http://pledgie.com/, its local positioning & family business appeal stands out in the New Zealand market place.
- Likewise, Wellington Mayor candidate Jack Yan has used the Internet to expand his business to the world. He started designing typefaces in 1987 & was online in the early 1990s. That business has grown into an international media hub of fashion magazines, font creation & media consultancy with staff in NZ, Europe & North America.
Almost every business would like to be a leader in their industry (even if that phrase is overused & somewhat arbitrary). You can take advantage of the fears of your competitors by actively positioning yourself within the social networking environment. It’s a very visible way to tell your competitors that you’re active & connected to your clients. No one likes to labelled a Luddite.
..as a way to receive feedback & complaints
Twitter is much cheaper than an 0800 number. In that environment, you’re very likely to have people notify you when they’re unhappy. That provides you with a great opportunity to resolve that client’s issue. Just take a look at how Telecom NZ’s Twitter page is almost exclusively responses to customer complaints or feedback. The tone of the company is always upbeat & helpful.
..to facilitate referrals
Within social networking, referrals are everywhere. If you have a piece of news that’s worth others’ knowing about, it will be passed along. For example, special offers very effectively spread by referrals (and for free). A word of warning however, users are becoming slightly immune to these tactics. It’s best to offer a great deal, otherwise people may resent being your personal adverts.
..to recruit staff
LinkedIn is probably the most effective social networking tool for recruitment. In fact, the site is largely designed around professional development. People’s public profile is their CV. I recommend starting up conversations in groups if you want to get to know somebody’s personality.
Let me know if these tips are off the mark. Would love to hear your experiences converting social networks into financial return.