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A business owners perspective on social media

This discussion piece is for business owners seeking a no-frills explanation on how social media can add value to their business.
So in essence social media is the effect not the cause for change. You first need to understand why social media has ramped up in importance for business.

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This discussion piece is for business owners seeking a no-frills explanation on how social media can add value to their business.

The post will cover the following:

  1. What is the fundamental change to marketing that businesses must be aware of.
  2. How social media tools can help with success in this new marketing environment.
  3. How our business utilizes some of the social media tools to help retain our existing customers and attract then convert our target prospects.

But first lets get down to why you are here. I assume as a business owner you are seeking the answers to the following:

  1. Will social media help my business increase revenue?
  2. How much effort is involved and what skills and resources do I need?
  3. Is this just some glossy hype for consultants to sell me stuff I don’t need?

This discussion piece is not about selling you into social media. Its about showing you that social media tools can help your business adapt to the fundamental changes taking place within marketing which all business owners know is happening but have no idea what to do.

So in essence social media is the effect not the cause for change. You first need to understand why social media has ramped up in importance for business.

So what is the fundamental change in marketing?

Easy… Answer the questions below.

>> When was the last time you clicked on a web site banner (or for that matter even noticed the banners on a web site)?

>> When was the last time you even read an unsolicited email that was sent to you from a business?

>> When was the last time you answered the telemarketers questions?

>> When was the last time you bothered to read the averts within a newspaper?

If the answer is “don’t know” to the questions above you are not alone. Your prospects and clients are answering “don’t know” as well.

The fundamental change for business is the change from “Outbound Marketing” to “Inbound Marketing”.

Inbound Marketing – The shift in how people interact with your business

The bulk of businesses today have an “Outbound” marketing strategy that is focused on disrupting the recipient in order to get the message across.

Outbound marketing use tools that cause disruption such as telemarketing, unsolicited (opt-out) emails, unsolicited postal mail and adverts within printed media.

“Its all about pushing your wares in-front of the consumer even when they are not interested.”

People (including yourself) have either devised ways to ignore the disruption or employed tools that do the blocking for you such as CallerID, spam filters or email cleaning filters and the trusty trash bin for postal mail. This is creating a virtual brick wall against the disruption.

Marketers have in fact shot themselves in the foot by over disrupting people enough that now they are considered an annoyance and even worse ignored.

This is where inbound marketing is maturing and replacing outbound.

Instead of attempting (and now failing) to disrupt people why not encourage a relationship between you, the business, and your customers and prospects where they talk and you listen (and respond).

Inbound marketing is about building a relationship with your consumers and prospects with the intention of establishing open and transparent communication channels. The key thing here is that you as a business actually listen and respond.

Examples of inbound marketing tools are blogs, forums, Twitter and chat.

How we use social media tools to support inbound marketing

Here is an example of how we use inbound marketing to attract new customers and keep existing customers happy by using social media tools which are perfect for inbound marketing.

First off we have created a blog that our staff can contribute posts to such as software updates, business social events, customer support FAQ’s but the most important topic that is fundamental to our customers and prospects is our research findings on email marketing. A blog is an ideal tool to transmit our research data to the public in a way that is easy categorized, read and archived.

We allow comments to be posted on the blog that we monitor and respond to. This shows that we as a business are interested in what customers and prospects have to say.

Another benefit of providing a blog is that prospects who are not yet ready to engage us in a sales cycle can subscribe to the blogs RSS feed or subscribe to our newsletter. This allows them to keep track of what we are doing without having to directly contact to us. When they are ready to engage us in a sales cycle they already know how we operate and what we represent.

The end result of this effort is the creation of a community of loyal followers who believe in what we do and feel respected by us.

Stop for one moment and think about the previous sentence for it highlights one of the positive results of using inbound marketing.

We have now created a community of followers who know that we care about what they have to say. They talk – we listen and respond. It is not hard to imagine that given the chance they will mention us in their conversations and hopefully go out of their way to recommend us.

We have now moved to third party endorsement which is the most powerful form of marketing you can get.

So by using a blog we have provided a communications channel between our customers and prospects that not only reveals a more human side to our business but also allows people to directly communicate with us.

Okay, But What is Social Media?

Below is my definition of the term “social media”. You may find that our use of a blog resonates with this definition and you would be correct. A blog is a social media tool.

Social media is a set of tools that when executed correctly help in the building of personal and business relationships and networks – which when you think about it is what a good sales person does constantly – build their network.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube.. the list goes on. They are all social media tools that can help you with inbound marketing.

To further our example we use Twitter to provide another communication channel to the public if they need to contact us.

New Zealand Vodafone and Telecom both have Twitter accounts that are monitored constantly. I have posted (called a “Tweet”) to Vodafone on Twitter and got an instant response!

Reality Check with Social Media Tools

The most important thing to remember as a business owner when looking at social media tools is to not assume that having a blog, a Facebook page or a Twitter account is going to be the best thing for your business.

You need to first identify how your customers and propsects want to deal with you. For example a blog’s topic and frequency is controlled by approved authors normally the staff. Once a blog post is published only then can the public respond but of course only respond within the context of the post. A forum environment allows the public to start a topic of their choice thus giving control to the public not the business.

Social Media ROI?

I need to sort this out quick smart as well.

Basically there is no real ROI measurement that can directly provide you with the conversions you need to prove that the time and effort you put into using social media is worth it. Think back to all those coffee expense claims your sales reps submit each month. Did each coffee result in a sale? I doubt it and you would not measure the expense in that way.

You can of course measure the traffic coming to your web site via the different social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube but if the bulk of that traffic did not covert to a sale would that mean social media has failed? My opinion is that it does not nor should you think apply those metrics to using social media.

I think its now appropriate to add someone else’s opinion to this discussion that helps support my own theory on how social media benefits business:

Stephen Smith writes: “The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.”

“To illustrate that point for all our measurement and metric geeks out there, what you are trying to do is assign multiple choice scoring to an essay question. It’s not possible.”

… “Ultimately, the key question to ask when measuring engagement is, ‘Are we getting what we want out of the conversation?’” And, as stubborn as it sounds Mr. CEO, you don’t get money out of a conversation.

“To further the discussion a bit, I sat down with Katie for an episode of SME-TV, which will be added to this post later today.”

“What Katie evangelized a bit in her session was that the conversation (comments on your content) was the best measure of a level of engagement. Avinash Kaushik says much of the same in his discussions on web analytics. This isn’t an end-around the need for ROI, it’s the answer. Or at least a big part of the answer.”

“When you ask businesses why they are participating in social media, what do they say? If they say, “to make money,” then they will fail because currency in the social web is found in both relationships and content. If they say, “to grow our business,” they’re just saying, “to make money,” in a nicer way. If they say, “to participate in the conversation,” which is the more appropriate reason to be involved in the social web, then why on earth would they not measure success by the value of the conversations they have?”


Whew! The summary!

Social media tools help greatly in forming a community of customers and prospects that think highly of your business because the tools allow for more direct and transparent access to you.

Will this take effort on your part? Absolutely! But we have found the rewards to exceed the effort involved. We have been rewarded with:

  1. Great feedback about our product and willing free testers for the latest releases of our software,
  2. Increased business referrals that have dramatically increased our pipeline of opportunities.
  3. An increase of traffic to our web site from search results that include discussion about our business in the social media networks and not forgetting our blog posts.

But remember you first need to understand how your customers and prospects want to communicate with you. Only then should you select the social media tools that provide the environment they want.

You will constantly need to review the effectiveness of the tools you have implemented. You may need to remove some of the current ones and replace with other tools.

I hope that this discussion has helped you understand what is social media and why you should be using it for your business.

If you have further questions please ask it the comments section below.

How do you think social media will help your business?

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