Over the years and, it seems, from day to day social media have increasingly empowered people as social beings and as consumers. Through the many and varying channels of social media, opinions are easily made, expressed, and swayed whenever you please, wherever you please.
Information has never been relayed, consumed and shared at a more frenetic pace. Rarely does traditional media beat Twitter to the latest breaking news, and news agencies have been encouraging feedback that the public are all too happy to provide through these social networking sites. How often have you seen a news segment about something that’s gone viral on social media? How many people have gotten their 15 minutes because of an unassuming post on YouTube?
People are eager to eat up different kinds of stuff online almost as much as they enjoy sharing and talking about them. It’s gotten to a point where you go for drinks with friends after a day of being on Facebook and still kick things off with stuff you’ve seen online. Work busies and keeps you away from these sites, and suddenly you’re out of the loop. These types of situations keep us coming back. It encourages us keep up with what goes on our favorite social media sites, while fostering a voice that people increasingly feel entitled to. No longer are we sponges the way we used to during the days of traditional media, to a certain extent, we’ve become our own media.
People thrive at the interactivity, and businesses have been quick to recognize the potential social media has as a business tool. Unfortunately, recognition of social media as an important marketing tool has a sharp divide with understanding how to properly utilize it. Social media is a tool and not a primary, much less stand-alone business strategy. Grasping this concept and not being blinded by the frenzied stream of information on social media allows for you to take a step back and map out a plan. Just as importantly, having clear understanding that social media has evolved into a toolbox, and not just a singular tool might be the knowledge that pushes your business to the next level.
Now, as many social media experts a lot of people would have you believe are out there, social media campaigns have time and again showed that we haven’t quite come across a foolproof system just yet. Even the biggest brands have used varying approaches that have led to varying results. One thing this tells us is that, while social media marketing may be a relatively new concept, the essence of utilizing it does not stray far from proven marketing principles.
Targeting and Understanding Your Market
In spite of the willingness of people to interact via the social media, businesses cannot approach creating a campaign with this primarily in mind. You need to clearly distinguish whom you want to connect with. Identifying anyone interested in your product or service is not targeting your market. Some businesses may be able to quickly come up with a target demographic, but often, even these are far too general.
Look at where you get most of your business from and understand why it is they buy from you. Look at their age and income range, and make an effort to get an idea of their online behavior. How they respond to online content and what they do with it shapes your plan of attack.
You can then move on to people who are similar to them because all signs point to those people being able to benefit as well from you product or service. You may also want to do the same to whom your competitors are targeting and whom they’re getting their business from. When you’re able to definitively identify your target, you can begin to understand their behavior and what influences this.
Social media marketing starts to bloom when it begins to drive conversations. But to do this, businesses and their campaigns need to have influencers—people to drive these conversations. Finding out who to drive your content is almost as vital as the content itself. How many times have you seen a tweet or post about a product or service that, while may be interesting to you, lacks the necessary influence hovering above it for you to care?
However, marketers need to understand that influence doesn’t necessarily equate to popularity. Going for the highest visibility with the widest reach misses the point of influence, as one of the driving factors of influence is relevance. Influencers need to be relevant to the conversations you want your target market to be interested in. Having Manny Pacquiao, who swears to have quit all vices, try to talk about Hennessy would be dismissed as easily as the scorecards of his last fight.
Influence is marketing; it is ads, packaging, marketing events that are geared to affect people’s behavior. Only now, with social media, it’s provided businesses with tools to achieve similar (and sometimes better) results not only for a fraction of what it costs in traditional media, but in a much more targeted way as well.
But for any of these to work, there needs to be trust. It can be a shared link, a blog, or a news article, but if the target market can’t trust the source, its influence on their behavior will be very limited, if any at all.
Sharing is Caring in Social Media Optimization
Another significant tool you should have in your social media marketing toolbox is Social Media Optimization (SMO). By making your content easily found, shared and distributed by the community, it gives you the opportunity, not only for site traffic, but visibility and credibility as well.
While SMO doesn’t end with embedding a “Like” or “Tweet,” button on your site, it’s certainly a great start. Installing social buttons like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google Plus allows you to reach different communities translating to higher visibility, and ultimately credibility. The easier you make it for your audience to share your content, the bigger the rate of success you are allowing for your site, and essentially, your brand.
Traffic, backlinks, and rankings are some of the things that SMO can instantly bring to your site, but it is important to understand that its real benefit lies in the way it inspires you to create excellent, keyword-rich content that builds your brand, and exposes your content to a whole spectrum of new visitors.
Tools, Tools, and More Tools
When you’ve already established a presence in different social media sites, the next logical tool you can utilize are social sign-ins. While the concept isn’t brand new, only a handful of ecommerce sites have incorporated the ability for customers to log-in to a website using their social media log-in credentials, as opposed to registering separately with that site. For consumers, it simply takes away the hassle of having to memorize yet another username and password, but for the retailers, the benefits are exponential. Social sign-ins provides retailers access to information they otherwise wouldn’t have if users were to undergo a separate registration on their websites. When someone logs-in to a website using their Facebook credentials, that retailer would gain access about that individual (likes, preferences), which they can in turn use to customize offerings.
Going back to the fact of interactivity as one of the major pulls of social media, comment systems can also prove to be a valuable tool in engaging your audience. With the dawn of centralized 3rd party comment systems that can be integrated onto any website, your audiences are allowed to comment on all participating websites using a single user account. These comment systems not only make it easier for website visitors to post a comment and invite even more comments from other users, they give instant feedback that allows you to keep your audience engaged.
Upping up the ante on the subject of interaction, launching contests not only engage site visitors, they offer them the obvious incentive of winning a prize. There’s also great potential for your social network fans and followers to pass on your brand message to their own network.
You can have the concepts of social media tools and the key points to remember in utilizing them down to a T, but even that doesn’t guarantee a successful social media campaign. Even with the biggest brands, it takes time to create momentum to be able to establish your brand in the various communities. But once one of your ideas hit the bull’s eye, it’s easy to see how all the planning and hard work was all worth it. In the same way, getting that initial taste of success doesn’t mean you can relax. It only means that you’ve gotten your foot through the door, and it’ll take a stream of fresh ideas to keep it there.
To cap off, we must constantly be reminded that social media is not much different in essence to known marketing strategies. What it provides is new tools to make the execution of those strategies keep up with the times (in this case, the predominance of people in social networks). These tools can exponentially engage your target, but should not be considered shortcuts. Proper social media utilization is no different from any successful approach; it also requires, planning, creativity, and patience.