As any good marketer knows, to effectively reach your target market you have to get into the customer's world in order to understand their needs and interests. Many businesses have used Internet marketing to reach customers via ads, banners and websites, but now social media provides an additional way to interact with existing and potential customers.
Through social media, a company can quickly and easily connect with customers and share information. This medium allows you to share announcements on the release of new products and give special discounts, among other activities, to engage your customers. Many companies currently use Twitter and Facebook for this type of interaction, from tweeting discounts to providing free samples and early usage opportunities to their followers.
Customers also use social media to give their feedback to the company, as well as share their opinions on products and services with fellow followers. The uses vary widely, such as for letting a customer submit a complaint about the camera they bought from an electronics store or for allowing a prospective student to ask a question about a school program. Social media, therefore, opens a two-way communication channel of an immediate nature, which allows companies to better and more quickly respond to their customers' needs.
Whether you have a large corporation or a small corner store, social media can help you to expand your reach and your business.
It is vital to consider social media as a marketing and public relations effort and, as such, implement proper planning and co-ordination. These plans may also need to be incorporated into the company's policies, so every employee is aware of the dos and don'ts established by the company in the use of social media.
Some Strategies To Get You Started
The following five steps offered by Mashable.com offer good guidance in developing your plan:
- Listen: Listen to your market and customers to ensure your plan is in alignment not only with corporate objectives but their needs. Ensure that social media is feasible for your organization and how it will fit in with your current strategy and culture.
- Prepare: Having gathered data from your customers and stakeholders, determine the objective of interactions. Determine which employees will interact and make sure it doesn't interfere with their current responsibilities; you may need to have dedicated employees. Then, create guidelines to ensure alignment and decide which media will be most effective.
- Engage: Constant interaction is required to keep your audience interested. Build your community through blogs, photo sharing, discussions, new product teasers and competitions. Respond to feedback in a timely manner, letting them know you hear them. Follow-up on questions, and move detailed interaction to a more personal medium.
- Go offline: In addition to including personal one-on-one online interaction, be sure to create face-to-face relationship-building opportunities for your online community. Have special focus groups or events specifically for people whom you interact with via social media.
- Measure Success: Monitor the activities to see if your objectives are being met and make any necessary adjustments. Put user feedback, both negative and positive, to good use as a way to improve not only the interaction but your products and services.
Proceed With Caution
One of the biggest business problems associated with social media is the lack of control, to a certain degree, on information. It provides a forum for everyone's voice to be heard. The information being disseminated about your company can come from internal and external sources. By maintaining a social media presence, a company can be proactive in providing a central way to deliver information, as well as handle an unexpected event, be it good or bad. Having guidelines helps to curb any potential problems.
Businesses should try to stay aware of any negative publicity their own employees may be generating. Some websites allow users to post and rate employers, such as Glassdoor.com , and such websites can both help and damage a company's reputation to potential employees. Facebook and other social networking websites ask for employment history data for a user's profile. If a company's policies do not specify how or if employees may post company-related information on such websites, then it has no protection. The old saying "any publicity is good publicity" isn't necessarily true in the current age of technology. Having a plan and proper guidelines for its use will help to prevent bad publicity, at least from the hands of your employees.
There are several social media companies, such as SocialMediaMarketing.com and Intrapromote LLC , that focus on effective uses of social media tools. HearsaySocial.com is another company that realizes how important it is for a large business to create a plan for all its branches and subsidiaries to ensure alignment in their social media. These types of companies work to empower the effective use of social media while protecting their brand and image. They help companies navigate through the five steps as well as provide information on how to come back from social media mishaps.
There are many ways a business can use social media to engage its customers, regardless of size, at little or no cost. Take control of your company's online reputation and start the two-way conversation with your customers today.