The business marketplace now is more fecund than at any point in history. Yet it is harshly discriminating, rewarding only those who are able to master its complexity and rise above the cacophony of simultaneous competitive messages. Traditional marketing avenues – print, radio, and television – have lost their dominance in the last decade as the use of the Internet and new social media has exploded. The time spent by Americans on the Internet has risen more than 25% year-over-year (320,689 million minutes, 2011; 401,699 million minutes, 2012) according to the Nielsen 2012 Social Media Report – and if you want to sell anything in today’s market, you must be visible online.
Josh James, founder of Omniture (now part of Adobe), writes in Forbes about the value of social media: “Social media isn’t a passing fad. The primary reason you have to be social is because that is where your customers live.” Having recognized the way social media is transforming consumer purchasing decisions, James has made social media usage a condition of employment at his new startup, Domo.
Definition of Social Media
Social media is generally defined as websites that allow users to create, share, comment on, and otherwise exchange information and ideas. The site with the largest number of users today is Facebook, but there are more than 100 sites readily available, ranging from special interest sites, such as Epernicus, a site aimed at research scientists, to Gaia Online, a site for computer gamers and anime fans. There is even a site for patients who suffer from life-changing illnesses called PatientsLikeMe.
Social Media Use Is Increasing
Social media use, particularly on mobile phone applications, continues to expand without bounds of age, sex, or ethnicity. According to a Pew Research Center report, 72% of adults use social networking sites while online, including 43% of adults ages 65 and older.
In 2008, Bloomberg Businessweek claimed that social media was “going to shake up just about every business – including yours,” and that participation was not a business elective, but a prerequisite. The editors were prescient: The Edison Research report The Social Habit 2012 informs that 47% of consumers were influenced by what they read on Facebook, almost double the number from the year before. E-commerce market forecasts project 175 million U.S. digital shoppers in 2016, generating almost $362 billion in sales.
A Vision Critical survey of social media users shows that 4 out of 10 consumers browse online before purchasing in store. Conversely, 26% visit a physical store before subsequently purchasing the desired product online. The Nielsen Social Media study indicates the average time spent on social media per user is more than two hours each month.
Other pertinent information relative to the use of social media by consumers includes:
- 26% are more likely to pay attention to an ad posted by a social network acquaintance
- 26% are okay with ads directed to them based upon their personal information
- 17% feel more connected to brands seen on social networking sites
- 10% make an Internet purchase for a product advertised on social networks
The Most Popular Social Media Sites
While Facebook is the most popular social media site, with more than 152 million visitors spending 62 billion minutes on the site each month, sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+ draw more than 27 million visitors each month. For the year ending July 30, 2012, Pinterest had the highest year-over-year increase based on number of visitors and time spent on the site.
YouTube, while not one of the top five social media sites, is the number one site for delivering video content. If your business lends itself to useful, instructive video presentation, it’s time to set up a YouTube account.
Using Social Media to Drive Sales
Marketers, advertisers, and merchandisers have had years of experience in the physical world to learn what works, what draws prospects to a product, and how to persuade them to purchase. However, techniques that work in the physical world must be adjusted to be effective in the digital marketplace, even though the goals are similar.
Online advertising and marketing must:
- Help potential customers find you and your products
- Expand the number of potential customers for your products
- Uncover what your customers think of you and your products
- Find out how your customers are using your products
Social media allows you to talk with your customers, rather than to them, in an interactive process. While this interactivity plays a critical role in understanding your position vis-a-vis your competitors, it should not be a substitute for tangible revenues and profits. The bottom line matters, so you need to regularly measure your results to ensure you receive the benefits you expect.
Before beginning a social media campaign, establish your baseline performance so you can effectively measure your social media strategy once it’s in place. At a minimum, you want to measure and compare the following statistics before and after your social media effort begins:
- Market Reach. How many net new customers do you have as a result of your social media actions? If you’ve added an average of 10 new customers per month for the past year, and you get 20 new customers per month after your social media marketing effort begins, it’s logical to assume that the campaign is responsible for the new customers.
- Frequency. How often do your customers buy product? If the number of transactions per month increases, it’s probable that the marketing effort is the reason. Social media also gives you a window into the purchasers’ minds – actively engaging customers through social media could help you discover a new use or benefit of your product, or an advantage your product has over its competitors. These discoveries offer ways in which you can further increase frequency and quantity of purchases.
- Yield. How much do your customers spend each visit? How much do you net? If it costs more to gain a customer than the revenue you receive, you need to do extensive analysis and make changes to your marketing plan. For example, many retailers have replaced print catalogs with electronic catalogs promoted via social media. This type of marketing has the potential to pay off in big ways, and it’s becoming more and more popular. For instance, Nicki Minaj debuted her Kmart line on Instagram, the Swedish fashion retailer H&M used Twitter to give its fans the first look at their new collection, and J.Crew posted its 2013 style-guide on Pinterest prior to mass-mailing catalogs to potential and existing customers.
Essential Components of a Social Media Outreach Strategy
1. Digital Marketing Plan
Before embarking on a social media campaign, you should develop a digital marketing plan that includes all aspects of your online presence including your website, your email, and online advertising, as well as specific goals:
- Web Traffic. Who do you want to attract to your site? What makes your prospects unique? How many visitors would it take for your campaign to be considered successful? This measure is the equivalent of “eyeballs on the page” in the physical world, and it’s important that only a fraction of website visitors become customers.
- Conversion. How many visitors are you aiming to convert into customers? How many site visits should it take before a prospect becomes a customer? This analytic is a measure of the persuasive power of your layout, images, and site content.
- Brand Enhancement. What do you want visitors to learn about your company? Is your online presence consistent with your physical presence? Is your content clear, connected, and coordinated? Good impressions build a sense of reliability and quality, and often lead to subsequent referrals, recommendations, and down-line business.
- Visitor/Customer Communication. How do you interact with your online visitors? Is your website passive, or does it actively seek to engage visitors by drawing them deeper into the site, collecting information, and encouraging future visits? There are a variety of tools available to engage visitors, such as consumer polls, coupons, giveaways, popup ads, chat lines, and interactive blogs.
2. Website and Marketing Strategy
Effective websites are available to everyone, every business, and every pocketbook. Design and content matter, whether you’re building a simple website for yourself using a free template or WordPress theme, or a complicated site created and maintained by web professionals. The only real tests of a good website are whether the site attracts visitors, and whether it communicates the message you want to deliver.
Web visitors can discover your site in a variety of ways before you even launch a social media campaign. You want to maximize your traffic as much as possible by utilizing a number of strategies:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Powerful search engines, such as Google and Bing, constantly crawl the web to deliver listings of sites intended to fit a searcher’s search terms, a process generally referred to as organic search results. SEO best practices enable you to optimize your site, making it easier for search engines to match your site’s content with searchers’ queries. Many professionals claim informational content, such as buyers’ guides and how-to pages, help improve organic search rankings.
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Search engine sponsors generate revenue by displaying advertisements alongside their organic search results based upon the searcher’s search terms. For example, an advertiser could purchase the right to appear prominently on search results based on specific keywords, keyword combinations, and the location of the searcher. Advertising price varies based on the ranking of the search term within search results, or the number of views or click-throughs from the sponsored advertisement.
- Email Campaigns. A 2013 survey by Custora, a software company providing predictive analytics for e-commerce marketing teams, indicates that while company websites and pay-for-click ads provide about one-quarter of new e-commerce customers, customers generated as the result of email campaigns have increased more than 700% since 2009.
- Affiliate Marketing Arrangements. Similar to traditional referral marketing where customers and friends refer prospects to particular companies or products, affiliate marketing relies primarily on financial incentives for referrals. For example, the Amazon Associates Program pays commission to website owners who recommend and advertise Amazon products on their site. The benefit to Amazon is the recommendation and opportunity to be seen by potential customers. You could offer your products or services through a network of affiliates or, conversely, add compatible, complementary products to your sales by utilizing affiliate arrangements.
- Blogging. Set up as a website, blogs are a series of related narrative articles, usually offering an opportunity for reader comment and interaction. The purpose of a blog can be to inform, entertain, or opine about any subject interesting to the blogger and reader. Creating a company or personal blog, or acting as a guest blogger for other sites, is an excellent way to expand your web presence by generating readership and links from other websites.
Steps to Implement a Social Media Campaign
1. Select Your Platforms
Whether you use one or all of the major platforms to promote your business, you need to pay special attention to the format and style used by each. Visit each site and learn how people interact, the importance of visual components, and the standard etiquette practiced by users before you plunge headfirst into a style that may not be effective. Understand the mechanics of advertising on each site as well, using expert resources like this guide to conversational Facebook ads from Octane AI.
2. Prepare Unique Landing Pages
First impressions count in the digital world just as much as they do in the real world. Your digital image should mirror and attract the visitors you want to become customers.
Think about the type of information that attracts your ideal customer, then deliver content that fits this expectation. Keep in mind that each social network is different. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters per post eliminates in-depth discussions, but is perfect for linking to other sites. LinkedIn is better for making industry contacts and getting professional advice. Pinterest is perfect for showcasing products visually. When you know what type of content each site is designed for, you can tailor your social campaigns accordingly.
3. Interact With Your Visitors
Social media sites are not billboards or print advertisements. To be effective, they must be nourished with regular attention and fresh content.
As in real life, popularity depends on what you bring to the party. You’re not limited to your own materials – post videos, articles, or links that potential customers are likely to enjoy. And, always take the time to respond to feedback respectfully and appropriately. According to a survey by Dr. David Giles, an expert in social media behavior at Winchester University, 45% of Facebook users and 39% of Twitter users are “observers,” rarely participating directly in social media conversations, but paying attention all the same. Remember, you’re writing an open letter that everyone can read – don’t use language or comments you would be embarrassed or ashamed to claim.
The short-term impact of your social media marketing campaigns may not be immediately obvious. This is true of almost all marketing efforts. According to a recent survey by CMO Survey, only one-third of companies feel they can quantitatively determine the impact of marketing spending, while another third feels there is a qualitative impact, but not a quantifiable one. Almost half (49%) can’t show whether social media activities have had an impact.
That said, spending on social media marketing is expected to increase 250% over the next five years. This increase is evidence that exploiting social networks is a worthwhile marketing effort.
Do you participate in social networks? Have you recommended products or services as the result of a social network contact?