Remember the 1990s when the Internet was viewed as a fad for geeks? Most businesses that ignored the Internet are not in business today. Call that a “net loss.” All the hype and chatter of social media has to be a bit scary for some businesses. After all, we just had a major change in the business world. What are the odds that social media will be another game changer? The odds are Excellent.
Excellent because the web has become portable with more than 1 billion cell phones sold last year, many Internet ready. These mobile devices are really powerful, affordable, pocket computers that keep people in touch with their network of friends. They share ideas, photos and even where they are. These are the people you want to reach, but how do you get to them?
Relax. There are only three things you need to know to bring your business into the social media realm: Control, content, and conversations.
Let’s focus on the control of your message. Every good business wants to, and, indeed, must control their message. To quote social media rock star Chris Brogan, “You never had control of your message.”
It’s true. Even in the pre-web days, you never had control of your message. Sure, at first, you may set the outline of the message, but the perceptions that people have about your company becomes the reality they share with others.
Neighbors chatting on the edge of the lawn about your products and customer service has given way to opinions posted on someone’s Facebook wall. (For example, “In line trying to pay at Company X for 15 Minutes: FAIL.”) Messages can jump between social media sites, and keep gaining velocity. Their word-of-mouth can spread within seconds and can be helpful or hurtful, regardless of the truth.
This is true for small local businesses or large corporations. Remember, these are circles of friends, business acquaintances, and classmates who share a level of trust.
If you can’t control the message, you can at least monitor the messages and develop a voice to control any misinformation that may occur. You can also thank them for the positive message. A thank you can go a long way to let people know, one-on-one, that you appreciate them – and that you are accessible online where THEY are. Wouldn’t you be more likely to use a business that you can reach with a comment or question?
It sounds like one-on-one marketing is counterintuitive, especially in the days of mass marketing. Reality check: We react better when we know we’re not a number. Since we know many can “overhear” our one-on-one discussions, the good can spread quickly.
Make listening to your customer a strategic advantage. Knowing you’re responsive to their needs means you have allies when you need to get a message out. More important, you gain people who become fans of you and your business in the process. It takes time to get a base, so be patient and develop the conversations before you need to rely on the community.
Last year, a badly handled legal issue at Ford motor company was quickly resolved by their head of social media Scott Monty. Most people want to be fair, and in the social media world, the truth finds its way to the top. Scott had already built his community at Ford, likely saving significant sales and saving Ford tons of bad publicity.
The third element to master is content, which is the basis for learning and making decisions. Content can be text, audio, video or graphic, but it must be engaging. People go to a product web site to be informed and possibly purchase. They go to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, NING and even LinkedIn to get the advice from others.
You need to answer one question first: Why do you have a web site? If you can answer this, you can then identify the steps that result in a successful visit. These Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, are where you focus your success metrics.
You can measure how content is used with a good web analytics package. You can determine content that works from content that kills visits, learn where your visitors are coming from and how they find – or don’t find – what they’re seeking. Don’t just move around content, but test it (new versus old content) in an A/B test to see which drives the results that give the visitors what they want from your site.
Measuring social media is different. Social media is about conversations and interaction. The first Facebook college generation has graduated and appears to be keeping closer to their friends than their pre-Facebook counterparts.
If Facebook was a country, it would rank fifth in population, just above Brazil. This week, Facebook introduced a real-time stream of your updates. While this may seem a waste to some, others are excited about the real-time updates. You can’t ignore their 200,000,000 regular users. Add Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace, and, depending on your goals, one (or more) of these will be the right platform for you to start with.
What do you measure to determine success: friends and followers or conversations? The answer may neither. It could be level of engagement, but those metrics are still being tested.
For now, don’t confuse friends and followers for influence with people who care. The number of followers is not as important as what you communicate. Even CEOs on Twitter know to be social because companies don’t take part in social media – people do. Be personable, and don’t just deliver the company line.
Like your web, know why you are in the social media space, and what you expect from it. Selling is not the answer, because that is not its purpose. Don’t get me wrong, you CAN sell there. At least if you’re the type of person who tries to sell to someone stuff while talking to them at a cookout. If you would rather have a conversation, you can leave someone with a very good opinion about you and your company. And their perception is reality.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation, and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.