Social Networking – Can Your Company Afford Not to Engage?

Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. If I said these words to you years ago you would have looked at me like I was crazy! The aforementioned are websites used to fuel the social networking phenomenon. In case you are not aware of how social networking sites function, people use these sites to form associations with others that share the same personal or professional interests. Millions of people are using these sites to keep in touch with their families and friends.

Now companies are jumping on the bandwagon and incorporating social networking sites into their marketing campaigns. Although, social networking is relatively new, it is gaining status as a new way for companies to effectively market their products and services because of the following:

  •   Interactive
  •   Cost effective
  •   Ability to market 24/7

Interactive
The main purpose of a marketing campaign is to promote your product or service to your target market. What better way to reach your target market than on their own turf? Years ago the typical marketing campaign would have consisted of direct mail, print advertising, and if you could afford it TV or radio ads. One thing all of the aforementioned mediums fail to do is to encourage participation.

Social networking sites enable you to instantaneously connect with your target market and receive feedback regarding your product and service. Regardless of what social networking site your company decides to join, all of them will enable you to foster a closer relationship with your customers-the degree in which this is accomplished rests solely upon your company. Consumers are already doing what they intended to do on these-connect with family and friends-you (companies) are the new kid on the block so it is up to you how you want others to perceive your brand.

An organization’s objectives for how to incorporate social networking into their marketing campaigns often differ.   For example, Beth Bridges, Membership Director of Clovis Chamber of Commerce states that, “Our objective in using social networking is to create a trusted community and to increase awareness of their events within the community. We also use social networking sites to have more personal interaction with members who we might not see at regular networking activities and reach more of the younger business owners in the community who are using social media much more extensively to promote themselves and their businesses.”

It is a safe bet that the majority of companies that are new to social networking may be tempted to mention their product every five minutes on these sites-it is in your best interest not to do so. I realize that many organizations’s main objective for using social networking sites is to promote their product. I am not telling you to abandon your objective-just alter the method in how you choose to do so.
People use products and services for different reasons and you will never know any of them if you do not take the time to foster a relationship with your target market. Many have been conditioned into thinking that companies could care less about their customers so it is up to your company to prove them wrong. Those who successfully do will reap the benefit of loyal customers. These customers will then share your product or service with their family and friends. It is more effective if you let your target market promote your product for you.

Word of mouth continues to be an important factor in whether consumers and businesses purchase a product or service. Many people consult with family and friends before purchasing a product or service they have never used. People are always asking others for advice on products and services on Twitter. Not too long ago, I went on Twitter to get feedback on software I was considering purchasing and got a response within seconds. This person not only commented about the software I was considering purchasing but recommended alternative software that was cheaper and more robust. Everyone desires to feel confident about the purchases that they make and although they may conduct some research of a product or service (i.e. Consumer Reports) it does not carry as much weight as family or friends.

Cultivating a relationship will enable you to stay ahead of the competition-provided you are listening to your target market. Social networking sites allow you the ability to gauge if you are effectively promoting your product or service to your target market. Based upon conversations in the forums you have the ability to find out what needs are not being met and create a service to meet that need. Social networking enables you to discover opportunities.

For example, you own a coffee shop near a college campus and have established an account on a social networking site. Students are complaining about not having a place to study during final exams and how they love your coffee because it not only tastes great, but helps them stay awake. How could you use this information? A savvy marketer would find out when final exams take place and expand their hours in order to meet the needs of their customers. It is a win-win situation for all involved. The students have a place to study while drinking your excellent coffee and you have the opportunity to increase your profits while further developing your customers’ loyalty to your coffee shop. This opportunity was brought to you by social networking. If your company had not taken the time to interact with your target market using social networking sites your company would have missed out on a golden opportunity to fulfill a need not being met by other coffee shops.

Armed with the knowledge of who you are trying to target, you will be able to determine which of the most popular social networking sites your target market will be found chatting with their family and friends. Although all social networking sites enable you to be interactive, the degree to which you are able to do so is based upon the application you choose. Some of the most popular sites companies are using to advertise their product are as follows:

Twitter: This is an online micro blog website that integrates with your computer, cell phone and other online social networking sites. Twitter simply asks you, “What are you doing?” You are able to share your thoughts (also known as “tweets”) provided they are under 140 character restriction. People can choose to “follow” you based upon your tweets.

-Facebook: This website allows users to create customized profiles sharing information, photos, videos etc. and has applications that are designed specifically to their site. Facebook users can see only the profiles of confirmed friends and the people in their networks. Friends can look at each others pages and comment on their “wall” (this is a spot where comments can be viewed by others.

-MySpace: This website allows you to stay in touch with friends and meet new people. You have the ability to add new friends based upon the information posted on your space.

-YouTube: A popular site that allows users to upload and store videos to be shared for private or public viewing.
-Brazen Careerist: An online site comprised of Generation-Y (ages18 to 30) that displays blogs written by the community that generates thought provoking discussions.

All of the aforementioned sites will enable you to interact with your target market. Some companies make the mistake of becoming apart of as many social networking sites as possible. As with all things in life-quality will always win out over quantity. Meaning, it is better to invest your time building your relationship with your target market on fewer social networking sites if it means that you are able to truly listen to what is being said and share your industry expertise with those on the site. Joining numerous social networking communities and contributing nothing to them will leave people with the impression that your only there to promote your name and could care less about getting to know them-an impression no business can afford to leave.

Cost effective
Companies are always looking to save money and often zero in on marketing expenses (which is the wrong move to make, but that’s another article!). Social networking can be implemented into your organization’s marketing campaign because it is free. There is absolutely no reason why companies should not be incorporating social networking into their campaigns. The only investment required from companies is their time. After all if you are not willing to learn more about your target market and how using your product or service benefits them-then why should they (your target market) buy your brand?

Social networking sites save time and are cost effective for both companies and their customers. Companies can use social networking sites to gain instantaneous feedback regarding product launches. You can gauge the success of your launch based upon the comments you see shared online. Some companies are even starting to handle their customer complaints on social networking sites. This is a great medium to handle your complaints. People want their issues resolved accurately and quickly-what better way to do so than on their terms? Your customers are more at ease because they are doing something they already enjoy networking with those who share similar interests, family, friends, etc. It is more expensive for companies to attract customers than to retain them, so it is imperative that companies maintain a delicate balance.

Twitter is one of the most popular social networking sites for businesses. Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe retailer, is an excellent example of how companies should use social networking sites. Zappos is constantly being recognized for providing quality customer service. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, along with his employees use Twitter to interact with customers, handle service issues and monitoring comments being made about their company. Comcast and Dell also have customer service people on Twitter who search for and address complaints online. Companies are always searching for fast, accurate, and cost effective methods used to monitor their brand and social networking sites enable you to accomplish these goals.

Ability to market 24/7
In today’s fast paced world there are many people who do not log online during “normal” business hours. In fact, many times people log on these sites during unconventional business hours to connect with family and friends (i.e. friends and family overseas). Social networking sites enable you to continuously market your product or service even when you are not online. The time you have spent in cultivating your relationship with your target market will be evident. Companies who have built great relationships with their customers can rest assure that their customers will continue to “spread the word” about your product or service when your not online.

The aforementioned reasons demonstrate why social networking is an effective marketing technique. Some companies feel that social networking is even more effective than “traditional” marketing techniques (i.e. print advertising, direct mail, etc.).  Holly Homer, Founder and Editor of BurbMom.net which is a website for moms in the North Dallas/Fort Worth area rely solely on social networking sites. “We started out with an advertising budget of zero.  I wanted to see how far we could get by just doing free things. Our website has been online for 3 months and last month we had over 4800 hits-over 60% of those were local.  One hundred local moms have joined our online social network.  We have not spent a dime on advertising. I really don’t think we could have accomplished this much in this short of time through traditional advertising with money.”

Bridges said, “Social networking is absolutely more effective in reaching people who are using social media than the traditional tools-they are going to pay more attention to a message, email, or posting from you if you have established a relationship with them. By following you (or linking to you, joining your group, etc.) they are asking you to keep them informed, unlike a random postcard mailing or newspaper ad.”

Companies cannot afford to dismiss social networking just because it is a relatively new marketing technique. Companies that do not engage in social networking are missing out on opportunities to interact with their customers while simultaneously saving money. Social networking requires your organization’s time and energy to cultivate relationships with your target market that will go along way in fostering loyalty to your brand. In today’s economy, social networking is the one investment you can expect to see a return.