Why business should join the social media conversation

Social media has redefined the rules of marketing your business and communicating with customers. But with so many new tools available, how can SME owners effectively utilise them to meet business objectives?

1.   What is social media?
It is irrefutable that technology has had a profound impact on the business environment over the past decade. Whether your business is a multi-national organisation, an SME or a home-based micro business, social media is the buzzword from boardrooms to kitchens. Yet, not since the introduction of the printing press has there been an intervention that has potential to revolutionise the nature of business.

It is estimated that there are currently 475 million internet users, worldwide aged between 16 and 54. Of these, 5.1 million are Australian. Social media provides businesses with the opportunity to connect directly with their customers (and suppliers), while extending their geographical reach into a broader community, creating a distinct point of differentiation from the larger organisations that are restricted by policy decisions on how to effectively respond and protect their brand.

Social media (or so-called Web 2.0 applications) such as Twitter, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, wikis, RSS (really simple syndication) and aggregation of content, social networks, photo or video sharing sites, Google searches, or web-enabled mobile phones, are empowering consumers—geographically dispersed, but connected by technology—to gather information, make choices and decisions, and interact with many people without the boundaries imposed by traditional business models.

Why has social media become so popular? The underlying concepts attributed to the rapid uptake of social media applications are:

  • Ease of use (you can sign up and start participating within minutes)
  • Creation of networks (you can quickly and easily connect, share and communicate with others)
  • Ability to participate in a variety of ways (you can rate, review, comment, write or simply read or watch).

Social media supports conversations and interactions between people, while building a personalised social network that creates connections and allows shared experiences and shared knowledge.

2.   Why should your business consider using social media?
A fundamental concept when considering integrating social media into your overall business strategy is that: The information is not important in itself—it is the relationship with other people with shared interests.

Recent research has identified a fundamental shift in the behaviours of consumers; how we research products, how we share opinions, rate and review products and the influence word-of-mouth marketing is having on purchasing decisions.

A report released by Universal McCann in September 2008 called When did we start trusting strangers? says: “The result is an influence economy that is forcing everyone in the public realm including the owners of products and brands to become more transparent, open, conversational, and honest. They have to rethink the way that influence is distributed and the role of marketing communications in an information landscape dictated by consumers.”

3.  What are the risks of not taking part in ‘the conversation’?
A current case study still playing out across the social media landscape is that of the the Motrin Moms. Backlash against an advertising video on their website spread across hundreds of blog posts, Twitter streams, a dedicated Facebook group, YouTube, and the traditional media. Within two days, the crisis was almost unstoppable.

The advertisement was pulled, the manufacturers apologised, but the Moms aren’t stopping yet and it will remain to be seen how the scenario continues and how it concludes.

Follow the story here: http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2008/11/the-groundswell.html or do a Google search for current comments.

There are a number of local Australian examples currently in play, with yet to be determined outcomes. By the time a story appears in local media, it’s already gained significant attention in the social media landscape!

4.  What is ‘listening’ and why is it important?
The ease of use has enabled the rise of mass influence channels where consumers share their experiences and voice their opinions, while others make comments, rate and review your products and services. The written complaint sent directly to the manufacturer has been superseded by social media platforms with a wider international audience.

The social media landscape requires a new, more conversational approach that allows a less controlled, open and transparent platform to engage with your customers and a wider audience. Your target market can be encouraged to discuss and share their thoughts openly, while businesses can become part of these conversations through actively listening and responding.

  • What do you already know about your customers?
    Find out what your customers are already doing online, what sites they regularly visit, what are they talking about and what information they are sharing. If you think your customers are not online already, think again! Niche communities are springing up everywhere, and all generations are now actively participating. What you need to know is where they are!
  • Build a radar, not simply Google analytics
    Social media monitoring can be set up by subscribing to various channels of popular sites where your customers are already participating. Use keywords or brand names to search for and subscribe to these activities. Remember, it’s not just about clicks and hits, it’s the nature of the conversations that are occurring, so simple analytics are not going to provide you with enough information to understand your customers’ behaviours.

5. What are the next steps?

Understanding the online behaviours of your target market is just the beginning! If you are serious about participating in the social media landscape, then you need to develop clear objectives and a strategy that recognises the allocation of resources, particularly your time. Starting a community, for example, then expecting lots of activity while you sit back and watch will be doomed for failure.

You can’t be expected to know everything, so working with social media consultancies who can guide you with strategy development and implementation plans is strongly advised. However, be wary of the social media “expert” who does not regularly use social media themselves.

And finally…

If we accept the premise that social media is creating a fundamental shift in the nature of engagement with your customers, then if your business strategies are to recognise this, the challenge will be how to embrace the new technological developments and embed online communication and interaction tools to empower your customers and create an enriched business with a social media landscape.

—Anne Bartlett-Bragg is managing director of social software consultancy Headshift (www.headshift.com) Australasia, which offers practical advice on how business owners can employ social media tools.

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Beginners Guide to Social Media

See next page for tips and case studies in social media.

What opportunities do social media present for businesses?

  • Affordable communication to a wide audience – regular engagement across relevant social media platforms can replace monthly email newsletters
  • Grow your database through people who become “followers” or “readers”
  • Extend your customer reach geographically – a local business can now expect contact beyond their physical territories
  • Direct customer feedback – ask your customers to rate and review your products and services
  • Expert opinion – publish your views on current news or related items that directly influence your industry
  • Resources  – your business can become the significant point of reference in your field by publishing your opinion and sharing your knowledge
  • Build PR around your business – increase your personal and brand profile through participation

Tips for Implementation
1. Immerse yourself
2. Participate and listen to understand
3. Identify your business objectives
4. Start small and stay focused
5. Define your strategy
6. Choose your tools careful
7. Be prepared to respond
8. Monitor your success
9. Adjust your strategy
10. Start at number 1!

CASE STUDY: AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSWOMEN’S NETWORK
Suzi Dafnis, community director of the Australian Businesswomen’s Network, has been using Twitter for months. She says: “I’ll use it to pose a question on either a newsletter I’m working on or a blog post I’m writing to find out what my community wants to hear about. I get great ideas for content for our site and newsletters.

“We’ve been successfully driving up the traffic to our site by posting references to new posts on our site or blog as well as the addition of new content. Search engines like tweets and if you’re using your keywords in them it will help put you ahead of your competition when it comes to search.

“We’ve built the relationships with our members—who we encourage to join Twitter—by actively communicating with them. Because of the viral aspects of Twitter, our community has grown with new subscribers and ‘followers’ who we may not have been able to reach before.”

Follow Suzi on Twitter @suzidafnis

CASE STUDY: ACE VIRTUAL ASSISTANCE
Jodi Gibson runs Ace Virtual Assistance from home. “My impression of Twitter was that it was for teenagers and those with way too much time on their hands and in no way could be beneficial for a soloist like me,” she says.

“How wrong was I? Through Twitter I have been able to connect with so many likeminded professionals and knowledgeable contacts that have been invaluable to my business. I have had access to a wealth of information from links to blogs, articles and news items that are posted, and have also been able to share my finds, blog and resources.

“Since beginning Twitter my website and blog traffic has increased dramatically and my Google ranking improved. For smart small business operators, marketing with Twitter is about making new contacts, sharing information and ideas, and developing new relationships all in turn getting your business and brand name out there to be seen.”

Follow Jodi on Twitter @JodiAceVA

CASE STUDY: KOGAN TECHNOLOGIES
Ruslan Kogan is using Twitter to communicate directly and indirectly—in full view of an online audience—to journalists and consumers. He regularly tweets while on the road between Sydney and China, where he visits manufacturers of consumer electronics products he sells online.

Twitter forms just one—but very important—online tool Kogan Technologies uses to communicate with its customers and relevant media. The company also operates a blog and a newsletter service as part of an integrated online marketing effort.

A key approach to Ruslan’s efforts to market his company through Twitter is to keep Tweets short, sharp and relevant to the audience. Kogan Technologies has a staff of 10.

Follow Ruslan on Twitter @ruslankogan

CASE STUDY: BABYSITTERDIRECTORY.COM.AU
Babysitterdirectory.com.au is an online community that connects parents directly with babysitters and nannies. The site launched in beta in June 2008 and owner Ann Nolan started using Twitter in October when she was tipped off about it by a US-based friend.

“At first I noticed there really weren’t that many average Australians using it,” she says. “In the beginning, most of my followers and the people I was following tended to be overseas. I found that in the US especially there were a lot of women entrepreneurs using Twitter, and for me and my market that was fascinating.

“As a player in conversational marketing, if you don’t use it wisely as a business, it will fail for you. At Babysitterdirectory we are using Twitter to build brand recognition, raise awareness about our blog and website, and of course to network with other related companies both in Australia and overseas. It’s all exciting stuff!”

Follow Ann on Twitter @babysitterdirec

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