Social media is a phenomenon. One in every four minutes spent online in Australia is now spent on a social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.
Facebook alone has more than 900 million members worldwide, of which 11 million are Australian – more than half the population of this sunburnt land. Accordingly, embracing social media can make your business money if you commit to a strategy that engages, entertains and empowers your market.
Social media is often assumed to be new. It’s not. Two of the best examples of successful sites based on social media principles are eBay and Amazon. Both are more than 15 years old, both are internet success stories and both make money. Clearly their business models are internet-based and will not suit every business. That said, the philosophy of open and trustworthy communication, of empowering customers and using networking to communicate, are lessons that every business can learn from.
What’s your strategy?
But let’s be clear. You are extremely unlikely to set up a Facebook Page and then sit back and watch the dollars roll in. Sadly, it just doesn’t work like that. Facebook, like any other channel to market, requires a well-determined strategy combined with time and resources to make it work for your business. And in real terms, it’s the strategy that’s most important.
In a well-publicised move, General Motors (GM) pulled its Facebook advertising in the week before the recent Facebook IPO, citing a disappointing return on investment as the reason. At about the same time, Ford announced that it would invest an additional $25million in Facebook advertising, announcing unprecedented success levels in sales uplift, measured and tracked to the communities it had created, over time, on Facebook. Ford can prove that people who connect to their Facebook Page are distinctly more likely to become customers. You may argue that they are preaching to the choir, but even if they are, they are getting the choir to open their wallets.
They sell the same product, they are competing for similar audiences and they are marketing to the same territories (no pun intended), the only real difference between these two businesses in this particular channel is the social media strategy they are pursuing. Ford has one, GM does not. Ford has, for several years now, demonstrated an understanding that the power of social media is not just targeted advertising. Sure, click through rates (CTR) and conversions from Facebook adverts are often above industry standard, but the real power is in harnessing community to sell your product for you. Ford gets this.
Lessons from GM and Ford
But what does this mean to you, and how can the lessons of Ford and GM be applied to your business? Facebook can help you sell, whatever it is you sell, directly or indirectly. Let’s address the indirect first.
In simple terms, the more you can engage and relate to your customers, the more likely they are to buy from you again. Across a range of industry sectors from retail to business consulting, it has always been difficult to stay in touch with customers between purchases. Social media creates an unobtrusive, user opt-in, value added channel by which to achieve this panacea. Forty-five percent of people who regularly use social media have connected with at least one product or brand through a social network. That’s more than 5 million Australians.
These people say they connect with brands through social media to receive promotions and offers, to find out first what brands are doing and also, importantly, just to stay in touch with their favourite brands. And this cuts to the heart of a good Facebook strategy that is designed to encourage new or repeat purchases in an offline environment. Content is king. In fact, content is the entire Royal Family. In most part, we visit Facebook, and many other social media sites, to be informed, valued and entertained – and not necessarily in that order. Your Page has to achieve all of that and stand out from the crowd (and it’s a big crowd) if it is going to extend your customer engagement. In real terms, that means that you are going to need to think outside the box at the same time as you think inside the box and in some instances, you have to ignore the box entirely.
Be credible and build trust
Back to Ford by way of example. Ford represents an industry which is ‘on the nose’ globally and following the US bailouts, not amongst the most trusted industry sectors. We tend to trust other people before we trust brands (even if we don’t know those people!) and in the case of Ford, arguably more so. Ford took an open approach to social media to help rebuild trust in the company and it spent time and effort building credibility that reinforced that trust. Whilst it might sound simple, one of the ways it did that was by showing up. Ford was credible, visible and open in social channels, which many businesses were not and are still not.
Ford also creates and segments content that people want. It lets people create content, user generated content (UGC), and then posts it to the world on their behalf – unedited and unadulterated. Ford also recognises that one size does not fit all. People who are interested in a Mustang might not be interested in a Falcon or a Fiesta and the audience for Ford Warriors in pink is almost certainly different again.
Ford are also very good at selling product whilst entertaining people. But they are also Ford, with Ford sized markets and Ford sized budgets. So if you don’t have the same budgets, what should you do to create engagement and encourage repeat purchasing? First, create new and interesting content that can only be seen through your Facebook Page. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be genuine. And use video and imagery at least as much as text. Facebook contains well over a billion photos and Facebook users engage with photos more than any other type of content. Create genuine and trackable results through Facebook-only special offers, promotional codes or competitions. Again these don’t have to be huge, detailed and expensive, and are likely to be just as successful if they are well thought through, well timed and well targeted.
Get your community to share
Find ways to encourage users to share information about your business or products. If you have the right products, Facebook can also sell product, directly, easily and cost effectively. Whilst not every product can be sold online, many can and it is a bit of a misnomer that technology is the barrier to online sales. Applications like Goodsie for example, offer a complete online shopping experience that fully integrates into a Facebook Tab for a fixed monthly fee of US$15.00. To set up an online shop of this nature you will need images and descriptions of your products. That’s all. You will not need any technical, development or coding skills – that has already been done for you. Getting up and running almost same day with an online shop is easily done, but developing the back end distribution and handling might take you longer. Maybe start small with one or two products to make this easier to begin with.
The final thing to remember, whether you are keen to use Facebook directly or indirectly to make money is to have fun with the channel. We do want to be informed through Facebook but we want to be entertained at the same time.