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Social media is just one more tool for your online marketing

There has been a huge amount of hype around social media sites like facebook, linkedIn, twitter and youtube and it doesn’t look as though it is going away any time soon.  So do you use social media in a business environment and where does it sit in conjunction with more traditional forms of online marketing like Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns?  A recent article on the BBC News website  Why companies watch your every Facebook, YouTube, Twitter move shows how even big business is starting to take social media serious, so as a small to medium sized business you really need take a look at social media and the impact it can have on your business, even if you don’t use it.

Introduction

This article is intended as an introduction into where social media sits within your armoury of online marketing tools and by no means intended as a comprehensive guide neither are we trying to sell you the concept or our services but feel it is worth providing an overview for businesses considering it.

Background

Traditionally businesses established static websites that were little more than an online brochure  The concept of actively marketing your business online was beyond most business owner / managers and as a result they missed out the opportunity to reach out to new customers.

Since the launch of the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989 web sites have come on a long way with the introduction of HTML in 1992, search engines in 1993, dynamic pages in 1996 and Web 2.0 in 2004.  The WWW has come of age during the last five years and the birth of social media has dominated the news media with sites like myspace, facebook and more recently twitter establishing themselves as major players.  At first social media was something parents thought their children did and didn’t have a place within the professional lives, but as this generation has matured their adoption of a connected world has become increasing important for businesses.

Using social media to reach a wider audience

Your website is effectively your online billboard.  It can be promoted to a huge number of people and isn’t restricted by traditional forms of advertising.  But a web site only presents one side of a multi-faceted object and, as users are fully aware, is about as unbiased as your mother’s view of the world!  Users are equally skeptical of client testimonials as these are often heavily edited and in some cases entirely fictitious.

The introduction of Web 2.0 concepts meant that users could engage with websites and e-commerce sites. A good example of this is Amazon asking users to review books they had previously purchased. This instantly made content more compelling as it represented the collective content of a vast number of people.  Google is a classic case, in that it’s content is more or less entirely made up of information submitted to it by its users.

With the introduction of social media the web became even more uncontrollable with people adding content that in some cases helped a website’s rankings, but in other cases creating damaging content that could affect your brand.  Where as a few years ago a dissatisfied customer could complain to a few friends, now information can flow across the entire globe with the inevitable consequences.  Larger businesses now focus a huge amount of energy of reputation management and a number of friends have told me stories of how they got a suppliers attention (normally larger businesses) by putting something negative on twitter.

However, you can use social media to enhance your online presence and help drive traffic to your web site.   If you think of your website as a single person standing in a large crowd (see above) you aren’t going to stand out.  Using social media you can create a circle of friends that extend your presence and in turn drive traffic to your site.  Traditional SEO techniques used back-links to achieve a similar effect, but the search engines are increasingly using new algorithms that see social media links as a positive vote for the site (although that is a over-simplification).

Get it right and you can create and you can make a real impact and suddenly the power of social media takes on a new meaning, especially in conjunction with other forms of online marketing.  I have seen some excellent examples of businesses using social media to drive traffic to their web site and not necessarily just to sell to them; getting feedback on a new product or simply asking them for their opinions empowers the customer and can be used as a tool for building better relationships with your clients.  For smaller businesses trying to establish themselves it can also help build loyalty and generate repeat business, especially in the content of e-commerce sites.

Newsletters are still effective but a tweet about something will often get a greater response than more traditional forms of e-marketing as spam filters become more intuitive and users can delete your carefully crafted message without even seeing it.

A world of sound bites

One of the things that fascinates me is peoples appetites for sound bites and instant gratification. Social media and especially twitter seem to thrive on this fact and it is a natural evolution from the facebook status or news feed that people just can’t get enough of.  I know some business owners just don’t get this and see people as living in a fish bowl feeling the need to tell everyone that they have just opened a bottle of wine or have woken up with hangover and I have to agree there certainly are some very odd people out there!  But, you can use the same thirst for sound bites to your advantage.  A couple of week ago I attended a network event because the organiser used twitter to market it and he said “tweet me today and come for free!”.  E-commerce web sites often use twitter to promote a special offer or specific product, have a look at twitter accounts like @Ebuyer for good examples.

Getting your message right

We use sites like twitter and linkedin to maintain a flow of information that ensures businesses are constantly reminded of our brand.  It is also a useful way of enabling people to gain a greater understanding of what you offer.  We’ll often tweet about a specific project “we’re just completing an application that is integrated into QuickBooks”  that gives followers real world examples of what we are working on.  It sounds bizarre, but “little and often” can be really powerful and keeps you brand in the forefront of the other persons mind.  Whilst off line networking I met Phil Parr, who specialises in branding and has a written title “Step away from the crayons“.  Phil was extremely clear about what he offered, to the extent I still associated the word “brand” with Phil, consequently he is extremely easy to refer to people, despite the fact that I know other businesses that provide similar services like Alder & Alder, based in Exeter.  If you are able to be as clear and distinctive as both of the aforementioned businesses you’ll be able to really maximise your online marketing and social media marketing.  For tips about networking have a look at Dave Clarke’s business networking blog.

Conclusion

You can use social media sites to enhance your brand, reach a wider audience and engage with your potential and existing clients.  Make sure set yourself some objectives and measure the effectiveness of your social media marketing.  I use different social media sites for different reasons and see them as additional channels that compliment other online marketing activities.  There are a vast array of sites beyond the obvious ones some of these are specialist sites consider using sites like Digg , Del.icio.us, Wikipedia, Flickr, StumbleUpon, Squidoo amongst others (see 101 Social Media Sites to Help Market Your Business or Yourself Online).

Also, think about how you can use each of the different channels to enhance each other.  If you write  a blog, post it on sites like linkedin to increase readership.  Use RSS / twitter feeds on your web site, most sites offer methods for distributing content from one platform to another .

Resources

Here’s a random collection of bookmarks that I have collected over the last few months that you might find interested:

101 Social Media Sites to Help Market Your Business or Yourself Online
33 Ultimate Twitter Addons for Firefox Browser | Binary Head
Backup Twitter Tweets with TwitterBackup
bit.ly, a simple url shortener
Generate Your Own Twitter LogoStyle! | Web 2.0 Journal
HootSuite
SmartBlog On Social Media » A conversation with Olivier Blanchard

Social Media in Business
Social Media Primer: Part Deux « The Decoder
ThinkUp: Social Media Insights Engine
Three Ways To Measure Your Social Media Efforts!
Twitter Guides and Tips
Why companies watch your every Facebook, YouTube, Twitter move
Why don’t I get any business from Twitter? " Just Professionals

Date: 06/10/2010

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