Social Media is the name that has been given to a new wave of public websites that encourage social interaction between their users. It is a new craze that over the last few years has literally exploded across the Internet with sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest all growing at exponential rates.
As a member of a social media website you register a series of personal details with the site in order to create a profile that is viewable publicly, not only to other members but to anyone on the web. These websites do however take privacy extremely seriously and there are a series of privacy settings available to users to ensure that only the information they wish to share publicly can be viewed.
The level and type of social interaction that takes place depends upon the website you choose to use. For example, Twitter is a very basic social media website and allows users to post a short profile description and web address, and the bulk of a users interaction is via short “status updates” in which you can tag other users to create a discussion thread. Facebook on the other hand allows you to post a massive amount of personal information; status updates, and publish photo galleries, videos and other media such as notes. Pinterest acts as a virtual pin board where you can share pretty much anything and everything, and LinkedIn is a professional network that acts like an online CV.
The sheer volume of people that now use these services has opened up new doors such as the ability to find old school friends, track down long lost family members, and has even made doing business easier and more cost effective.
What is Social Media Marketing?
Social Media Marketing refers to the process of gaining all-important website traffic through these social media sites, and can come in many different forms from businesses simply interacting with potential new clients to the display of paid-for advertising that targets a specific demographic.
The beauty of social media is that it allows you to target a specific demographic. Once upon a time, when you published an advertisement with a newspaper that guaranteed to reach 100,000 readers you were taking a leap of faith, unsure of just how many of those readers actually had an interest in your products or services. A great deal of the time such advertisements made little or no return on the investment.
Now, it is possible to reach customers based upon specific attributes. For example, if you run a dating agency, social media means that your advertisements can be set so that they are only seen by people who are single. If you wish only to attract a specific sex then you could choose to show the add only to single men or single women. And what if you only want to find single women between specific age ranges, say 30 and 35 – well you can do that too!
If you don’t want to advertise then social media gives a business the ability to network on a hugely personal level, seeking out their specific target audience, connecting with them, getting to know them and building a strong bond that will eventually turn into a sale, and potentially even repeat custom.
To put it simply, Social Media Marketing is a marketers dream, and allows you to do everything that old-school methods such as TV, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising, face-to-face networking and PR could do individually, but it allows you to do it all in one place, reach the people that are important, and best of all it has little or no cost.
Does a Social Media presence have other benefits?
Here are a few stats to get you thinking:
79% of people who use the Internet are more likely to recommend a service, brand or product after encountering it on Twitter
93% of Internet users expect companies to have a social media presence
15 million UK residents are active of Facebook every day
Taking this information into consideration the benefits should be quite clear. A presence on social media platforms is now what most consumers expect, and as such has become a mark of trust. If a business does not have a social media presence is that business really a trustworthy one? This once happened with websites. If a business didn’t have a website did it mean that the business didn’t really exist?
Aside from the trust issue, it also allows a business (regardless of its size) to compete with large international organizations, and on a global level too. It gives the self-employed sole trader just as much power online as a million-pound turnover company with 100 employees. And in many respects the smaller the business the greater the power.
With social media, and the rise of the smartphone and mobile web, you can now be the customer service department, sales department, and marketing department and company director all in one. We’ll be looking at this in another article, so keep your eyes peeled!
Which Social Media Platforms are best for my business?
This is a question that can’t be answered generically, but instead depends on your type of business, the kind of customers you need to reach, and the aim of your social media presence.
There are now hundreds of social media sites on the web, and each of them has its own unique benefits. The popular sites are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, Foursquare, Pinterest and Google Plus.
If you are a photographer then you may consider Flickr, if you are a clothing company you may benefit from the virtual pin board facility that is Pinterest, if you are a local tradesman then you would be wise to give Twitter a go for its unique ability to find a target audience simply through the use of hash tags, and if you are a professional individual then you may find great benefit from becoming a member of LinkedIn.
Of course you are not limited to using just a single outlet for your Social Media Marketing strategy. Many businesses have a presence on two or three key sites, whilst many opt to use them all. The point to understand here is that quantity does not necessarily beat quality in the social media circle. Social Media sites are so named because they are one thing… Social. A presence on a social media site is all about engaging with your target audience, creating an unbreakable bond through engaging content, excellent customer service, and through the sharing of quality information. Using every social media site you can find gives you less time on each site to achieve this, whilst using fewer sites gives you more time to excel where it is needed.