Ian Collins of Tecmark SEO Manchester digs deeper into the communities of popular social networking sites bloggers use and explains how the different uses of these sites can change your marketing strategies for better or for worse. Want to write for us too?
Social Media is the current big buzzword in the world of Internet Marketing, and with good reason. It is already such a big part of the Internet culture. It is here to stay and should be ignored by marketers, or indeed anybody, at their peril.
“Social Media” is an umbrella term used for many different aspects of the social Internet from Facebook to blogging to forums and there are so many variants of the same phrase used to refer to so many different elements of the social web, that it be confusing defining exactly what social media is.
Just to make sure there is no confusion, for this article I am settling on “Social Networking” as a phrase to mean the sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace etc, where people connect with others directly.
It is important to understand WHY people use these websites, as there is a broad demographic on these sites. Some people use them for business purposes, to network and find new deals. Then there are others who use social networking sites for purely personal reasons and are totally oblivious to the fact that there is a business presence in the social networking environment at all.
It is fascinating to see that there are so many different things going on in one place, and even more incredible that they seem to all work in harmony.
1. Purely Personal Reasons
Easily the most common use of Social Networking sites, and the main reason for them existing in the first place, is for personal reasons. The majority of people using Facebook or Myspace keep to the “social” label. It is used for its original purpose – to keep in touch with friends.
Some people will go on simply to update their status or view their friends’ statuses, or to look at photos from the weekend’s night out. Some use it to connect to people they’ve met, a potential girlfriend/boyfriend perhaps, or someone who shares the same interests.
One great way of taking advantage of the personal side of Facebook is keeping in touch with people hundreds of miles away, maybe somebody who has gone travelling or moved to the other side of the world. In the past it would have been nigh on impossible to keep in touch, much less keep up to date with what they are doing.
A wall post on Facebook can work when a phone call would be too much, such as simply commenting to somebody that they should listen to a new song or making an amusing remark. It lets you have small conversations with people that you would not normally bother having if it meant a long phone call.
The people who use the tools for these purposes sometimes have no idea that marketing is going on, or that it is possible to use these networks for business purposes, and some even simply ignore advertising all together.
2. Business – Connecting with customers
With the rise of Internet Marketing, social media is being embraced by businesses more and more. Innovative ways of utilising these tools by connecting directly with customers are being found.
Companies are seeing that the best way to conduct themselves online is to speak to their customers directly using these social networking sites, Twitter being especially useful for this. It increases the reputation of the company, gets them positive reviews and shows that they really care about the customer. It also gives a human face to the large corporation, meaning that customers or potential customers will feel much more comfortable coming back.
There are some great examples of this strategy online, with a company called Virgin Trains being one of the most successful. They have a small team of dedicated and named staff who run the Twitter feed as part of their overall PR role. Whenever a customer has a question or a complaint about the trains, for example – the train is late or something has gone wrong with their ticket, they post it on the Twitter feed and usually get a pretty quick response.
The response is sometimes a simple apology about a train being late, but it gives a human element to the company and this simple gesture could stop them losing a customer for the future.
They can also act as a sort of customer service line, say somebody loses the code to pick up their ticket from the fast ticket machine they will post on Twitter, and get a response with the information they need.
3. Business – Networking
There is also the opportunity for business types to network and expand their business on the social networking platform. This can take many forms, and take bits of each of points 1 and 2.
To get a deal is all about knowing the right people, and if somebody that you went to school with owns a multi million dollar business and your company do what he is looking for, using Facebook could have you on to a winner. A random friend request from somebody you haven’t spoken to since you were 11 years old could be the key to your company’s success.
Alright, so that might have been a slight exaggeration. You could expand your business through old contacts as well as new, but it doesn’t mean they will be the factor that leads to your success.
Social networking sites like LinkedIn exist for this purpose; for people to network within a business environment. It does for businesses what Facebook does for students and teenagers, it lets people connect. It could find you a new business deal or could even find you a new job!
Another Twitter success story is Dell and their recent Internet Marketing strategy. Their outlet site sells refurbished PCs, and they post details about the newest ones on their Twitter feed. They also post special offers just for Twitter users, and they send information about sales, along with discount vouchers to their Twitter followers. The company has generated $6.5million in revenue from this venture.
This shows the power of marketing on Twitter. This sort of strategy works well for e-commerce sites especially as they can market to an already targeted audience.
People would not follow the company if they weren’t interested in what they have to say. Saying that the strategy works as an additional extra to the normal everyday operations, and not as a new or the only way of marketing for the company, it should not be seen as a guaranteed winning formula and is probably more suited to an established brand as they are more likely to get enough followers to make it effective in the first place.
It would probably not for example work for a company specialising in a niche product, or for a small non-established company.
Social Media Marketing is a trial and error business, so it would be advisable to put into place experiments and do a lot of research before putting all of your eggs into the Twitter basket!
Going hand in hand with the ‘social’ element of Social Networking, people sometimes go on purely for entertainment purposes. Myspace is a prime example of this, as many famous artists have been discovered through these sites (sort of sounds like marketing, huh?). Music is a big part but also videos, such as Youtube viral offerings, are easily spread on social networking sites.
The newest craze is on Facebook, with all the game applications that have appeared over the last couple of years. The most popular of these is a game called Farmville which has managed to acquire 72.9 MILLION users per month. That is a crazy amount of people to be playing a game about running a virtual farm!
Now, a site like Facebook has not really been discovered for many of the other purposes of social networking. How many bloggers do you see marketing, connecting with customers or even conducting any sorts of business through the site? Not many I’ll bet.
It is very important to know the different usage of Social Networking sites BEFORE implementing a Social Media strategy. If you get it wrong and target the wrong people you could be jeopardising your online reputation as well as any time, effort and money put into the project.
Are you Networking Correctly?
Has it ever occurred to you that a social networking community could be so diverse? Are you really reaching the right audience, and if so, are you reaching them effectively? Are you sure that Twitter is the right community to be marketing your blog on when there are sites like Facebook or Myspace that allow you to become even more personal with your audience?
Let us know what you think of social networking for your blog, and how you have used these sites for the best of your blog.