Why You Should Embrace Social Media

Chart of small business use of social media

Source: http://www.eMarketer.com, Hiscox

By:  Karen Pelletier

According to a new article from eMarketer, 64% of small businesses said that social media was either not necessary, they didn’t know enough about it, or had no opinion suggesting they don’t know how social media could help their business.

At the same time, 50% acknowledged the importance of word of mouth (WOM) advertising, and 2 in 5 said that WOM was the main way they generated business. Well, social media is WOM on steroids!

This article covers the many reasons why small businesses should consider using social media at some level.

1. Reach

Social media gives you the ability to reach not only your customers, fans or followers; it can reach your fans’ friends.  Add in the capability to advertise economically to people in your target market or who’ve declared that they have an interest in a topic area that you address and you have a powerful ability to reach those who are most likely to be interested in your products.

Even people you wouldn’t necessarily think are using social media are, in fact, using social media.  According to Arbitron, 31% of people in the 55-64 age group currently have a personal profile on at least one social networking site.  But the fact that all people research online before they buy, reading customer ratings and reviews, reading blog postings, etc. means that the percentage of people using social media is much higher than just the percentage who have a profile would indicate.  Check out the Zero Moment of Truth by Google to see how people use social media as a part of their research.

2. Opportunity to Engage with Your Customers or Fans

As a consumer, if you want to ask a company a question about their product, or share something you’d like to tell them, you have to go to their website, go to the contact us link and submit a question.  Sometimes the company responds promptly, sometimes it feels like your question or comment just goes into a giant black hole.

Social media, on the other hand, is designed for a 2-way conversation. And usually, this conversation happens in pretty close to real time.  Even more valuable, your other customers can pipe in and answer questions for you—it’s like the ultimate testimonial!  Social media also tends to be consumer-oriented, less formal/stuffy, and just more conducive to conversation.  Consumers aren’t intimidated about asking questions.

3.  You Can Be Very Targeted

It seems like there is a social media network for every industry or interest.  You don’t have to use Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.  It just so happens that those sites already have a large user base.  Given your company or product, however, you might find that a small, highly targeted site is better for generating leads for your business. Are you in the music business?  Fashion?  Explore!  You could find narrow sites that have members who are highly interested in your field and the perfect audience for you.

4.  Ratings & Reviews Matter!

I discussed in the 1st point how people use ratings and reviews to educate themselves when researching a product, service or company.  Ratings and reviews are WOM advertising on steroids!  I reviewed a hotel in July, and 3 weeks later, 84 people had read my review.  According to AC Neilsen, 90% of consumers trusted recommendations from people they know, and 70% trusted consumer opinions posted online.  These were the two most highly trusted forms of advertising!  For perspective, only 61% trusted newspaper advertising.

Some businesses are initially concerned about having a lot said about them online.  I would challenge them to encourage reviews for the following reasons:

  • Things are being said about you anyway, you might as well know what’s being said and address it head on.
  • In search engine results pages, your website is likely to be listed alongside reviews or blog postings that mention your business.
  • The average rating is usually a 4 (out of 5) which isn’t bad, and the occasional bad review gives you the opportunity to show customers how you respond to criticism.  It shows that you’re not hiding anything (even though you can delete bad reviews on the sites that you control, for example on your Facebook page).

5. Opportunity to Do Market Research and Involve Your Customers

Social media is a great way of doing virtually free market research.  When I started out in marketing, the average cost of doing 1 focus group was $5,000, and you wanted to make sure you got more than 10 people’s opinions, so you’d run at least 3 groups.  We’d be up to $15,000 in no time just for insight into 30 people’s views.

Now you can get insight from your customer base for free.  Most of the people who follow your brand will be your customers, so if you really want to talk to people who don’t use your brand you may still have to resort to traditional market research.

You can use social media to ask your customers what they are interesting in seeing from your business.   The more you ask your customers the more likely it is that they will feel invested in your business. People love to feel that they’ve been heard.   If you are thinking of bringing a new line into your store, ask your customers what they think about it.  Want to know the mix of colors or styles they want? Ask them!

6.  Social Media Is Effective for Both B2B and B2C Businesses

Many business people think social media means Facebook and Twitter.  Actually, there are many forms of social media.  Some are more effective for B2B companies, and some are more effective for B2C.

According to the chart shown at the top of this post, 43% of B2B business owners say that they don’t think that being in social media is necessary for their business.  Well, as I mentioned in point 4 above, your prospective customers are doing research before they buy from you.

If you have a B2B business, participating on LinkedIn and writing a blog on topics your prospects care about are very effective ways to generate leads.  As a starting point for your blog topics, make a list of the keywords or phrases that prospective customers use when they search for the types of products or services you offer.  [Hint: Google’s free Keyword and Traffic Estimating tools are great for this.]  Then write your blog articles on those topics.  This will help you to be found by those researching the topic.  Now that’s a qualified lead!

B2C companies will probably find that Facebook, their company blog and Twitter are more effective social media channels for their business.

7. Reputation Management

If you do nothing else in social media, at least monitor what people are saying about your business so that you know what’s being said, and so that you can address it.  Set up a free Google Alert for any mentions of your business and brands.  Anytime the Google robots come across a mention they will email you a link to the mention.  You can also set up free alerts in Social Mention to find out what’s being said about you in the major social  networks.

If you own a restaurant or hotel, monitor the major review sites to see what’s being said about your business. Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Open Table, just to name a few, can be powerful influences.

Finally, you may want to do periodic searches on YouTube & Twitter, just to see if there are any mentions of your business or brand.

8.  Competitive Research

Just like you are researching what customers say about you, you can check out what they are saying about your competition.

I hope this article has given you some insight as to why you should think about getting involved in social media.  If you are a small business person who is interested in getting started in social media, you might want to also check out one of my other articles, How small business can get started in social media without being overwhelmed.

Has this post been helpful to you?  If not, what would you like to see?  Thank you for your input!

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About Karen Pelletier

Karen Pelletier is an independent Marketing Consultant. She has over 30 years of experience in consumer packaged goods, new product development, technology marketing, and Internet Marketing. She can be reached at kjpelletier@marketing-consultant-k-pelletier.com.
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