Most valuable social media benefits are also the most elusive
By Laura Kinoshita
Many business owners have jumped into Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter because they’ve been told it’s a quick way to get free publicity among an audience of millions. But it’s not like social media is some new way of doing business that didn’t exist before. Successful business owners did not get to where they are today because they never talked to their customers. “Customer engagement” has always been a part of good business.
It’s true that social media offers valuable benefits. It helps build word-of-mouth, encourages recommendations among friends, improves customer service and helps business owners discover which products their customers want the most. On the other hand, while most business owners will say Facebook and Twitter brought them “greater visibility” and “more website traffic,” few can say they got “high-quality business leads,” “more sales” or “reduced marketing expenses” for their efforts. But why is that? Why are the most valuable social media outcomes – the ability to generate sales, help close new business or reduce marketing expenses-the most elusive?
The answer lies in the fact that social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn may be the most popular tools to use, but when used by themselves they are not the most effective at generating new business leads and sales. They are popular because they are easy and fast to use-it only takes a few seconds to post an update on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. But, as in real-life, the most worthwhile benefits are associated with efforts that take more time and can be difficult to do on a consistent basis. Namely, writing short articles and case studies, producing videos and sending regular email updates.
In the social media world, new business leads go to companies who can provide the most benefit. This means helping people feel good about doing business with them. Or from finding out what their customers really care about, and then providing that service in real time, as those needs and desires are happening. However, the most distinguishing factor may be from having a process in place that turns social media relationships into real-life experiences and customers.
Here are three steps to ensure you get the most benefit from your social media investments:
First, set specific goals of what you expect to achieve and by when. How much new business do you want to generate within one year? What percentage of that business do you want to come from your website, social media and email marketing efforts? How much are you getting from those sources now? Are you satisfied with the way things are, or could you be doing more? Even a simple email newsletter can make a big improvement over time.
Second, design your online strategy with your goals in mind. Do your social media profiles look professional and reflect well on your business? Are they complete? Does your website look good on mobile devices? Do you have a process for turning website traffic into leads and relationships you can nurture over time? Think about what works well for you now, and how you can replicate that for your online customers.
Third, develop a reliable, consistent process for building, growing and nurturing your business relationships over time. Are you giving good reasons for people to sign up for your email list? Do you promote the fact that you even have an email list (or Twitter account, or Facebook page) on your business cards, sales receipts and flyers? Are you growing your social media following consistently over time? Start out by following your customers on Twitter and Facebook, and remain active with your community as much as possible. Building genuine relationships and making people’s lives better takes time. But social media tools can make this process easier than ever before.
If you spend less than five hours a week on social media, then you can expect to see the benefits of greater visibility, more traffic and more new business partnerships within four to six months. But to really get the most from your social media efforts, plan to spend 6 to 10 hours a week helping to solve problems and share memorable experiences. Focus on how you can make life more comfortable, enriching or fulfilling for your customers in some way. Distinguish yourself as a thought-leader or expert in your field. Make information easy to share on your website, blogs, videos and email newsletter. Think about which of these strategies will make the biggest impact on your business, and what you can put into place this month. Then, schedule time on your calendar, and start to put your plan into action.
North Hawaii resident Laura Kinoshita is a certified Inbound Marketing Educator and author of the West Hawaii Social Media Survey, the first look at how West Hawaii businesses are using social media to market their business. Connect with her at http://www.laura-kinoshita.com