Use of social media is revolutionizing the digital world - and is evolving as an important business-marketing strategy.
This is the practice by online users of generating and sharing content, photos and videos that began as a way to help friends and acquaintences to connect and build online communities.
Now it's much more.
Networking and Marketing Revolutionized
Social media are significantly changing the way people do business by making networking available at the user's convenience. Networkers can now interact at any time of the day or night, and from any location offering an Internet connection.
Social-media marketing produces leads, increases Web-site traffic and awareness, and promotes new business partnerships. According to Michael A. Stelzner's Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses (March 2009), 81% of all marketers surveyed reported their social-media efforts have generated exposure for their businesses.
Additionally, more than half of respondents experienced an increase in search-engine rankings, which has important ripple effects. "As the search-engine rankings improve, so will business exposure, lead-generation efforts and a reduction in overall marketing expenses," Stelzner says.
Content is King
By using social-media tools such as blogging, social networks, and social bookmarking, businesses can interact with considerably more people than through their Web sites alone. Businesses should focus online marketing efforts on producing quality content to engage participants and serve as a valuable resource. Content can be posted simultaneously on business Web sites, blogs and branded-profile pages on social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The content must have value and relevance to the target audience so it will be recommended and linked by many users and sites; ideally going viral.
Linking drives Web-site traffic back to the site that originated the content, which builds legitimacy for it in online search engines. It also helps increase awareness and creates a community of followers, or fans, who return to the site regularly. This leads to sales and strengthens brands.
"One of the greatest benefits of social media is the tendency of a community to create links to good content. A passionate community is a linking community. Relevant topics gain momentum as viral channels grab information and distribute it to the rest of the world," says Stephen Nold in the Tradeshow Week Event Tech blog.
Are You Listening?
People are participating in social media at an ever-increasing rate. More than 120 million users log onto Facebook daily; Twitter has an estimated 6-10 million users worldwide; and if YouTube were a country, it would be the world's third most-populated; according to research collected by econsultancy.com's Jake Hird.
These users are all business customers and prospects, and social media offer businesses the unique opportunity to connect with them and listen to their thoughts and concerns. Some major corporations have Twitter accounts just to monitor customer chatter, discover how their competition is doing and determine where product improvements should be made.
"Twitter is an open market of conversations. All conversations are happening in a natural language and happening between real people who are not being paid for their time or opinion. It's also a place where people ask their peers for opinions, advice and ideas. If companies are not taking the time to learn from this open dialogue, they should be," says Mitch Joel on Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog.
Determining ROI and Getting Started
As social-media marketing is gaining ground and the majority of marketers are just beginning to participate, many ask about its return on investment. Social-media marketing efforts have both direct and indirect effects on sales. Metric-measurement sale tracking is available on blog posts, social-media sites and search queries. But sales can be influenced by offline touch points as well. By creating company-specific data measurement, such as tracking the number of positive blog comments or number of Facebook fans, businesses can better monitor the results of their social-media marketing efforts.
Typically, social-media marketing is budget-friendly, with most solutions being free or low-cost. Free blogging software is available, and social media sites offer free accounts. The largest commitment for businesses is dedicating time and resources to develop and implement a social-media marketing strategy that will integrate effectively with existing online and offline solutions.
According to Stelzner's social-media marketing report, "A significant 64% of marketers are using social media for five hours or more each week, and 39% for 10 or more hours weekly." He also found that the longer marketers have used social-media marketing strategies, the more time they spend on them, illustrating the strategies' value and effectiveness.
Social media can be a powerful medium when used as part of an integrated marketing strategy. When combined with online efforts such as search-engine optimization and ad placement, social-media marketing can transform a company's Web presence and increase lead generation and sales figures. Offline strategies, including press releases, direct mail, advertising and sponsorships, should also be considered as part of a comprehensive marketing plan.
By working with an integrated marketing firm, businesses can harness the many opportunities available through social media. A firm will help design and execute the most effective marketing plan, strategy and policies to ensure both online and offline efforts deliver the laser-sharp messaging that will generate leads and increase business.
Article by Linda A. Fanaras, author of "The New Business Boon: Social Media Marketing", and president and founder of Millennium Integrated Marketing (www.mill-im.com) of Boston, Mass., and Concord, N.H. She can be reached at 877-873-7445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.