Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you don’t need me to tell you that social media has legs. And it’s getting leggier by the minute.
Many companies don’t fully understand what to do with social media. They don’t see the path to benefit from it. Others have tried using it and walked away not seeing the value of social media. Others still don’t get it at all, and have left themselves completely to the mercy of the online mobs.
Most of us are somewhere in between.
Social media is at its best when used as a tool to listen and interact with buyers in the early-to-middle stages of their buying cycle. This is the time to focus on providing consumers with content that matters to their buying process. While it’s possible to direct sell and find customers “in the market” today, it’s also difficult. Most of today’s companies are overly obsessed with late-stage buyers; thus, this kind of thinking seems to them less valuable.
What It Can Do
Relationship building, goodwill, and improved customer service are what social media can do for you. Also, social media can:
- Help your company communicate with early- and middle-stage buyers more effectively and push them closer to a sale.
- Help your customers communicate the bad and the good, with you and everyone else they know.
- Help you listen to what potential buyers in your sector are talking about.
- Help you find opportunities to delight customers.
- Push you to become more focused on the customer.
What It Can’t Do
If you think putting up a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page will build huge gobs of closable traffic overnight, you’re kidding yourself. Relationships need nurturing. Social media can’t:
- Drive hundreds of thousands of new qualified visitors (yet) to your site or store.
- Let you take control of the customer dialogue about your company. Those days are long gone.
- Be your primary channel for marketing your mid- to large-sized company.
More on Buying Stages
A short example: early-stage buyers have only identified a need (e.g., “I need a winter vacation this year”). Middle-stage buyers know approximately what they want (e.g., “I want to go to Florida this summer”). Late-stage buyers know exactly what they want (e.g., “I’m going to Florida and I’m making reservations and buying plane and park tickets now”).
Do you think someone in early or middle stage might be influenced to by social media? If you aren’t convinced, look at what happened to United Airlines.
Anybody who is thinking about going on a winter vacation and happens to cross the “United Breaks Guitars” video will think twice about United. That is a negative influence on early-to-middle stage buyers.
Now, say it’s 10:30 a.m., you’re starting to think about lunch, and you come across this video? Andy Sernovitz, an interactive marketing consultant and author, writes about P.F. Chang’s brilliant use of Twitter. They’re clearly trying to influence early-stage buyers, but this isn’t easy to bring to mass scale.
Still, Not Everyone’s Convinced of Social Media’s Value
Where we part in our agreement is in thinking that real-time search and social media have no monetary value. Remember, social media can build relationships, though not paid traffic generation.
Some Practical Steps for Getting More From Social Media
- Reward customers who talk about your company in social media, both good and bad.
- Remember, bad word of mouth can be good for your brand too.
- Quit talking about yourself all the time. It gets old, really. Talk about your customers. Heck, just share a joke to break things up so you aren’t “wewe-ing” all over yourself.
- Unconvinced that social media has legs or is a match for your company? Test it. Offer a social media specific promo code and see if it gets traction.
- Use social media to take an interest in your customers needs. For instance, are you selling items in a vertical sector? Search for “follow” and “friend” people in that space. Add value to the conversation about their needs. (Early-stage buyer prospecting.)
- Use it to meet people. Meeting people is good.
Where’s the Value for You?
Social media isn’t everything people are hoping it will be, yet. Still, there’s value in participating and investing resources to be a part of the online 2.0 conversation. Just temper your expectation, and use it for what it’s good for.
Have you had to prove that social media has value to someone? Tell us how you won them over and we will share the best stories in a future column.
Meet Bryan Eisenberg at Search Engine Strategies San Jose, August 10-14, 2009, at the McEnery Convention Center.