Why Businesses Need Social Engagement to Be Relevant in Social Search

The shift of power from businesses to the consumer continues to accelerate. Long gone are the days where advertising was a one-way street, Mad Men style. In the 1990’s the Internet helped consumers take the information advantage away from businesses, forcing price competition and margin compression. To offset these effects, many businesses began to focus on their web presence; an increasing number began to master search engine optimization (SEO). This strategy worked – briefly. But now there is a new wave of disruptive innovation.

Social media has emerged to tip the balance of power decisively away from businesses and to the consumer. The advertising power is now in the hands of the consumer – via a business’ star ratings. As a result, businesses have been forced to become experts at social media optimization (SMO). Yes, the business marketing model has been turned upside down once again. Consumers can now impose public discipline on any business through very personal positive and negative reviews. Are marketers ready?

As consumers today, we all demand a level of transparency, immediacy, and third-party validation that simply didn’t exist 10 years ago. We don’t trust ads – we trust each other. And now we can instantly get experiential feedback and detailed information on just about anything at any time. This information helps us make critical, real-time purchasing decisions. We can use Yelp to know what to order at a great new restaurant, TripAdvisor to map out that well-deserved vacation, or Cars.com to help us choose the car of our dreams…or at least the one with the best mileage per gallon. Most of us wouldn’t even think of making a major purchase without input from our online friends and family. Simply put, getting referrals via social media is the “new norm.”

This power is astounding. With just one quick post, we can instantly influence the attitudes of friends and family toward any business. Through mobile devices, we can create these passionate and persuasive posts in seconds, often before we even leave the premises! This “self-policing” is a very good thing. It forces businesses of all shapes/sizes to provide the best possible customer experience 24/7 – they either do a great job and succeed due to positive word-of-mouth or must close their doors. In the end, we all benefit.

According to Nielsen’s recent Social Media Report, 47 percent of social media users engage in social care – better known as social media-facilitated customer service. This hybrid role combines marketing, community management, public relations, and customer service. Businesses of all shapes and sizes must get on board. What was once considered a groundbreaking and innovative way to interact with brands in 2009, as demonstrated by influential blogger Heather Armstrong of dooce, is now a very common affair. But the bottom line is this: if your business ignores or misleads your social following, you will quickly be punished.

Today we are facing another crucial paradigm shift with the introduction of Facebook Graph Search: businesses need social engagement to be relevant in social search. As Internet visionary John Battelle recently wrote: Facebook is no longer flat. What was once seen as a “nice-to-have” is now a critical tool for all businesses to provide useful information and effectively respond to customer inquiries in real time.

But this leaves business owners – some of whom don’t even personally participate in social media – in a real quandary about where to start.

  • Who has time to manage all of my social media and review pages?
  • Who creates compelling content to ensure that I remain relevant in social search?
  • What are my rights as a business owner to combat false claims?
  • How do I use these tools to better interact with their customers on a daily basis?

Smart businesses have adapted and recognized the social revolution as an opportunity to gain competitive advantage. Success requires that you claim, clean up, and regularly update all the social sites available to you. Every site you own, from your Facebook page to your Twitter handle and your Yelp page to your Blogger page, should “work hard,” showing fresh, relevant content that creates and maintains engagement. Then you must monitor all reviews, on all possible sites, and respond quickly whenever one appears.

Given the demand this places on small businesses, many owners outsource this work to companies such as mine. These businesses understand that the social graph has become central to the human experience, and therefore central to consumer purchase behavior. The progressive business has moved ahead of this trend, and has put in place the partnerships necessary to ensure a consistent, fresh, professional social presence. They are well-positioned for the emergence of Facebook Graph Search, where a business’ Facebook presence – number of likers, levels of engagement on the page – will begin to directly affect that business’ appearance in Facebook search results. The progressive business has begun to experience the benefits of increased engagement already, and will continue to do so once Facebook Graph goes “mainstream.”

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