In Part 1 of this series I looked at some ways in which social media can help increase brand awareness and enhance and spread your company’s reputation. In Part 2 I discussed how good content and conversation on social media platforms can lead to the relationships that lead to business. Check out those earlier parts of this series if you haven’t yet and meet me back here when you’re done.
Social media is an online real-time focus group – market research at your fingertips. By setting up listening tools — alerts and searches that automatically are sent to you – you can know what people are saying about you and your organization, your products or services, your industry or profession, your competitors and any other issues that concern your customers or members. You can listen and be well-positioned to participate and perhaps even influence the conversation.
Once you have cultivated a community of fans, followers or readers, you can test new ideas on them and get valuable feedback. You’ll be more in touch with their needs and preferences.
You can find prospects through listening if you set up searches on keywords pertaining to your products or services and their needs. You’ll be in the position to answer their questions, give some advice and lead them to resources. When they’re ready to purchase, who will they think of?
Social media can be your early warning system. If you are listening, you will most likely hear about problems with your product or service as they occur and have an opportunity to fix them quickly, rather than read other people discussing them later. Silence is never a good option. You can solve these problems off-line or you can take advantage of the public platform and solve them publicly, demonstrating your responsiveness.
If you have a crappy product or service, social media won’t help you, instead it will expose your failings in an unpleasant way. I’ve seen many companies (good and bad) ripped to shreds on Twitter or their own Facebook page because of lousy service. This can go one of two ways. The smart companies — good social media citizens who already have an engaging and helpful presence — reply immediately and make great efforts to fix the problem. As a result, their efforts are noted and lauded by those who were witness. The less fortunate companies – those whose social media presence is solely promotional with no interaction – are obviously not listening, never respond and leave a bad taste in the mouths of all who witness that silence.
In social media, people choose to be part of your network — to follow you, subscribe to you, like you. You’re not pushing your way in, as in traditional push marketing like advertising, e-newsletters, emails or direct mail. People have limited attention spans. You want to be in that select group that they have let into their lives. The tools are free. The cost is your time.
Social media does require regular attention. Ideally you give it attention daily, or at least every work day. But a little time each day to listen, respond and post valuable content is often worth more in quality referrals and leads in the long-run than many traditional (and sometimes expensive) marketing campaigns. It won’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a network and reputation in real life; it takes time online too. But unlike in real life, the history of your online life is there for all to see if they search for it. They’ll see the investment of your time and effort in conversation and knowledge-sharing. They have something on which to judge your value and character, something on which to base their trust.