It used to be easy to dismiss social media as a bit of a fad, something that was used in your leisure time for chatting to or organising a night out with your friends.
Now, the benefits for businesses of using social media are well recognised. After all, in these economically straightened times, it just could provide the answer to how to market your firm when the advertising budget has been all but scrapped.
Social media can provide the perfect way to get the message about your goods or services out to prospective customers. Then, once you’ve hooked your clients in, you can keep them coming back by letting them know about your latest offers or products.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter are having a major impact on business communication and customer service. They’re a great way to increase your profitability, enhance your reputation and encourage your employees, and even your customers, to be brand ambassadors for you.
But with new platforms coming online all the time, it can be a bit confusing to know where to start so here’s a look at some of the best social media tools for business and a rundown on how to use them.
It’s got the most users, and therefore the most potential customers, so it makes sense to start with Facebook. Expected to have a mammoth one billion users by the end of this year, Facebook is the perfect place to build your brand awareness.
Make sure your customers know you’re on Facebook. Add your FB details to all your business cards, emails and your website. You can then let your fans know about your latest offers, company news and add photos or videos of your products.
It shouldn’t all be about the hard-sell though. Add a bit of personality to your FB site, let your customers know how your day is going, ask them what they think, and always respond when you get any questions. That way, FB will become part of your customer service philosophy.
The micro-blogging website’s strength is in its timing. It’s a real time way to connect with your customers. Once you’ve created your account, spend some time looking for people to follow. Look at industry influencers relevant to you and search keywords about your business to find people who talk about your subject lots. Follow them and they’ll probably follow you.
Focus on building relationships. If you retweet someone’s post, they could follow you or retweet one of your posts. Before you know it, you’ll have built up a following and you’ve got the tool to share news, special deals and promotions.
Avoid worrying about getting hundreds or thousands of followers though. Focus on making quality connections which could translate into sales for your firm. And don’t worry if you get public complaints, simply show you deal with any problems effectively.
Most of all, remember social media is about being just that, sociable. Keep you tweets short, sharp, informal yet professional, and fun.
Used primarily for business to business link ups, LinkedIn is a great networking tool. If your firm makes B2B sales, it could gain you customers and, even if not, you can still search connections, join groups relevant to your industry, get ideas and ask for help. If you’re just starting out, it’s useful for finding mentors and connecting with people in your industry who have been in your position.
A relatively new kid on the block, Pinterest is invite only, so you’ll need to know someone who’s already Pinning or ask Pinterest directly if you can join. Particularly useful for those in retail or the creative industries, Pinterest allows you to create a mood board of pictures and photographs. With around 19 million users, Pinterest has a kind of Good Housekeeping vibe featuring recipes, crafts and fashion. If that sounds like your business demographic, then it’s worth jumping onboard.
The most interesting boards aren’t just about products though, they also show the people or places that have inspired the goods, giving customers a behind-the-scenes type insight that engages them with your firm. Just like Twitter, you can repin so if someone repins a product of yours to a friend and then they repin, you end up with snowballing coverage.
With around 30 million blogs, Tumblr is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of social media. With the social sharing facilities of Twitter and Facebook combined with an easy-to-use and clean-looking blogging platform, it’s a great way of getting your message across.
Visuals work really well on Tumblr so post your photos and videos but, as with Pinterest, go beyond just pushing your products. Think about promoting a lifestyle instead. So, if you’re in fashion retail and you’ve just received a new delivery, show the human side of your business. Tell them how excited you are about the new items and give them the first peek. People want to know who they are buying from and it helps you to build brand loyalty and, with it, your bottom line.
Whichever of these social media tools you’re already using or planning to use in the future, it’s important to make sure you devote enough time to them. You need to make social media part of your everyday business practice to ensure there is valuable content on your sites so your customers keep returning. Instagram
The latest social media hit to come to our attention. It’s been around since 2010, but seems to have just hit that tipping point where everyone is talking about it. With 30 million accounts already in use, Facebook made a bid of $1bn for Instagram recently, but the Federal Trade Commission is busy reviewing the deal, so that’s on hold.
Taking advantage of the increasing demand for fast visual information is easy with Instagram. You download its app to your Android or iphone and then get snapping. A free photo sharing programme, Instagram allows you to take photos, apply a digital filter and then share it across your other social networking sites.
The images produced are square-shaped, like Polaroid images, combining a feel of days gone by with modernity. Don’t get too snap happy though, take pictures of things your customers will find genuinely interesting. If you’re a fashion designer, snap some of your sketches, show off your factory processes if you’re in manufacturing, or if you’re an event organiser, take some photos of one of your parties or conferences.
New, but worth signing up for if you’re in retail. You never know, you might just get a sale. Here’s how it works. It’s all about impulse shopping, rather than browsing for something in particular. If someone spots a photo of a great pair of shoes in an online blog, for example, they would save the image, link to the shoe retailer’s site, write a comment and file it on The Fancy.
Then, the retailer could either check the site and find the post or, if they have an account set up, they would get an email notice. They can add details to the post so that if prospective customers see it, they can buy it, with The Fancy getting 10% commission.
Unless you make it a full time job, it would be impossible to engage with customers on all social media platforms so the key is to choose which ones are most relevant to your business model. Be sociable, let your personality show through and your social marketing strategy should be a success.
Liz Hands is a journalist with 15 years’ experience in writing news and features in print and online. She has written on just about every subject from beauty and fashion to travel and politics. Liz is now concentrating on writing blogs about finance and business for http://www.currency-converter.com