The need to embrace social media for business success

Most people in business fall somewhere between two extremes when it comes to social media:

On one side we have those who pledge allegiance to the flag of social media no matter what. They’ll spend all day Tweeting, posting, sharing, hearting and whatever-else-ing because they love the interaction. To them it’s not a business activity but a social activity and each notification is a piece of validation.

On the other extreme we have the stubborn skeptics. To them Twitter is for twits and LinkedIn is like dating for the under-employed. They refuse to dip their toes in the water for fear of being drowned in time vampire notifications and requests to be friends with people they spend their life trying to avoid.

The rest of us lie somewhere in between. Perhaps you’ve experimented with social media, but you’re unsure how to integrate it with your marketing and daily activities, so it gets left behind. Or maybe you’ve heard how important social media can be, but without knowing where to start or what to aim for, it all seems a bit overwhelming.

Whether you’re new to business or an experienced marketer looking to sharpen your saw with the new tools, this post will help you develop your own social media identity, incorporating the values that make your business special and giving you a roadmap for better social media visibility to grow your business.

Social media marketing doesn’t just have to be about big brands with dedicated teams getting their topics trending. In fact it’s actually the small and medium-sized businesses that have the most to gain from a well-designed social campaign. Learning lessons from the big brands and applying them to smaller businesses is the name of the game here. There are plenty of juicy home grown strategies developed for managing the marketing for hundreds of businesses.

Social media will give you the ammunition to sell social media marketing to those in your organisation who might not share your enthusiasm or vision. They’ll try to persuade you that it’s a new fad, there’s no ROI or that it’s something that’ll die out before long (“remember MySpace?” they’ll ask). The truth is that far from being a new fad, ‘social marketing’ is the oldest form of marketing. Conversations between buyers of products and services have always been an important source of sales for businesses that offer something valuable and credible. In ancient times the cities along the Silk Road trade routes became culturally and economically rich because travellers shared their experiences, knowledge and wares.

Today’s social networks facilitate the same thing — at the end of the day it’s all just people talking about your business

The difference is that for the first time ever, these conversations are now happening in full view of a much bigger audience and within a few clicks of anyone who wants to find them.

Thanks to social, word of mouth can be measured, encouraged, promoted and even shaped in a more effective way than ever before. For the first time, savvy businesses can identify potential customers at their peak moment of need just because they say something. The future bride who Tweets a picture of her engagement ring should awaken every wedding dress shop in the local area to Tweet back their congratulations. This potential customer no longer needs to take the initiative — we can go to them and meet them where they are. Which is on their phone.

You and I can advertise to fans of a particular brand, product or lifestyle for just a few cents each, and in less than ten minutes. This has never happened before. Even more significantly, we can build authority and attract a large targeted audience without paying a penny or leaving our seats. This opportunity is a different league to anything that’s ever existed. Imagine what you had to do to build an audience of over ten million fans just fifteen years ago: hundreds of thousands in newspaper ads, PR, doing TV interviews, building a mailing list, travelling to seminars…

YouTuber Adam Dahlberg’s Channel Skydoesminecraft has 11.5 million subscribers who regularly tune in to watch the 23-year-old play videogames from his desk. Where before has that been possible? The implication of this for every business is huge. Critics of social media have completely missed this point, preferring to focus on the disposable and irrelevant aspects instead. They’ll say things like “why would I use Twitter? I don’t care what celebrities eat for breakfast”. This is like saying “I don’t read books because I’m not interested in trashy novels” or “I don’t watch TV because I’m not interested in music videos”. These critics focus on one tiny element of social media and disregard everything else. They’re not only throwing the baby out with the bathwater, they’re throwing the entire bath out as well.

And besides, for many social media celebrities, that breakfast has positioning importance as well, but we’ll come to that later. Resistance is futile and those that refuse the advances of social media are similar to the businesses that failed to see how the early internet was going to be important for anyone but the geeks who owned it. Ken Olsen (who surprisingly ran a computer company) famously said in 1977 “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”. Those that dismiss Facebook as somewhere people go to watch cat videos are in very real danger of being the Ken Olsens of their generation.

With any revolutionary technology there will be two camps: the critics and those who recognise the potential and grab the opportunity with both hands. Whether it’s reaching more people than anyone else in your market; generating leads, or building your brand and positioning you and your business, social media done properly can be extremely profitable and genuinely transformational. And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with photos of food and cats… unless you’re a cat food company.