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Sifting Through the Mess: Using Social Networks the Right Way

By: Kyle E. Glass

Marketing no longer can be perceived as a “one-way street”—it’s crucial that you have a “voice” and actively participate in the conversations taking place about your company and its industry. By taking part in the conversation you will build a greater sense of trust and expertise among your target markets.

Social media marketing allows you to connect with your customers virtually anywhere. There are countless mobile applications for social media networks that provide an opportunity to deliver your message more effectively.

Social media also provides an opportunity to generate new online content from and related to you—content that can be directed to your website and dramatically increase rankings for search engines such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing.

There are beginners’ guides, webinars and other articles—and even a class being taught at CEDIA Expo 2011—if you are interested in learning best practices in using social media platforms. What I will focus on is how you can use these sites for business and what to expect on these sites. The list of social media applications and services is long and growing, so I’ll stick with the most relevant to keep it short. 

LinkedIn
Far and away, LinkedIn should be a must for businesses and professionals. Not only will it keep you in contact with your current business partners, including customers, it can also lead to further contacts as you begin to network.

There are some basic limitations with LinkedIn, which could be a positive or negative. Because it’s geared toward businesses, it’s quite structured which means it’s easier to follow. You have the flexibility to only add the individuals you want to add, and my absolute favorite is being able to join “groups,” basically topics you’re interested in following and contributing to, which could go a long way in adding to your and your company’s credibility.

Let’s take, for example, CEDIA Professional Services Group (http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=3089525&trk=anet_ug_hm). This group discusses many topics regarding consumer electronics and custom installation. Adding to these types of discussions will not only genuinely help someone in need of information, but likely provide you as the credible expert. 

Facebook
Although less business focused, the Facebook audience is simply massive. At the end of April 2011, Facebook users counted as many as 139 million people, which is larger than LinkedIn and Twitter added together. As far as companies are concerned, generally companies would set up a “Fan Page”, as opposed to the personal pages we are most familiar with.

The users of Facebook are predominately made up of the youngins, which if anyone is familiar with GenY’s traits, means these folks are much harder to overtly sell to. I believe you’ll find that overtly selling your brand/product via social media will prove unsuccessful, no matter the medium. In this case, you just need to be smart about how you handle your Facebook account and/or company Fan Page.

One of the ways that we’ve successfully used Facebook is by creating Facebook contests. One award winning contest in particular focused on gathering outdoor installations featuring our client’s product. The contest drew a 50% increase in followers and was very well received by our target audience.

Coupons are also making a comeback thanks to social media. Offer exclusive coupons periodically through Facebook and you’ll have a reason people will want to “like” you. 

Twitter
We live in a “140 character” society, or at least that’s what the folks who invented Twitter think. As far as business use, it can be beneficial. As with all of the social media, the goal is to entertain, engage or enlighten. There is real business value every time a customer or fan shares their purchase behaviors with their friends, thus you want to get people talking about you as much as possible. One way to do this is by creating a special offer to anyone that Tweets about you.

Twitter is great for market research. By keeping an eye on the trends, your followers, competitors, and brand advocates and naysayers, you can have a wealth of information at your fingertips.

Twitter, along with Facebook, provides great venues for performing customer service. The point of customer service is to make it easy for your customers to reach you, why not go to where they are?

Obviously the end game with business is the bottom line – it has to be. But using these social media tools correctly can give you a leg up on your competition. Your audience will only respect your social media presence if you demonstrate that your ultimate goal is to serve their needs (and not your own).

Kyle E. Glass is the Public Relations and Marketing Manager at Marketing Matters (http://www.marketingmatters.net), a communications and design firm specializing in technology, consumer and custom electronics, audio-video and related industries.

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