Social Media: Not just marketing. Not just technology.

Social media is more than just another marketing channel. It offers the small and big business alike, new routes to engage and build relationships with their customers and the wider community.

It can help you understand the changing marketplace, provide a route to inform and educate your target market as well as drive new and returning business.

It is not just about technology. Social media may rely upon it, but the value is created in the exchanges of information, the conversations taking place and the relationships formed over it.

Reducing social media to a particular platform or technique is to misunderstand the underlying ideals that separate this medium from more traditional marketing approaches. It is about creating mutual benefit – not the age old targeted message delivered through the appropriate channel.

In fact, social media isn’t just marketing at all. It goes way further, taking on areas of PR, business strategy, market research, customer service and sales. Understanding the operating mechanisms and principles behind it can unleash whole new worlds of possibility for those businesses that understand them.

Let’s take networking as an example to start with.

Good networking is built on getting to know people and building rapport with them. It is built on mutual respect and a desire to help each other’s businesses grow. Through helping each other we foster good will, which over the longer term is rewarded by trust, referrals and new business.

Bad networkers treat the experience as an opportunity to hunt new business. They bore those around them reeling off their achievements. They try to dominate and push people towards doing business with them, with no interest in returning the favour. They operate on a ‘numbers game’ philosophy, thinking that as long as they keep trying some business will come out of it.

Eventually, people become wary of the bad networker. They don’t really want to talk to them. They cannot be confident referring business to them as they themselves feel intimidated by them. They do not feel the need to pass business in their direction because they never really did anything for them.

Good networkers see their credibility increase over time. Other business people know what they can do for them as they have heard first hand how they have worked with or helped others. They get recommended with confidence because they have taken time to build rapport with those around them.

Now think about your approach to social networking. Does it sound more like the first or second approach? Are you after the quick buck or in it for the longhaul?

OK, so what about the other uses of social media?

Market Research

Whatever business you’re in, there is sure to be some need to research your market, the competition or another facet of your business.

You can take time to compile industry statistics, read the latest trade magazine or conduct your own research into previous buying habits. However, it may all seem a bit flat and logical without a more human aspect – a more qualitative element to your research.

By understanding the opportunities created by social media you can bring your customers and potential customers into the process from the very beginning.

Take Walkers Crisps in the UK as an example.

They recently invited customers to suggest new flavours. People responded with their suggestions and eventually the most popular were launched in shops across the country. Not wanting to stop there, they invited customers to review the new flavours and vote to keep the one flavour they felt passionately about.

So what?

Well think about this. The customer did the work of the R & D department in suggesting flavours. The data recorded in the first process showed the most popular suggestions eliminating the need for focus groups or other surveys. The customer tested the products during the first release and recorded their findings by voting for their preference.

The customer felt ownership throughout the process. The customer engaged with the campaign, in many cases offering up their email addresses, phone numbers and other contact details in the process. The customer will have discussed the campaign and choices with others creating valuable word of mouth marketing for the company.

Win – Win – Win.

Walkers Crisps created a new product with an established market ready to adopt it.

The Customer got a new flavour of crisps that they had a role in deciding upon.

Suppliers and retailers could have confidence that demand for the product already existed.

Customer Service

There is a statistic repeated the world over which goes something along the lines of ‘A happy customer will share their experience with one other. An unhappy one will share it with ten.’(The numbers may differ but the idea’s the same)

Identifying the unhappy customer before it’s too late has always been a difficult task.

In a world where everyone has the tools to communicate their dissatisfaction with many others, finding them has never been more important.

For example, say I have a gripe against Company X which has just sold me a faulty widget.

I outline my gripe in a short message over Twitter which automatically updates my Facebook status. Some friends join me in berating Company X with comments on my Facebook status and a couple of reply Tweets.

Soon my complaint with Company X has been shared with not 10, but moving on for 1,000 (Total of Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers).

Add in, that my complaint is now supported by others, who have added their own perspective and shared details with their own networks, Company X is now facing a lot of negative attention.

By understanding the principles, you can seek to identify and address customer service issues before they get out of hand. You can turn those negative comments into positive ones, retaining the original customer and demonstrating to others your focus on customer service.

Business Strategy

Getting to know your way around the emerging digital landscape can open entirely new models of doing business.

We are no longer constrained to working in the same office, or even the same continent.

Take the recent Twestivals held across 175 separate locations across the globe. Although not strictly a business event, the Twestivals highlighted how the tools used within social media could be put to use in making funds for charity.

The process began with a single message shared over Twitter and led to volunteers organising their own teams to put together an event in their city with sponsorship, food, drink, live streaming of footage over the internet, local and regional news coverage and event bookings.

In many cases even the local teams had never met before, nor did they know the guests that would be attending on the night.

I was lucky to be involved as the Cornwall Twestival organiser. I had a rare chance to watch all this come together in just 4 weeks. To see organisers collaborating on a global scale. To see people coming together locally with pride in their local event.

If all this could be achieved from a message over just four weeks, what could a business do with the same tools over the space of a few weeks, months or even years?

PR

There are many different aspects to public relations, some of which will have been covered in the previous sections relating to networking and reputation management. What remains to be mentioned is the role of blogs and other internet news or article sites.

Getting media attention for your company is no longer just a case of firing a press release off to the local hack and ensuring you buy him or her lunch once in a while. The media is now in the hands of millions of individuals acting outside the constraints of the traditional press, TV and radio institutions.

Bloggers, are independent commentators reporting on or discussing events, launches and other matters that they believe to be of interest to their their audience. Many are not restrained by the presence of editors or advertisers. They speak to build their own credibility, to generate revenue from advertising (often in the form of Google Ads) and in many cases just because they like doing it.

Bringing bloggers into your marketing mix can be powerful for your business. Acting more like a word of mouth referral than traditional news coverage, bloggers can shine a light on your business should they decide to mention you or write a post about you. Understanding their motivations and engaging with them is like the other areas of social media, more about mutual respect and a win-win approach than the age old, message – channel – target market.

Coming back to where we started, social media is a lot more than just marketing. It is a lot more than the latest platform or service offering – those are just fads.

What matters are the changes taking place in the way we communicate and manage our businesses. The conversations initiated, the relationships formed, the new models of business and the emerging possibilities created as we move forward in an ever more connected, ever more sociable world

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This post was posted on Thursday, March 12th, 2009 at 11:13 am and is filed under Marketing, social media, Social Networking, Web 2.0.

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