Social media is no longer just for college students and other young adults to announce their Friday night plans. About 66 percent of adults use some form of social media, with nearly a quarter of total online time spent browsing and posting on social networks. While the most common reason Americans use social networks is to connect with friends, more companies are seeing the benefits of using the two-way communication that social media offers to connect with customers, rather than simply relying on waiting for the end user to find their advertisements. According to DIYMarketers.com, 50 percent of Victoria's Secret's sales have come from their Facebook Fan Page at certain times of the year, and countless other companies have begun seeing the potential for sales available through social media.
Sixty-five percent of companies polled for a report entitled, "Embracing Social Media in a B2B Context," in the Accenture Global Marketing Executive Study, felt that they consider marketing through social media to be "very important" to their business over the next few years. So how exactly can social media be used to a company's advantage? Currently, there is a two-part system in place for most companies; build the number of followers and hope this will cause your customer list to grow. While there is a real market for Twitter followers and Facebook "Likes," the problem with social media is that it is very hard to quantify. Check eBay and you will see social media followers for sale, for an incredibly wide range of prices. Social Code recently examined the results of Facebook ads for 50 of their clients, and put a final figure of $9.56 for the value of each Facebook fan, but that is far from perfectly scientific.
Unlike other forms of marketing, it is incredibly difficult to see how effective social media is in leading to actual sales. As Todd Wasserman notes on Mashable, "No industry standard figure seems to exist for customer acquisition via social media. That means you may have a Facebook page with 10,000 fans that nets only four leads, but won't have any idea whether that's good or not." We also do not really know what "Likes" really signify. Are these loyal customers who have been buying from you for years, or new leads? Did they want to spread the word to their friends on social media, or did they just click "Like" to get a ten percent discount on one order placed a year ago, and have little interest in purchasing again?
Facebook currently has more than 800 million users, more than the entire population of Europe, and as many users as the entire Internet did in 2004. Although it does offer a way for companies to communicate with their audience which will hopefully lead to sales, there appears to be a disconnect between companies and consumers. A study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council surveyed 1,300 customers, revealing that 67 percent followed or "Liked" brands to receive discounts and special offers, and 60 percent did so to connect with other customers. However, when the same questions were asked to 120 Chief Marketing Officers, only 33 percent believed their social media fans wanted some kind of incentive or reward.
A few things to keep in mind about Facebook:
1. It's free and easy, to a point. While you can create a Facebook page without spending any money, advertising through social media has become lucrative, and as long as you have done your research and know the target audience, it can be a huge boon to sales. In addition, while social media requires less of an upfront commitment, the page needs to be regularly monitored to respond to requests and questions to fully reach the customer base. Simply set aside a little time each day for social media interaction. This evens out the playing field a bit; smaller companies can compete with larger operations in the social media realm a lot easier than they can in other mediums. After all, an online wholesaler may not have the budget to run a Super Bowl ad, but they can offer coupons, deals and give personal interaction on Facebook just as easily as a far larger company.
2. Give the people a reason to come back. Customers will like your Facebook page because they like your products. That does not mean that they will continuously visit the page, unless there is a reason to. Coupons and other exclusive deals will convince fans to stick around a little while. There are a million different things to do on Facebook, and people have short attention spans when using social media. Creating engagement starts by giving a reason to stick around. Also, give them something to talk about. Ask questions and start conversations, getting real and unfiltered feedback about both your products and questions of the day. Make the page a destination, not just a place to find coupons.
3. Maintain a personal touch. It can be difficult to stay on message using social media, when there are so many individual conversations. As Katy Finneran writes on the Fox Business website, "Finding the right tone for your small business can be a task in and of itself. Some rules of social media delivery seem like common sense: keep it appropriate, professional, polite, factual, and yes, even spell and grammar check posts. But when businesses delve deeper, picking a tone raises a number of complex questions: Should businesses use corporate jargon to stay true to their serious core mission, or should they inject playful questions to invite conversation among customers?"
This is a difficult balance to maintain?how do you be personable and professional, without sounding like a robot? Customers want to know that they are dealing with real people, and not a faceless corporation. Social media strategist Amy Porterfield notes, "Of course you should talk about your industry and your business, but it's also important to throw some fun in there too. Most people on Facebook are not necessarily there to talk business, so make sure to not only focus on the business. Also, you can increase your engagement if you use first names. Using your fans' names can go a long way in growing real relationships. This small gesture makes people feel heard, and adds a personal touch. I know it seems so simple, but it's often overlooked. If you mix things up and make it a point to entertain as well as offer value on your Page, and make it a habit to use first names, your engagement levels can skyrocket."
4. Do a lot of research. One of the good things about marketing through Facebook is that there is already a huge breadth of knowledge on the site for businesses of all shapes and sizes. Facebook Marketing Solutions offers resources, webinars, success stories, and a list of third party developers that will make your company page stand apart from the rest of the pack. The site also has its own analytics program called Facebook Insights, which provides user growth and demographics information for both content and the page itself. Another easy way to improve your Facebook page is to simply look around. There are thousands of companies with a Facebook presence, and analyzing other pages and seeing what works and what does not, is a great way to get ideas.