Like a ton of bricks it hits you. Countless businesses are filing chapter 11, being bought by larger companies, or asking for a government bailout. This couldn’t possibly happen to you, right? Lets be honest with ourselves for just a minute. You’ve been reacting instead of anticipating the trends and your competition has already implemented these “new tools”. Its finally clicked, you realize you need to get on board or wind up like Washington Mutual. So you do a Google search and ask your kid about this so called social media. Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and you don’t even know what it is. So what do you do? Start a blog, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, YouTube, Delicious, Flickr, and Friendfeed account? Instead of diving head first why don’t you take a deep breath and put on your thinking cap. You’ve got some planning ahead of you.
We’ve all seen them. The wannabe hip company that just got on Facebook or just set up a Twitter account and thinks their company is saved. Newsflash, social media is not a business saver. Social media is yet another tool you and your company can use to communicate and engage with your customer base. Engaging in social media should be at the top of your list for the coming year, but strategic planning needs to be done prior to this happening.
Take a moment to think about where the market is going and read some of the predictions for 2009. The fundamental thing to remember about social media is the purpose. Social media was made for you to connect and interact with consumers not use it as a cheaper form of advertisement. Brands and industries will forever be guilty by association. For example car salesmen have the potential to be be seen as sleazy. Whether these perceptions have been made for your company will force you to adjust the route you take with your social media strategy.
Here’s some steps I recommend prior to engaging in any social media interaction:
- Clearly define the goals you hope to accomplish from using social media tools.
- Find out what tools your target market is currently using.
- Find out what your current customers desire after doing business with you.
Social media use can indirectly increase sales and business, but only through proper integration. Increased traffic/contact and brand awareness are the initial results you can expect to see from implementing a social media strategy. It’s important to note that this should be a give and take relationship. Promotion is fine, but a continues feedback loop is the main purpose of intergrating social media tools. Social media users who come across your company via interaction will only be scared away if they receive a constant bombardment of “look at me, buy this” type content. When interacting with social media users you should ask yourself, “what can I provide this person to enhance their current knowledge?” Whether it’s information pertaining to your company, complementary information that will enhance their insight of your industry, or simply a great random tip you’re setting the precedent that your a smart unique company who cares about all consumers. By setting proper expectations and then delivering on those expectations you will begin to see the results you set forth from the beginning.
Social Media Tools Your Target Market Uses
It’s safe to say you need some kind of social media tool that allows you to communicate company news and a way for consumers to react with their suggestions and feedback. Social media is about having an open dialog and a never ending the feedback loop. The question now is to determine what tool best suits your target markets needs. Forums and blogs have always been great, but are limited to users that currently know about your company and brand. Choosing an outlet solely on the number of users (i.e. Facebook or Myspace) would also be wrong if your primary demographic doesn’t use these social media tools. My suggestion is to invest your time and efforts into two social media tools. One for your established users and one for your perspective users. The two sources should blend, but you must have a method and outlet to communicate with both parties. These tools should be customized to your brand, but as discussed above represent an open communication channel not a sales only tool. Establishing a blog is a great starting point, but you must decided from what perspective. A company blog, individual employee blogs, or a blog that is the voice of your brands persona. Mario Sundar provides some great insight into starting your company blog. After this you should look into the various social media outlets that can enhance your blog. Determine what your target demographic is using and start a community for them to use. Again start out slow initially with no more than two social media tools. You really want to focus on building up your contacts and providing the best possible relationship you can through the use of social media.
What Does Your Current Customers Desire
Too many times we hear about customers that have horrific experiences in the post purchase phase. Whether it’s poor customer service or not being informed on vital company news, company’s are dropping the ball. Statistics have shown it’s more expensive to generate a new customer than to have a repeat customer. You need to determine what your current customers desire once they’ve purchase your product. Desires could include a method to find information about new products, a system to get support when they have problems, a community to connect with other customers, or maybe a way to brag about your company. Whatever the case may be you can use social media tools to create a customized community to suit your business and current customers needs. Using your social media tools will provide an outlet for your current customers to stay current customers. By providing additional value to the customer buying experience during the post purchase phase your chances of repeat purchases and positive word of mouth.
While you may not be able to replicate what companies are doing in my post 10 Brands To Watch In Social Media For 2009, you should be able to analyze the steps they took and types of services they provide. It’s pretty clear you should be using social media tools in some manner during 2009. The trends are pointing towards the need for greater community involvement. Make sure prior towards that engagement you deine your goals, discover the tools your target market is using, and determine what your current customers want. It’s not too late to start, but it will take some time and patience to create a dynamic and successful social media campaign. Involvement is necessary, but your strategy is what will give you the ability to become the next Zappos in 2009.