Digital marketing and the use of social media is assuming greater importance in the marketing mix and it’s time we got stuck in! It is the future in communication.

2010 will challenge companies to fully grasp the opportunities offered by online communications and social media. Most people at present are dismissing it as trivial and irrelevant – a playground for the youth. However this is far from the truth – it is the new way of communicating. For instance, Twitter is now a primary source of breaking news, and creates rapid, dynamic and relevant information, while Facebook has over 1 million Irish users and simply cannot be ignored.

This is not to suggest that traditional media does not have a role to play, but to emphasise that new media needs to work in conjunction with it as an important part of the marketing mix.

The digital marketing palette consists of a number of elements such as search engine optimization, search engine marketing (or pay per click advertising), email marketing, blogging and broadcasting, online PR, online display advertising, affiliate marketing and social networking. To get the ball rolling, let’s make a start with social networking, one of the more human-friendly elements.

Networks, whether they are of the physical or human ilk, make things happen in business. The problem with traditional people networks in the real world is that most of the connections between people are inter-personal and often hidden. Breaking into this cozy situation and expanding your contact base is an art in itself. In today’s computer-led world, we are spending more time on-line than on-street and sometimes it seems as if business is being done online with a cursory glance at face to face meetings.

The fact is that we need both platforms to work together. It is therefore beneficial to us all to learn if the social networking element works for business, how it is set up, its benefits, how much it can cost and what the return on investment is.

Does social networking actually work for business?

The Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ) recently surveyed 280 marketing directors and brand managers across various consumer sectors and it emerged that LinkedIn was the most popular social networking site used by marketers as marketing and promotional channels. It is used by 45% of respondents, ahead of Facebook (42%) and Twitter (40%).

There are over 1.2 million Irish users on Facebook and these users range in age. For example, some of my friends include a 17 year old Leaving Certificate student who likes horse-riding, a 33 year old mother of two and a 50-something year old journalist – your company may need to target any of these categories.

52% of the Inc. 500 companies (the fastest growing U.S. companies) are using Twitter for business. Its method of expanding contacts through discussion and advice is superior to most other websites.

How does social networking work for business?

Simply sign up for free, fill out your profile and look for people you know. When you find someone, click a button to add them as a friend. Now you have a connection on the site that others can see.

It’s all about providing (or posting) information on your profile and your friends’ profiles and enticing their friends to add you as a friend. Or just request them to be your friend. Be bold. Be creative. Be consistent.

If your aim is to drive more traffic to your website then give them a reason to go there. For example, if you are a mortgage broker, post a link to a page on your website with the top ten tips on setting your annual budget. You are the expert in your field – demonstrate it! This in turn will assure your audience that you are aware of their needs, reliable and not just trying to make a sale.

This strategy may also get them talking about you within their social networks or on their blogs, which will result in an increase in those ‘following’ you on your sites. This will increase your online visibility and maybe even improve your search engine results. It is also important to listen to what your social networks’ contributors are saying. If you listen to and watch what they are posting, you will find out more about them (research) and in-turn you will know more about what they want.

Let’s be honest though, the bottom line is really what counts, right? So, when you get them to your website, have a call-to-action; ‘call us’, ‘email us’, fill out a form, whatever it may be! Make the call-to-action clearly visible if you want to get business from your contacts.

So how can you maximize your business contacts while using social networking sites? Let’s divide your target market into two segments as follows: those you know, and those you don’t know.

Those you know:

As budgets are squeezed and businesses contract, it’s the people you know, the people you can trust, the people who will pay, that will secure our futures. Therefore, these ‘friends’ on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the likes can now be re-branded as potential clients. Many of them will have a large circle of friends and business associates that they can recommend to you and you can return the favour. Referrals are key to good business.

Those you don’t know:

If you work for a company, be proud of that company, its people, its products and services and its reputation. Realize that a well-respected business person will be welcomed into another business’ network where a business relationship can begin. Consider social networking sites as the new Online Golf Club or the new Online Chamber of Commerce where everyone shakes hands online, plays a game and wins some, loses some, with relationships strengthened in the process! Don’t be afraid to list your achievements – but don’t be too pushy either.

Benefits of Social Networking for Business:

  • Finds new customers
  • Generates new leads
  • Promotes referrals
  • Finds strategic partners
  • Facilitates learning from competitors
  • Facilitates introductions to industry leaders
  • Facilitates learning from opinion formers
  • Finds new vendors, products and services
  • Shows industry trends
  • Finds and recruits staff
  • Targets potential employers
  • Builds visibility as an industry expert
  • Expands contacts network

How much does it cost?

It is free to set up but you need to spend time building relationships before you cut to the chase. Build a good community, be helpful and approachable, be consistent and most importantly, be aware that the time you are spending building these contacts should be focused on attaining business. Time management is crucial as it is so easy to be drawn into side issues while your boss pays the bills!

Return on investment for social networking?

  • Enhanced search engine results and visibility online
  • Traffic to your website, therefore time on site resulting in potential sales
  • Creating a community of brand ambassadors/referrals
  • Customer service: you can deal with any problems immediately
  • Sales
  • Reputation management
  • Research and consumer insights
  • Innovation and new product development
  • Global reach
  • Winning market share with a limited budget

Conclusion:

The fact of the matter is that online marketing through social networking sites is important and it now represents an increasing part of people’s media consumption. Your online activity (including your social networking) should be an integral part of your communications plan, so it too deserves a plan. Set out your objectives (with online activity it is also beneficial to define your ROI objectives, for example, increase online leads and sales from 10% to 35%.), do your competitive and SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and measure your results.

Your customers are active and engaged on the internet. Your challenge is to meet them there and be creative! So get started, meet me online and explain your raison d’être or ask me how it’s done!

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