Social media is the concept of interacting with others through various forms of online technologies. This can be through commenting on a blog, sharing photos, sharing videos and a whole range of other approaches. Wikipedia give a pretty good definition:
Social media uses Internet and web-based technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many).(Source: Wikipedia)
Right, but what does that actually mean?
Well, rather than speaking at people….you can speak to people. It turns one-way communication into two-way communication. Too many companies are all too willing to promote themselves or their products but are not interested in listening to their customers….unless it is in a sale situation. How do you expect to build a good customer relationship if you aren’t willing to listen, learn and adapt?
Whether you choose to believe it or not, social media has developed into an essential tool for every successful company out there. You probably already interact with various forms of social media every day and you may not even realise it. Every time you log into facebook, every time you create a new tweet, every time you visit YouTube, every time you upload to Flickr, every time you browse Wikipedia, every time you check your RSS feeds – you are engaging in social media. You may not be uploading videos to Youtube yourself and you may only use Facebook to see what other people are up to, but you are still playing a part in online social interaction. Just to varying degrees. Every action you take in these situations will have a consequence. Hopefully positive….sometimes negative. Learning to manipulate these situations in your favour is all part and parcel of mastering the social media sphere.
What benefits does all this online sharing and chit chat have then?
It’s very easy to dismiss this area of the web as wishy washy and unnecessary due to its difficulty to measure in terms of conversion-goals and ROI. So let’s look at it from another perspective using a basic example.
The time comes when I need to buy a new laptop (more regularly than you might think!). I log into Twitter to find that a whole bunch of my friends have all recently purchased new laptops, of which 90% went for the exact same model and are tweeting like crazy about how good it is. It’s going to take a lot to get me to think about buying any other model. This is because I’m likely to to be more open to my friends’ suggestions than say Google’s results for ‘Top of the range laptop’, simply because I’ll know the results haven’t been generated by a cold, calculated algorithm like Google’s. These results have come from real life people who I know and trust and can give real life feedback. The results from my friends are personal. I know them and they know me. I know what they need to do with their laptop, and I now know whether the product they’ve opted for would suit me.
The same principle can be applied to just about any situation. People are far more likely to trust a friend’s suggestion over one where they don’t know the source of where it came from.
Search engine rankings
One particularly important aspect of developing a good social media persona that people do not often realise, is the effect on their website’s search engine ranking. The more you engage with websites such as Twitter, Flickr and Youtube etc, the more links you are likely to generate to your website. These links can come from people who are interested in what you’ve said, want to use your article/post/message to explain something to others, or any number of different reasons. Once you start to develop lots of incoming links and establish yourself as an authority on any topic, search engines will reward you by moving you up the rankings. This will likely result in even more people visiting your site. It is a continuous cycle that continually promotes you and what you do.
The majority of social media outlets are extremely cost effective….because you needn’t pay a penny for them. It takes nothing more than a passion for what you do and little bit of time to set yourself up. Yet the returns can make a huge impact on the success of your business. Any remotely sane businessman will be able to see benefit in that.
Human recommendation and interaction
The goalposts are constantly moving. People are becoming so used to the endless advertising they are faced with every day that it’s becoming easy to ignore it, and although people will tire of banner ads and posters, people will never tire of communicating with other people. As previously mentioned, the persuasive powers of individual people you know and trust are far greater than something that has been created as a catch-all as a result of a few half-witted board meetings. This is why we have testimonials, even though they are not necessarily always reliable sources. This is why just about every large corporation out there has a blog of some description, and quite likely somebody monitoring Twitter for instances of their name cropping up that they may be able to address.
Being involved in online social media opens up new avenues for lead generation. With so much link exposure and brand promotion as happens through sites like Twitter, it is possible to stretch the reach of your brand and business further than you can with any other media outlet, save for TV ads. But the ace in the pack for social media here is that while TV ads are broadcast at people, those who go online in search of something will be proactively seeking it when they stumble across a link to your site. Lucky coincidence? Or excellent brand management by yourself?
If used appropriately, social media can be far more rewarding than you may realise at first. People like to talk to people. Having a website is one thing, but if you don’t have an evident human side behind it that is easy to access, people won’t be comfortable approaching you. People like to know that once they engage you, you will be there with them to answer questions, troubleshoot and generally help them out if they need it. So if it’s becoming more of a requirement to show this human side, why not go a step further and use these plentiful social media outlets to your advantage and promote your best qualities through them?
It’s both a blessing and a curse that the web moves so quickly. But one thing is certain. If you don’t keep up, you’ll get left behind. Those who prosper will be those who understand the importance of a well-rounded online persona.