[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Although digital marketing has reached a fever pitch, many of our marketing clients remain fearful of social media marketing and its risks both perceived and real. They understand the need for a vibrant, engaging website. They’ve learned the cost savings of email marketing. And perhaps they’ve seen the benefits of search engine optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click advertising. Yet social media still gives them pause. While every meeting with a GodwinGroup marketing, advertising or public relations client seems to eventually roll around to a discussion of social media—usually the easy standards like Facebook and Twitter—I still have many executives pull me aside and admit their own trepidation or at least lack of knowledge about social media.
(If you’re one of those eager to learn more and need a quick primer on social media, take a few minutes to review this chart that will brief you on some of the more popular social media outlets and their value. You’ll at least be able to follow the conversation when your younger staff start talking.)
The questions from business executives are often the same:
- What should we do that won’t get me in trouble with HR or compliance?
- Will it really work for our marketing?
- If we allow people to go online won’t we lose productivity to computer games or Facebook?
- What if customers put critical comments about us on the internet?
Let me start with the last question. Yes, social media will likely include some negatives here and there. No company is without its critics. But those conversations and comments will go on with or without you. Our position is that it’s better to be a part of the conversation and at least have the opportunity to tell your story accurately, than to allow others to control your brand without your viewpoint being a part of the discussion.
Clearly, if you want to be a successful marketer in the future, you must engage your audiences in social media. And yes, there will be risks. But it doesn’t mean you have to destroy your office protocols for computer usage, nor does it mean you take inordinate risks by inviting people to comment on your company website without monitoring or screening comments. But let’s be clear about this—people will engage in commentary about your products and services. They are doing so now. It cannot be stopped, but it can be an opportunity to engage your customers in a conversation.
A Brief Social Media History
A little social media history might be of value to build your confidence that this phenomenon really isn’t that difficult or mysterious to understand. Social media—at least as recognized today—is credited by some as having started in 1997 with Six Degrees (yes, from the idea of “six degrees of separation“). Six Degrees was online for about four years and managed to grow to about a million users. People could list their friends and families and then could post messages to message boards that those in their first three degrees could see. Since, it has closed membership, and all new members must be invited to join by current members.
In 2002, Friendster came along with a plan to help anyone begin to network with friends and others. You could leave messages 24/7 and share internet content. It was mostly for teens and twenty-somethings. Unfortunately for Friendster, a year later they were mimicked by MySpace, which within four years was the first monster social network site. MySpace grew to the most popular site in the United States by 2006, swelling from two million to 80 million users. Today, Friendster has become a social gaming site while MySpace now focuses on entertainment for Generation Y.
MySpace shortly lost ground to Facebook, which surpassed MySpace in 2008. “The Facebook” began as a social network site only for Harvard students, later adding other colleges, then high schools, then businesses and any individual. In January this year, it had over 600 million users.
Along the way, LinkedIn joined the social media frenzy. In 2003, this site was launched with a focus on allowing people to share their résumés, search for new employees, and create business contacts and networks. LinkedIn is one of the fastest growing sites—currently growing by about one user per second—with 90 million users in 200 countries as of January this year, allowing business people to connect with others of similar interests.
Despite all the talk about Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and LinkedIn, social media is so much more. When people leave comments about a story in the online version of your local newspaper, that is social media. When you use Urban Spoon to help locate a restaurant or comment that you had a great meal somewhere, that is social media. This blog is social media because posts can be shared and commented upon. Social networks are formed for many reasons, such as affinity for a school, interest in a hobby, common business interests, dating, or such things as music or literature. As smart marketers, our job is to identify places where we can find groups of people who will have an affinity for our products and services.
3 Simple Ways to Test the Water
If you’re in business and want to learn social media before taking your business’s marketing forward in the social media world, why not start personally with LinkedIn? This site allows social networking that is entirely business oriented. You’re not going to waste time with someone’s vacation photos or be bombarded with someone wanting you to join a game. This site allows you to post your job experience and history, education and related information, and make online connections with people you know. You can also search their contacts as part of a network of people who are affiliated through jobs, personal history and interests. You can recommend people you trust or ask them to recommend you. Employers can post jobs and search for candidates. The basic account is free. Join today, then find me and add me as a “connection” to get started. Mention you saw this blog if I don’t already know you.
Another simple and risk-free way to learn social media is to visit any of a number of sites and begin reading comments. I’d suggest these three:
- First, choose a large or local newspaper you like and go to the online version. Find a story that interests you, then scroll down below the article and read the comments of the readers. Maybe leave your own comment.
- You might also go to YouTube and sign up for a free account. Then go to the search function and type in a subject of interest to you, such as literature or sailing or business. You can even set up your own channel to upload and share your own videos or collect your favorite videos shared by others. Here’s mine, for example. Find a video on almost any topic and read what others have said about it in the comments. You may just find someone you want to talk with about the subject.
- The last thing I’d suggest to help you learn social media is to go to a service like Yelp. You can sign up for free. This service provides a local search function for almost anything, such as a pizza parlor or hotel or hair salon. You can then check the user reviews to find out what kind of experience others had with this business.
So go ahead, jump in the waters of social networking and social media marketing. You’ll find it easier to swim than you thought.
What concerns or suggestions do you have about using social media for business? Share your thoughts below, and perhaps you’ll meet a swimming partner.
Also see our post about how the United States military has been managing their social media.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]