Over the last year, the number of questions we have been getting about social media has been steadily increasing. A lot of companies who have not yet jumped full throttle into the online world are feeling pressured to do so simply because social media has become such an omnipresent part of our lives, both business and personal. They are feeling like 2013 should be the year that they “start doing social media,” but saying that and understanding exactly what that means are two different things. We thought we would pull bits and pieces of different conversations we have had into a single blog post. This summary incorporates much of our philosophy when it comes to social media, although we should qualify this advice with the fact that we primarily work with B2B manufacturers. The B2C world, and other industries, can be quite different in how they approach marketing tools.
With that, here is the advice we have been offering. We hope it helps.
Don’t use social media because of peer pressure
Yes, we know how trendy and powerful social media marketing has become. There have even been articles and blog posts written over the last few years insinuating that if you are not using social media as part of your marketing toolbox, you are behind the 8-ball. Our advice: Don’t believe the hype. Companies are like people. They come from different backgrounds, they live in different industrial neighborhoods, they have different objectives, they make different things, and they have different capabilities. Investing in social media marketing “because it’s time” is not a good enough reason. We advise that you engage in research first (we can help you with this) to determine if your customers are interested in hearing from you via social media platforms. Is anyone talking about your industry in the online world? Are your competitors out there? How are they doing, and where?
If you do research and find that there is a lot of talk about your industry or about your type of product, we would tend to recommend that you develop a strategy and start getting your own story out there. If there is not a lot of “buzz” then you have a choice. You can go out there and create buzz (a long, hard road) or you can keep monitoring the online world to see when things change.
The fact is that many people who spread the word that you are missing the boat if you don’t use social media are themselves social media consultants. They make their money helping companies use social media. Of course they are going to recommend you hop on board. Keep your own company’s interests front and center.
A lot of people have told us over the last five years that they view social media as something they would hire an intern for. We tend to push back on that kind of approach. Consider it this way. If you wanted to develop a detailed brochure about your new product, something that really presented your product in the best possible way, would you hire a marketing student from a local college or would you lean towards an agency or personnel who have worked with you and your products for five years? Probably the latter, right? Well, the same logic applies to social media, except even moreso. Social Media, unlike a brochure or an ad, is in constant flux. Anyone can make a statement or ask a question about your product or service at any time. Who do you want to handle those scenarios? Someone who isn’t really sure about your products or someone you know and trust?
Beyond the simple logistics of knowing what you are talking about, there are skills required for simply using social media tools effectively, just like there are for phones or email. You need to make sure your company is presented the way you want it to be in the public stream. You want to avoid scenarios like the Kitchen Aid PR disaster from earlier this year, in which a social media practitioner sent an offensive tweet about President Barack Obama’s deceased grandmother from the Kitchen Aid account on Twitter. Your social media presence needs to reflect everything good about your company. Through Twitter or Facebook, people will get a sense of how credible you are, how knowledgable you are, and how likely they are to get quality service and products from your company. All of this needs to be built without over-promoting, without engaging in behaviors that could be viewed as spam, and without reacting too swiftly or irresponsibly to a volatile situation.
If you bring in an intern to handle all of this, their time with you will have expired just as you are beginning to get a feel for how they are handling the work.
Social Media is not a silver bullet
If you are looking to increase your sales, or if you think social media marketing will be more cost-effective than regular marketing, we want to throw up a “CAUTION” sign. Building traction online, real traction, can take six months to a year (some people achieve a strong presence faster, some simply never do). To determine if social media is increasing your sales, you need to carefully craft a means to measure what you are doing. That means you also need to measure how much you are investing into social media marketing.
If you think the answer to that last part is, “Nothing,” you need to remember that if you or someone else at your company is spending hours a day blogging, tweeting, updating Facebook, or uploading YouTube videos, they are using their time on the clock to do so. That’s money. If you or someone else is using a work computer to tweet, there’s the cost for that computer’s upkeep. Granted, these costs can be sliced amongst other things you do, but social media is NOT free.
There is also the reality that for a lot of companies, social media will not be directly traceable to a sale. Consider the manufacturer of capital equipment. Is someone going to “like” a Facebook fan page and then go to an e-commerce store to purchase a machine costing a million dollars? Probably not. They may do research about your company and decide they like your philosophy. You might consider them a prospect and thus wish to nurture your relationship with them via social media platforms. But purchasing is not always the result of a social media relationship. You might find your ROI in the end is quite poor.
Look back on the Presidential election (painful though it may be). Both candidates used social media (Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube videos, etc) to promote their campaigns. But was that all they used? Not by a long shot. Both candidates also invested in radio ads, email marketing, television commercials (boy did they!), direct mail, and more. That is what a strong marketing campaign looks like today. Social Media is a new tool to add to your resources, just like email was a new tool a few years ago, just like faxes were before that, and so on. Social Media is a new way to communicate your message, and now you can actually see who you’re talking to and get responses in return.
Do not be shy about linking different tactics together. A print ad can promote your Facebook page. Your email signature can incorporate your Twitter account. A radio spot can invite people to read your blog. You can invest in social media marketing without having to remake your entire marketing approach. It is not mutually exclusive from “traditional” marketing. It is a powerful supplement.
These are all broad bits of advice. When it comes to your individual company more specific discussions need to take place. What are you hoping to accomplish? What should your corporate voice be online? These are questions for which there are not “one size fits all” answers. If you want to talk to us about your specific company, <a href = mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" contact us and we’ll be happy to help you.
First image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28288673@N07/4847679257/ via Creative Commons