More than any other discipline in a web designer’s arsenal, Social Media has amassed a veritable language of acronyms unto itself and therefore remains a daunting mystery to most businesses. So what exactly is “Social Media” and what are the benefits of it to website owners?
Social media is the online equivalent of “word-of-mouth”, and since more and more people are choosing to share their thoughts and opinions online these days, its marketing potential is enormous.
As human beings it’s in our nature to surround ourselves with, and seek out, like-minded people, to communicate with others, to learn, and to enjoy entertaining or being entertained – in short to “socialise”. What Facebook, Twitter, and many other online “communities” have done is to create websites that make it easier for people to do just that.
Millions of people choose to visit these sites each day and participate in ongoing conversations with friends, family and colleagues. They talk about their pets, what they had for breakfast, who they like and dislike, and anything interesting that is happening to them in the “real world” – It’s almost like workplace chatter during a scheduled break.
What social websites do well is to provide multiple methods for people to join, participate, share, and find conversations that will interest them.
This refers to the process of including some of those sharing methods into an existing website. In the past most websites contained pages filled with text that the owner of that site wrote, with no means of the reader being able to contribute or share that content. If someone wanted a friend to view it, then their only choice was to email them a link to that page. Since the text only represents the opinion of the writer, the reader had no means of verifying its integrity, accuracy, or popularity.
Social media integration changes all of that – it empowers the reader to enhance the value of website content by giving them familiar tools to copy that information to their conversations on social media platforms. It also offers them the ability to contribute an opinion underneath the content, which in turn helps other readers make their own decisions about it.
If the very concept of your site viewers having that level of power scares you – then you need to realise that people are going to talk about your products and services outside of your ability to influence them anyway – and you WANT them to – that’s what “word-of-mouth” is. That’s what sells goods and services – people that you trust endorsing something that you haven’t formulated an opinion about yet.
In today’s internet sharing world, failure to supply these options to your viewers can be perceived negatively as an attempt to mask the real worth of your products. If someone is going to say something bad about your services, wouldn’t you like to know about it and prefer that they did it somewhere where you have the ability to respond quickly and appropriately for all to see?
The next logical step in the social chain – once you have established through website integration that people are interested in talking about your products and services – is to move those conversations closer to your audience. And that means having your own company presence on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. You’ve won them over on your website with your openness and honesty, now it’s time to take the next step and start to build your own “social community”.
This then gives you the ability to market your wares to the millions of people on social websites, and the best part is – if you’ve got something worth saying, your own community will be the ones that propagate that offer for you.
Social Media Marketing requires an online social site with a dedicated fan base (called followers) and you’ll need to be prepared to listen to them as much as you talk to them. You’ll need to provide them with what they want and in return they’ll give you what you need– they are after all – your loyal customers. In a traditional website environment you would have assembled a database of interested customers and sent them a newsletter once a month – now you’ve got the ability to talk with them anytime. Find out what they like – ask them what you’re doing right or wrong – use their feedback to build a more responsive business.
Once you’ve established followers, the final social step is an ongoing “Social Marketing Strategy”. Your plan should include ways of increasing your fan base and working with your existing website to promote new products and special offers. Social sites carry the teaser message that gets people interested, and your main website contains all of the information relating to that offer – and usually the means to purchase it.