Most business leaders know about social media and online brand management. They’re familiar with Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but they don’t recognize these social media websites as part of their business marketing plan. The point to realize is that if the largest corporations of the Fortune 500, such as Exxon Mobile, Walmart and Southwest Air, are using social media, it’s probably a marketing format to check out for your business.
An ever-growing segment of the population uses social media. Plus, it’s not just an area where kids communicate with one another. Social Media is also a location where businesses, both large and small, are testing and successfully imprinting their brand on the general public in order to get additional sales and revenue. It’s turning out to be a great way to grow associations with future customers by turning content into sales.
If you want to enter the social media realm, grasping the essence of social media is imperative. Using wikipedia.com and merriam-webster.com derives the following definition of social media:
Social media is the electronic communication, via online sources and mobile technology, through which users create accessible web-based communities to converse with user-generated content.
Read on to get an in-depth explanation of social media, how big of an experience it has become in the lives of the general population and why it’s now considered a major player in the business marketing world.
A Little History about Social Media
Social media is more than just Twitter and Google+. Many don’t realize that social media owns a history that goes further back than February 2004, when Facebook started.
The Great Blizzard of 1978 gave Ward Christensen and Randy Seuss, both members of the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange (CACHE), time to develop their Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS), which gave members of CACHE a way to share information with each other. CBBS was the start of a “forum” to communicate through computers.
In 1979, Usenet was developed for communication between the University of North Carolina and Duke University. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British engineer at the European Particle Physics Lab in Switzerland, called CERN, invented the World Wide Web and in 1993, his ideas, such as hypertext markup language (html), were set as standards for the new Internet.
A group named Beverly Hills Internet (BHI) created Geocities in 1994, which gave Internet users a location for making their own websites. In 1997, SixDegrees.com allowed users to list friends and establish profiles. The same year, America Online (AOL) created a way for their customers to chat with one another. Friends Reunited, a website of former British school friends, began in 1999. It’s considered the first social network of any prominence.
In 2002, the social networking website called Friendster allowed United States (U.S.) users in and three months later there were three million Friendster customers. The same year, 34 million people were on AOL. In 2003, MySpace created a replica of Friendster. The following year, Facebook was launched, which was viewed as a form of Friendster for college students. Twitter started in 2006. Facebook’s users outnumbered MySpace users in 2008 and by 2009, Facebook had twice the users as MySpace.
In 2013, the social media statistics are as follows:
- YouTube – four billion views per day and a billion monthly users
- Facebook – 1.11 billion users
- Twitter – 500 million users, over 200 million are active users
- Apple – 50 billion apps
- Tumblr – purchased by Yahoo!, 170 million users and 100 million blogs
- Flikr – 87 million users, eight billion photos
- Instagram – 100 million users, four billion photos
- LinkedIn – 225 million users
- Pinterest – 48.7 million users
- WordPress – 74 million blogs
- Dropbox – 100 million users, 1 billion files uploaded daily
- Google+ – 343 million users
- Reddit – 69.9 million users, 4.8 billion pages views each month
Growth in Mobile Devices
In February 2013, there were over 6.8 billion mobile subscribers in the world. In a Feb. 7, 2013 article in The Guardian, Cisco, a networking company, reported that mobile devices, such as tablets and smart phones, will outnumber the 7.1 billion people in the world by the end of 2013. Mobile Factbook 2013 predicts we will see 7.5 billion worldwide mobile devices by the end of 2014 and 8.5 billion by the end of 2016. The International Telecommunications Union reports that there were 2.1 billion mobile web users at the end of 2012. Portia Research says that a total of 7.8 trillion social media messages were sent in 2011, with 9.6 trillion in 2012. The use of social media is growing with mobile devices added to its usage.
For businesses, social media is replacing a sales staff as a mode to connect to customers. Today, your future customers are looking for your business and your products through a social media website. Also, appealing to new customers is a new possibility through social media, thereby dropping the need for a company sales force.
Foundations of the Social Media Platform
A social media platform involves five basic features. The five principles of social media include:
- Sharing – If you want social media to work, you must participate.
- Openness – Everyone participates with open communications. There is nothing to hide in a social media environment.
- Back-and-Forth Conversation – Dialogue goes both ways in a social media setting. Traditional business advertising is usually one-way. Businesses interact through social media to harvest new customers, instead of drawing up one-way ads.
- Similar Interests – Social media communities congeal because of like-minded interests. Businesses can tap into an activity or a hobby of potential customers.
- It’s Everywhere – Few places of the world exist without a connection to the Internet, especially with mobile devices.
What is Social Media Used For?
Users of social media perform a number of functions through it. The following are daily activities performed in the social media world:
- Blogging – The word “blog” is an abbreviation of “weblog.” A blog registers one’s opinions, thoughts or other useful information. Good blogs are written in a relaxed manner. If created correctly, a blog brings about reader participation.
- Micro Blogging – Limited space means that micro blogging is short, sweet and to the point. Twitter entails micro blogging. A business can provoke participation with micro blogs.
- Networks – LinkedIn and Facebook networks are examples of bringing people together who have common interests.
- Wikis – Wikipedia.com is a wiki that lets people create content in a collaborative effort.
- Content Specific – Networking via a particular type of content is possible with some social media websites, such as Flickr (photos), or YouTube (videos).
- Podcasts – iTunes is Apple’s social media that allows the sharing of video and audio podcasts.
- Forums – Topics of a similar nature are discussed in forums.
Social Media and the Business Tie-In
Low Cost – An initial advantage for a business getting into social media marketing is that it’s inexpensive. Small businesses that have a marketing department of one, the same person who owns the company and the one who removes the trash, can play along with the big companies in the social media world. Customer interaction is possible and high advertising budgets aren’t necessary.
Exposure – Your business gets strong coverage through social media contact. Hubspot’s 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Annual Report, developed after interviewing 3,300 worldwide marketers, revealed the following: More than double the sales leads come through social media than by means of telemarketing, trade shows or direct mail. Companies that produce more than 1,000 Facebook “likes” also see close to 1,400 website visits per day. Forty-six percent of online shoppers use social media to formulate buying decisions.
Research – Studies show that 65 percent of today’s businesses are using social media as a tool for learning what customers want. With engagement into social media websites, you can analyze the most visited communities to estimate buying trends. And, since social media possesses a sense of openness, you can ascertain honest opinions about various products and services.
Customer Loyalty – Businesses are noticing that their customers expect to find them in the social media world. When your business shows up on social media websites in communities that your customer visits regularly, you acquire loyalty that expands through other social media connections and friends. Since there’s a similarity in thought within these social media communities, leads harvested through this source are better than those coming from a random marketing approach. By keying into a niche in a social media website, you can target those customers who are more likely to seek your product or service.
Ideas for Businesses in the Social Media World
It’s always a good idea in the business world to learn from the successes or mistakes of others. The following are thoughts that help businesses navigate through the social media environment:
- Use a Casual Voice – Speak the language of the social media website, not the talk of your business. Don’t be pushy. Ask questions. Present a conversational tone.
- Give Value – Customers will react better when you offer something valuable. It might be valuable information in a blog or a discount. When the customer appreciates your offering, they become loyal.
- Call to Action – Ask customers to buy your product, call your store or visit your website. The plus with dealing with social media is that you aren’t buying an expensive magazine ad or roadside billboard. Text or images that you create produce the action here.
- Maintain the Dialogue – You aren’t the dictator of the social media website. Everyone participates. Talk to these people in a conversational tone and let them respond. Learn what they prefer. You might discover a new market for your business. By adhering to the two-way conversations inherent with social media, you can develop a following and future business.
Social Media is Here to Stay
The numbers show it. People love their mobile devices, from smart phones to tablets, and the number of subscribers with mobile communication gadgets that connect to web-based services is going up. So too, is the volume of customers on social media websites. As business marketing efforts migrate to greater social media participation, more sophisticated content, complete with maximum quality video, audio and imagery, will be required.
There’s no doubt that social media marketing isn’t disappearing. So, if you want to compete in today’s business world, it’s time to climb aboard the social media train and discover how well it can help your company. Once you’re on the social media track, you’ll never look back.
Posted by: Joel Canter