It’s sometimes a little hard to believe just how long social media has been around now. Maybe that’s because it still seems to be in a near-constant state of flux, which is something we tend to associate with newness. MySpace began its meteoric rise — and subsequent freefall — all the way back in 2003, Facebook entered the fray less than a year later, followed by YouTube and then Twitter. Even Instagram has been on the scene for about 12 years now.
In fact, social media has been around for so long that recollections centered on who coined the very term are a little fuzzy. Many attribute its initial naming to Ted Leonsis’s crew at AOL as it was preparing to introduce the company’s instant messaging system back in 1997, while others insist that it was fellow AOL exec and eventual iVillage co-creator Tina Sharkey who deserves that credit. She actually registered the corresponding URL — which, interestingly, now leads to groupon.com — in 1999.
With most social media channels now so monolithic that breaking through the clutter and grabbing attention seems to be increasingly difficult, and with their growing association with fake news, hate speech and even negative self-image, the question is sometimes posed as to whether or not social media is still important in growing and maintaining a business.
Beyond question, it still very much is. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
Social Media is a Pervasive Factor in Nearly All Our Everyday Lives.
“Fish where the fish are” has long been a marketing axiom. Social media is undeniably where the fish are and, for businesses seeking to build both an identity and a customer/client base, that makes it a compelling fishing spot.
The major social media channels all feature enormous communities — Facebook has nearly 3 billion active users, while YouTube has 2.5 billion and Instagram features 1.47 billion. Even relative newcomer TikTok has now eclipsed the 1 billion user mark and, in accommodating an increasingly longer video format over the years, has gone from fringe to mainstream.
Sheer numbers don’t tell the whole story — much of society is habituated toward social media use and there’s an increasing reliance on it. This trend may have been accelerated by the Covid pandemic, as online communities stepped in for their in-person counterparts.
As recently as late 2021, 79% of Facebook users checked in daily and nearly 70% of all Americans use the channel to some extent. Further, Facebook users don’t just check in and leave, but they tend to hang around, spending an average of 19.6 hours a month on the channel. Instagram, the most downloaded of all apps in 2021, isn’t all that far behind, with 59% of its users logging in daily.
Axioms aside, it makes sense for a business to be where its prospects are. Creating and maintaining a comprehensive social media presence accomplishes this objective.
Social Media Offers a Sound Foundation for Building a Community
Online or off, we choose the company we keep based on what that company provides us with. We’re talking about intangibles here — offering feelings of belonging, self-worth and perceived value are the hallmarks of any successful community.
Sure, where communities are concerned, the online variety has been known to have its drawbacks: community hosts that provide questionable and sometimes even incendiary content, community members who can’t seem to behave themselves and more. But, when the standards for behavior are set high enough and adhered to, online communities provide many benefits for the businesses that start and administer them, as well as their community members.
Creating genuinely helpful and compelling content can yield tangible results for businesses willing to play the long game. An online community isn’t built overnight. In fact, with the lower organic reach we now see nearly across the board on all social media channels, it might take longer than ever before. Nevertheless, it allows businesses valuable opportunities to put forth a personality while humanizing their brand.
The Branding Journal defines branding as “the process of giving a meaning to a specific organization, company, products or services by creating and shaping a brand in consumers’ minds.”
Content showing a company’s product being used in real world situations, or behind the scenes content showcasing a company’s processes and workforce quality can go a long way toward accomplishing this. In the process, the company can build trust and establish legitimacy with its prospective customers. Because of the viral nature of an online community, compelling content that resonates with community members is often shared, thereby enhancing its impact. It can be a great place for teasers for new products, upcoming sales and the like — especially when more conversational organic content takes its place alongside more focused, sales-centric paid content.
Allowing and even encouraging employees to take part in the process can really amplify the effectiveness — and reach — of this content, but a certain amount of caution must be exercised. Tales of employees running amok with social media posts are all too common so, if this route is taken, expectations and standards must be made very clear at the outset. Needless to say, disgruntled employees shouldn’t have posting access to a company’s social media channels.
Because most channels allow companies to link their pages directly to their websites, prospects interested in finding out more details on a given product or upcoming sale can easily find that information. In most cases, this can be enhanced by using a specialized URL directing to a dedicated page. There’s a caveat here — companies that use specialized URLs for this purpose must remember to update them when needed. Nobody likes stale content.
Social Media Communities are a Great Place to Grow and Nurture Leads
Not all prospects reside in the same place in the marketing funnel at any one time. Some may be far from ready to buy while others may be right on the threshold of making a purchase. Creating consistent quality content — and not just hard selling with each post — builds both interest and trust. For a specialty grocery market, for example, creating conversational posts centered on new gourmet products that have just arrived, accompanied by photos that are captivating but not too slick, will build interest in the long term.
Community members who might have once merely clicked their “like” buttons begin to inquire about product details and eventually make a purchase. If the product lives up to expectations, that customer may go on to make future purchases and even become a sort of online evangelist for the business — singing its praises in future posts. Fellow community members see this interaction and feel a greater degree of trust when dealing with the business.
By their very nature, online communities attract qualified prospects. A channel user who is motivated enough to join a community centered on classic cars, for example, will almost always have an abiding interest in classic cars and will also often be a bona fide enthusiast in the process of fixing up a classic of their own. If the community has been built by an aftermarket parts supplier, interspersing helpful tutorials with posts heralding the arrival of new products can lead to a substantial number of sales. A company doesn’t necessarily need a huge community for this, as the level of engagement of that community matters far more.
Leveraging occasional positive reviews can also help build trust, provided it’s done in moderation. Go to this tactic too much and it begins to seem like bragging.
Social Media Provides Valuable Customer Service and Social Listening Opportunities
We don’t seem to read as much about social listening as we used to, but it’s no less important than it ever was. For companies willing to put in the time to consistently monitor what’s being said online —both about them and the competition — the upside can be substantial.
Companies understandably want to see positive feedback — evidence that their product or service has met or exceeded expectations. This feedback reinforces the notion that the company’s processes are on point and delivering results and, for those community members monitoring this content but not yet ready to make a purchase, it can go a long way toward enhancing the trust that will eventually motivate a sale. Better still, because online feedback can come rapidly, a company needs relatively little time to gauge whether its efforts are on the mark.
Businesses often understandably shy away from engaging with dissatisfied customers, but this interaction can provide valuable opportunities to showcase stellar customer service. When a business communicates respectfully (and sometimes even remorsefully) with a disgruntled patron and offers a viable solution or simply even the opportunity to make things better in the future, fellow community members see the interaction and almost always feel more positively about doing business with the company in the future. They might think to themselves, “Hey, everyone makes mistakes. At least this business is owning up to the mistake and standing behind their product or service.”
Surprisingly, even positive reviews often lead to missed opportunities. There are countless instances on Yelp where a satisfied customer’s lavish praise receives no thanks, or a follow up question goes unanswered. On Houzz, where skilled contractors can showcase their previous work to entice new customers, specific questions posed by obviously motivated prospects often go without a response.
Social listening isn’t just about staying in tune with what’s going on with your brand, but also an opportunity to see what the competition is doing — right or wrong — monitor industry trends and mine opportunities.
As review sites have evolved so has the importance of responding in an appropriate and timely manner. This guide provides some brief guidelines for online review responses.
Social media also offers businesses the opportunity to reach their customer bases quickly in the event of a crisis, but crisis communication is a very specialized discipline best left to thoroughly qualified company representatives. Even a well-meaning post added at a sensitive time can lead to substantial fallout if it isn’t properly thought out.
Social Listening Can Also Lead to Content Creation Opportunities
For a long time, bloggers and other content creators have often used SEO tools to focus their efforts on generating the content people are looking for — content that’s likely to eventually rise to a lofty position in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs).
Social listening provides opportunities of its own. When a company monitors what people are saying in a given industry, it will often unearth some common themes. These themes might be in the form of a product not performing as expected, a challenge within the industry that has yet to be resolved, or even questions that are frequently posed but not satisfactorily answered. Taking note of these, and then creating solution-focused content can go a long way toward winning new customers and making existing customers more devout. In some cases, it can even lead to the creation of new products that meet a specific need.
Social Media Is Indispensable for Targeted, Cost-Effective Advertising
We most often tend to think of social media in terms of organic content but, as we’ve noted, an arsenal composed of organic and paid content is often very effective.
With organic reach dwindling — it’s hovering at right about 5% overall on Facebook, for example, and even lower for business posts — the days are long gone when a company could simply rely on consistent posting to quickly move the needle and generate revenue. This can still happen —albeit much more slowly — and organic content shouldn’t be neglected but paid social media advertising offers an avenue for businesses of all sizes and revenue levels to harness the benefits of a large user base.
Most of the social media channels offer targeting options far out of reach of conventional advertising. Radio advertisements can’t be parceled out based on listenership geography, age or other demographics — advertisers get the entire audience, including listeners of all ages within its range, even if the periphery of that range is so distant as to be non-viable. Television ads can be placed to target programming based on certain demographics, but they’ll still go out to the entire audience, regardless of its location, with the exception of local cable.
Social media advertising allows for far more specificity. Should a restaurant want to limit its advertising to an eight-mile radius, it can do so with no problem. Should a real estate agent want to target audience members with a specific listed job title or industry — that’s also no problem. The same goes for several different demographic and psychographic parameters that can make for a very cost-effective ad buy.
While there may be a stigma attached to its pervasiveness, the ability to retarget advertising based on certain prospect behaviors can really amplify its effectiveness. A Facebook user that’s “liked” a company page is really no longer a cold prospect and, if that user has also interacted with the company’s website, it usually indicates outright interest, even if a purchase hasn’t yet been made. Targeting advertising based on these behaviors will consistently yield better results than advertising with broader parameters.
Over time, audience research reveals common characteristics in a business’s client base — this is the basis for creating the customer avatars that should (ideally) inform most of a company’s marketing initiatives. Most social media advertising lends itself to the ability to create custom audiences based on these characteristics — a company can even upload a mailing list to Facebook and target list members while they’re on the channel. Combining that custom audience with a specially created lookalike audience based on its similarity to that custom audience creates an even bigger prospect base to market to.
Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or even LinkedIn, social media offers businesses the opportunity to advertise effectively with a relatively modest investment. While it’s the effectiveness and efficiency of the advertising results that ultimately matter, this modest investment means that a small business that might otherwise be hesitant to try social media advertising can get its feet wet without taking much of a risk. Daily budgets start at just $5 a day on Facebook and Instagram for ads being charged on the basis of clicks — app downloads do require a larger investment. In order to make sure a newly established advertising account is legit, Facebook does require an initial $10 investment in an ad campaign centered on maximizing impressions before moving on to other advertising objectives.
The efficiency of Facebook advertising is underscored by its overall results — despite the ability to precisely target an audience, advertisers pay an average of just 97 cents per click across the board and $7.19 per thousand impressions (CPM).
Better still, each of the social media channels has its own native analytics dashboard, so advertisers can check the results of their efforts. If those results don’t meet objectives, the modest cost of social media advertising facilitates testing variables and making improvements. If the results show that the ad campaign is already knocking it out of the park, that same modest cost makes it easy for businesses to scale their efforts.
With social media offering so much upside, we’re curious about how it fits into your overall marketing strategy. Are you investing more, the same amount or fewer resources on it — factoring in both money and time — than, say two years ago? We’d love to hear from you.