The social media world is undoubtedly huge, Facebook alone has nearly 1 billion active accounts (we have to accept that not all of these 1 billion accounts are real people though). New social sites are growing all the time as well, Pinterest is a good example of one of the newer ones that has found a slightly different slant on things. Although Pinterest only has a fraction of the users that Facebook and Twitter currently have, it is growing and in the US is the 3rd most used social site. Significantly for advertisers, it seems that near 90% of the user base is women, so there is definitely an opportunity to tap the market.
But social media as a form of marketing has been criticized recently, with many companies saying that being on Facebook has done nothing for their profits at all. Indeed, the news has been rife with claims that Facebook’s own marketing and advertising approach is flawed, casting doubt over the value of social media for digitally savvy companies.
But is the problem here not with the platforms but with the expectation of businesses about what they can achieve? One of the things I bang on about a lot is rather than social media, concentrate on ‘clever social media’. What I mean by this is that any business thinking about engaging on any of the social platforms needs to really think about why they are doing it. There are some key principles that have to be part of the considerations; where are your target audience? what sites will allow you to talk to them? how does that platform work? are you prepared to have a conversation?
For me, the latter is the most important thing. There are many ways to make your mark on a social site, but in the end you are there to have some sort of conversation with customers and potential customers. Simply being on a site is not going to achieve anything much, but actually engaging with it and getting involved could have huge potential. In my opinion, the biggest opportunity in social media at the moment is not in advertising but in reputation. O2 recently showed how Twitter has the power to be a PR machine if handled right. They turned a complete disaster into a PR piece of genius when their networks went down by dealing with customer tweets one at a time, with humour and respect and more importantly they engaged in a conversation with everyone of the customers who messaged them. The result was a huge surge in reputation for the company.
In the end, a key thing to remember about social media is that people have largely chosen to be their because they want to interact with others. If a business starts by interacting, creating conversations and communities on these sites then that will be the start of successfully using social media sites to generate leads. Make advocates of the audience and they will come to your brand, but if you just sit back and expect them to come to you just because you have a Facebook page, then dream on because you aren’t likely to get very far at all.