Growing your business online – how to expand your demographic using social media
Following his excellent post last week about popular music streaming service Spotify we’re pleased to welcome back Dean Reilly from broadband, TV & Phone comparison site cable.co.uk to talk to us about how social media can be used to benefit your business. In the early days of social media, businesses were unsure of how or even if they should join in with this developing form of communication. It was never called business media. Social media was just that - social. Times have changed though ... The perception was that users only engaged with social networks to share photographs of their holiday, grumble about what was on television, or post videos of their friends dancing the night away at a party. Surely there wasn’t a place for business amongst all that… right? Well, like a lot of preconceptions, there was (and indeed still is) some element of truth there about how people use social media. Yes, people post random pictures of their lunch. Yes, they share funny videos of cats that they’ve found online and yes, they use it as a social tool – a way of connecting with the people they know. The key thing to remember is there’s much more to social media than that – which is why businesses need to join in too. With literally millions of people engaging with social media on a daily basis – using big hitters like Facebook and Twitter through to lesser-known sites like Pinterest or apps such as Tout – social media provides an invaluable way of reaching existing customers and connecting with new ones. If you’re already using your Plusnet Business broadband to host a website or sell products online, you’ve made a great start. Now things can get really interesting…
Why use social media?
Employing social media, like any instance of a business expanding into a new area, takes some investment of time and energy. If you’re going to do that, you need a rationale for why. Most importantly, social media engagement can help you expand your customer base, but here’s some more of the most common reasons your business needs to embrace social media:
- Everyone else does - the biggest brands in the world are all active in multiple channels of social media. They use it to build, strengthen and maintain their brand identity. So, should you too.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - you can drive more traffic to your site with links, mentions, ‘likes’ and tweets, raising your profile and online presence.
- Build relationships – you can use social media as part of your customer service strategy. Gather information about your visitors, undertake market research, pool important customer feedback: in short, get to know your customers. Having an active social media identity and responding to customers when they reach out to you through it sends a crystal clear message: you actively listen and care about what they’ve got to say.
- Customers can help - those customers will ultimately become your marketers – you can use social media to encourage them to share positive experiences of engaging with your business. When one of your customers mentions you, everyone in their network will see it – and you’ll be amazed at how far some of those networks spread.
- Self promotion – when you’re starting a sale, launching a new product or service, special discounts for customers who retweet your ad or "like" your Facebook post will see it go viral in no time.
- Think more widely - don’t just connect with customers but with other businesses too. LinkedIn is just one of the many ways you can use social media to make valuable B2B links.
New customer care for a new type of customer
Plusnet business customers will know all about the Business Support Team. Their approach to helping you can offer some fantastic pointers on how you can do the same for your customers. They’re there, 24/7, 365 days a year when you need them most. Social media gives you another way of doing the exact same for your customers too. If someone has a burning question about a product or service at three in the morning, they can tweet you right then, or leave you a Facebook post. It’ll be waiting for you when you log in so you can respond quickly. Knowing your social media identity never sleeps really underlines how important getting it right can be.
Location, location, location
Let’s say you’re moving from one office to another, or have finally snapped up that perfect shop in the busiest part of town. You’ve spoken to the dedicated Plusnet business move team to ensure the transition from A to B is as smooth as possible, so they’ve got you covered there – but you don’t want to disappear from the online world while you’re on the move. Fortunately, with a social media identity, you’ll still be able to engage with your customers while you’re physically moving to new premises. OK, you might not be doing so through your usual desktop PC or Mac (which is most likely en-route to its new home), but with such widespread mobile app integration, all you’ll need to keep on top of your social media presence in the interim is a mobile phone. Easy as that.
There’s more to social media than Facebook
Facebook is a massively important part of any business strategy, but there’s more to “like” about social media than that. Here’s ten networks to consider joining – and every single one of them is free.
Mark Zuckerberg’s social network has done a fantastic job of promoting itself, to the point where when people think social media, they think Facebook. Understandable, since they’ve reached 1.11 billion active users since their launch in 2004. If you’re a business starting out on social media you’ll certainly be in good company, as the top three most active businesses on Facebook in the UK are Coca-Cola in third, Skittles in second and Amazon in first place. Facebook also have a business team that can help you build your Facebook profile, launch dedicated Facebook ad campaigns, and learn more about how your Facebook visitors interact with you online. When expanding your customer base through social media, you should always start with Facebook.
With an impressive 200 million active users, the micro-blogging site Twitter is something of an internet phenomenon. It enables users to post short, 140 character long messages which then appear on a timeline that tracks Twitter activity. Followers of your Twitter account will also see the post, and if they like it, can retweet it so their followers will see it too. It’s easy to incorporate links, images and even video into your Tweets, and you’ll be amazed how quickly your Twitter network will grow. If you’re worried about the 140 character limit, don’t be. The four paragraphs above all stayed safely under this limit and still got the message across Wink
Launched in 2010, Pinterest is a virtual pin-board, allowing users to post images online and share them with other users. The social aspect comes into play when other users of the service like something that you’ve posted. It’s quick and easy for them to in turn “re-pin” your image, thus helping it spread across the social network. Pinterest has around 70 million registered users. Due to the visual nature of the site, Pinterest works best for companies that have some kind of visual product to sell, whether that’s a hand-stitched cushion cover or a snazzy website design.
Although making quite a slow start in the social media field, Google+ has quickly developed into a social powerhouse. Google+ uses something called “circles” to encourage users to build up their social networks, allowing you to create discrete connections with other users. This makes keeping different business, social and personal contacts separate easy – perfect if you’re only looking at targeting one particular group in a campaign. Most impressive are the tools that Google+ makes available to businesses. Google Hangouts, for example, gives you the opportunity of hosting up to 10 way video conversations. These could take the place of video conferences from a B2B point of view, or even allow you to directly engage with a large number of customers at once (if that’s not too scary a prospect). What’s equally good about Google+ is that the search giant says the more you use it, the more you can raise your Google profile too. Google explain that your Google+ page, recent posts and even profile image could appear on the right-hand side of their search results page if you have created content that’s relevant to a visitor’s search. Quite the handy feature, that.
Since launching in 2003, LinkedIn quickly established itself as the most business-centric proponent of social media. Initially providing users with the opportunity to post a virtual CV, LinkedIn has developed further to offer wider networking and business to business communication opportunities.
Although Instagram is a social network in it’s own right, the online photo and video sharing service enables users to enhance their original content with a range of digital filters and then share them through a variety of social networking sites. Naturally most useful to businesses that have very visual physical products or services to sell and promote, Instagram can still be an important part of building your corporate identity, whatever it is you do.
Foursquare is a web and app-based social networking tool which focuses on the physical location of the user to provide them with real-time content about what’s around them. With a dedicated business team, the free service provides a range of tools to help promote what you do, raise the profile of your location in the real world and encourage footfall to your premises. Obviously of more use to businesses that have a physical space that customers can enter and interact with than exclusively online or ecommerce companies, Foursquare can literally help put your business on the map.
Tout and Vine
Tout and Vine are two very similar and quite experimental social media apps that allow users to post short (very, very short) videos to a wide range of social networking sites. Tout allows users to capture 15 second long mini-videos, whilst Vine limits the footage to less than half that at just 6 seconds long. This concept of what’s being labeled short form social video is that because of the brief nature of the content, users are more likely to share, comment and engage with it when compared to longer promotional videos. Both apps are still in their infancy, but businesses are already experimenting with how to Tout or post “on the Vine” to promote what they do.
Ultimately, the best way to build your identity, expand your customer base and learn how to use social media to grow your business is to dive straight in and try it. Ask others who have had successes already. Post comments. Raise questions. Tweet your observations. Before too long you’ll have a whole network of people, all eager to help you out and give you a head-start in the world of social media. To return to our opening point, the most important thing about social media really is in the name. So if you’ve got something to say about this feature, don’t keep it to yourself: share it. That’s the social media way, after all ...