Too often when people think about social media, the first thing we think about are the most popular tools. Facebook is getting publicity in the mainstream media because of some privacy groups. MySpace hit the headlines back when it was acquired by News Corp. Twitter was a success story because of its amazing initial growth. Foursquare’s mobile application is the latest flavor because it marries the physical world with your smart phone. The list goes on. The stories that are most compelling in mainstream media don’t do justice to the opportunity.
If you focus on the tools, you run the risk of missing the opportunities that social media presents to your organization because it becomes too easy to use immediate return on investment as a quick way to dismiss it’s value. Do not focus on the tools. Groundswell’s post method articulated this best: people first, tools last (as determined by objectives and strategy).
There are so many ads begging for our attention that the noise is becoming overwhelming: Facebook pages requesting that we ‘Like’ them, brands asking us to follow them on Twitter, paid search ads and emails filling our inbox (and that’s just online!). With the emergence of mobile technology, this is just the beginning.
Word of mouth advertising has never been so important to your business. We trust messages we receive from real people more than messages from advertisers. It is quick and easy to decode a message that I receive from my friends and colleagues because they are similar to me. It is far more difficult to ignore your friend raving about their last holiday than it is it drive past the latest billboard on the way home from work. It’s even harder to ignore your partner’s latest online post about how frustrated they are with the hotel they’re staying in or their tweet about the hair in the meal at the restaurant around the corner. People I interact with in my life have similar backgrounds and experiences to me. These are things that I’m interested in and can relate to so I take notice. Social media is word of mouth on steroids.
People have always talked about your products, service, staff and your business as part of their daily conversation. Before social media the conversation took place solely in the offline world; in bars and in living rooms, schools, offices and on planes and trains. You couldn’t monitor this very easily.
But social media has made it easy for individuals to communicate. Online communication tools are free and require very little time investment. However, our online conversations are often inherently permanent in nature (which is partly why Facebook is experiencing privacy issues – read my last post for more info). As a result, with effective monitoring you can see the conversation. This is dirt cheap market research for your business. Even more importantly, search engines allow everyone else to see it too. For that reason above all others you must take notice: there are 500 million users talking on Facebook alone, for over half an hour a day on average. (If you still need convincing of the importance of social media, take a few minutes to watch this video.)
Find out what tools are relevant to your target market, learn how to use them and at very least, listen to what people are saying. Learn what people are saying about your business. Prepare a response plan in case things get ugly. William Bakker from Tourism BC always reinforces that you don’t have any business being in social media until you have a solid product. In the good old days, you could create a business by marketing mediocrity to many people before negative word of mouth spread. Now, one person can tell the entire world about poor service or a flawed product in an instant. I would add only one disclaimer: you can learn a lot about what you offer (for free) through listening. Once you’ve learned to listen, you’ll find it easier to start to talk back.