This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Business Magazine.
I’m going to say something that might be heretical. It might make you mad. It might make you stop reading this article right here and now. If it does provoke that reaction, I implore you: keep reading. For the sake of your business, your customers and your marketing staff, keep reading.
If your primary goal in using social media for your business is to sell things, you will fail.
Many a business owner has looked at social media and seen the instant answer to all of their problems. The lure of social media as a “free” marketing outlet, with the people gathered and waiting to hear from companies, is irresistible to many. Business owners may make a big push: start a bunch of accounts, make a bunch of updates and maybe even put some money behind their media to run a Facebook Ads campaign or — shudder — buy Twitter followers (please, never do that). A month later, the business has seen no results and the owner declares the experiment a failure, leaving the accounts to lie fallow and outdated.
Ultimately, though, if a business can’t show a return on the investment it’s putting into social media (time, personnel and money), it should be expendable when it’s time to cut costs. It’s reasonable to want to see some results from a social media campaign within six months to a year. So, what can you do with social media to help increase sales?
Provide Information. According to Forrester Research, anywhere from 67 to 90 percent of a buyer’s journey now happens online. Providing information that’s relevant to your industry instead of directly trying to sell your product is a great way to establish your brand as a trusted voice in its industry — and you become the first stop when that buyer is ready to commit.
Fill a Need. By using social media to stay abreast of conversations happening within your industry and even around your competitors, you can be perfectly poised to insert yourself into those conversations. If you see an unhappy customer of your competitors, there may be an opportunity to win that customer over.
Build Relationships. Social media can help you provide a personal touch to your customers that can’t always come via support avenues or email exchanges. This personal connection, however, isn’t limited to just the one person who sees it. Done in the right way, you can share the special moment with all of your followers, enabling them to envision their own personal connection with your company.
Social media is a long-term investment in both the relationships and the reputation of your company, not a quick fix for bad marketing or an instant way to reach the “young people.” Ask yourself what your potential customers need from you, and use your social media venues to provide it. Realizing this and planning accordingly is the first step to social media success.