Take a cross-section of SMEs, go to the top of the office, and ask a general question about the use of social media in their business. Chances are a fair percentage will look slightly blank and then put on a brave face and stumble through the buzz words of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like but probe a little deeper and not many would be able to tell you how their companies use these tools and exactly what information is displayed and, even more worryingly, what their ROI is. The Marketing lead may have convinced the Board that they must invest in these channels or be “left behind” their competitors in the race to develop and hold new customers. Panic for the MD and magic words for the Marketing Director to squeeze cash out of the Board and invest in their favourite hobby and using the company’s time and money.
The compulsion to have a Facebook or Twitter presence is overwhelming and once done Sales Managers can bask in a satisfied glow that they are truly in the modern world. But how much good does it bring to the bottom line – sales? Little work has been done in this area precisely because it is so difficult to measure, like a lot of Marketing the Financial Director might say, looking for overheads to squeeze; (no, let’s not get into the debate as to whether Marketing is an overhead!) Ultimately any, yes any, marketing activity must have indicators to demonstrate success, if not in direct sales then at least in building awareness of the product or service and, to use the old cliché, “creating a climate in which a sale can be made”. Expecting people to trawl Facebook and instantly click to buy is naïve in the extreme but the power of social media cannot be denied and persistent brand awareness, even if subliminal, should be pursued even if it’s the potentially irritating advertising banner running down the side of your favourite web page.
Social layering and brand reinforcement is comforting to the customer supporting the decision to buy and confirming they have made the right choice. All Marketers will be aware of the convincing research showing that given the choice on the supermarket shelves of either choosing a brand they recognise form the television or some unknown packaging they, will overwhelmingly reach for the former.
Don’t forget LinkedIn in your strategy, lovingly known as Facebook for people who work. This is an increasingly important network for the business community and adds a whole different set of users to that of other social media sites and therefore maybe needs a separate strategy or marketing style.
So what is to be done? Ensure your company has a strategy or time-bound plan for engaging with social media channels and this means measurable objectives, (not necessarily direct sales), with budgets and time-lines. Monitor progress through customer and market research, look for the correlation between investment through social media and the sales figures, use the relatively cheap technology of tracking click-throughs from social media sites to your web site, and ask the difficult questions of your Marketing Director. If they are competent they will be one step ahead of you and doing this without prompting, providing the data, and more importantly, the analysis.
Attributed to James Barnett Managing Editor of Oceanic Business