Most businesses today have some sort of web presence – even if it’s just a listing on a directory site like www.yell.com. (If you haven’t got yourself a website yet, do check out Office Live – it’s free!)
But there’s a sense among marketing folk that whilst websites are certainly a cheap and effective way to reach customers all around the world, they come with a disadvantage too: they’re impersonal. That’s fine if you’re selling car insurance to customers who only care about rooting out the cheapest price, but small companies often succeed not on price, but instead by providing great service backed up by insight, knowledge and craftsmanship.
This has therefore led to a discipline which has come to be called ‘Social Marketing’. Julian Lewis, Managing Director of Positive Computing, a Microsoft Certified Partner based in Reading, defines social marketing as “Using the web – sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – to build online relationships as though you were building relationships face to face”.
The point of social marketing is that you develop better sales by building stronger and more meaningful relationships with your customer base; rather than every visitor to your website never progressing beyond the casual, disinterested consumer. “In the past, people have posted fairly static web pages”, says Lewis, “whereas social tools like Twitter or blogs give your network a bit more information about you which allows you to build a proper relationship with people you may never meet in real life.”
By posting status updates, questions and responses, and even complete articles to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the many blogging platforms on offer, Lewis is building both his personal and his company’s profiles, and establishing both as reliable and trustworthy experts in their fields.
- Have something to say: “Sometimes I devote ten minutes a day to social marketing, sometimes a whole hour – especially if I’m on the road and have some spare time. But there’s no point wittering on: I only write a blog, or comment on sites like LinkedIn if something is happening; perhaps a news event or a product launch.”
- Make it personal: “Social media is about selling you as a person, not you as a company. So don’t just talk about business, and definitely don’t just try to sell. It’s like meeting people face-to-face: we get involved with people if we like them; and we definitely don’t like people who only drone on about their work, or who obsessively try to sell to us. When I post on Twitter or Facebook, I make it clear that it’s me – a real person and not a faceless company – they’re talking to.”
- It’s not a numbers game: “Unlike advertising, social marketing isn’t about throughput (although it’s easy to get obsessive about how many ‘Facebook friends’ or ‘Twitter followers’ you have), rather it’s about the quality of the relationships you build. So I don’t have a formal strategy for social marketing, and I think that’s healthy. Instead, I look for people who want to engage, and then perhaps categorise them into different groups (people who have shown an interest in what I say, people who link back to my comments etc.) and flag those people as being more interesting.”
- Be generous with your knowledge: “Social marketing is about building your reputation, and the easiest way to do that is to share. Share your knowledge, other articles you’ve found, interesting links etc. Promote what other people are doing if you think it’s good. Through that process of giving, people will eventually start to contact you, because they believe that you’re good, too!”
- Cross-promote everything: “I get a much better response if I write a decent blog and then link to it from Twitter or Facebook. Likewise, if I get involved in a conversation on LinkedIn (for example a business discussion where I offer my opinion, similarly I’ll promote the whole discussion on Facebook and Twitter”.
Whilst social marketing can be highly effective, it’s an adjunct to, rather than a substitute for, traditional marketing techniques like pay-per-click. Says Lewis, “Paid-for marketing works very well – it’s often the only way companies can move up to the top of search results. Pay-per-click is also easy to measure and assess for effectiveness; a site like AdCenter gives you almost real-time statistics, whereas with a blog you can get a reasonable idea of how many readers you’ve got, but not much else. Then there’s the instant tap: you can turn pay-per-click on or off, try it for a bit, stick to a budget and see what happens. Social marketing is much less manageable – you need to invest time and effort for a few months before you see a steady flow of results. Few people know the true cost in time and money of their efforts in social marketing.”