The right way for businesses to use social media

WITH all the buzz over social media, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter seem like a god-send for businesses in need of another promotional tool.

Sure there are success stories of companies using social media to effectively boost market exposure and sales, but the jury is still out on whether these services are the goose that lays the golden egg.

Claus Mortensen, at industry researcher IDC Asia Pacific, said that social networking sites if used properly can be a great marketing tool for businesses.

One company that used the tool systematically managed to enjoy a 42.2% growth in sales revenue on its product.

But there are many others that aren’t getting results that are as encouraging, from the use of social media.

That’s because the businesses are not dedicating enough resources to their social media initiatives in order for them to be effective, said Mortensen, who is associate research director of IDC’s emerging technologies research and practice group.

He said companies would typically only spend about 3% of their advertising and promotions budget on social media. “And they also rely on in-house communications personnel to get the job done,” he added.

That’s wrong. Using social media as a marketing tool is more than just updating a Facebook page or tweeting about products and events, according to Mortensen.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on strategising and planning marketing campaigns around the social networking tools,” he said.

It is no different than the amount of work that needs to go into a typical advertising or promotional campaign.

Mortensen said businesses getting into social media still need to define goals, execute plans, measure effectiveness, and assess return-on-investment.

“The only difference is that the social media process is cyclical. You don’t stop just because you’ve achieved one goal. You gather the feedback, make adjustments (to product or campaign) and continue,” he said.

As it is now, he said, perhaps only 1% of businesses have a structured plan for social media.

Two-way street

Many also fail because they aren’t really engaging their consumers. “Businesses should think of social media as having a two-way conversation with their consumers,” Mortensen said.

“If you’re comfortable with your customers being open with you, social media can be a boon to your business.”

Social media can help businesses finetune their products, services and business processes, thanks to such feedback.

“But many companies have a problem with negative comments that they may attract,” said Mortensen.

He believes that if these companies want social media to work for them, they’re going to have to work at turning their critics into loyal customers.

“And don’t think that you can sway public opinion by planting positive comments about your company, products or services,” he said.

“Social media is about generating influence by engaging your customers and turning any negative opinions around by fixing the shortcomings.

“That way, your customers see that you are willing to listen to them.”

Mortensen said businesses need to accept the nature of social media and let it happen. “The truth can hurt but it can also help.”

Another mistake that companies are guilty of is focusing too much on the channel, rather than on the message they want to put across.

“For example, you could choose to get on Twitter but that may not be the best platform for your business or campaign,” he said.

“Don’t get on it because everyone is. Select the right social media platform for your advertising campaign and target consumer group.

Once the decision is made, he said, “Do it. Really mean it and don’t forget to follow through.”

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