Many people claim social media is excellent for businesses, but they take it as a given and go on to explain how to use it. Why is social media so excellent as a marketing tool?
The Breadth of Social Audiences
Business is a game of numbers. Your end goal is profits. To profit, you need to sell your product or service. To sell, you need interested users. This involves exposing yourself to as many people as possible within the right demographics to succeed. Successful businesses use every channel possible to do this, from print advertising and word of mouth to Internet PPC ads and blogs.
Social media has everything your business needs. It has a massive audience – Facebook alone has over a billion monthly users. It has demographics you can study, such as Facebook’s Insights. It has advertising channels built in.
The true power of social media is that first point; a massive audience. Any business would leap at the chance to place an advertisement personally in front of one seventh of the world’s population. Of course, it’s not so easy; you can’t advertise to everyone on Facebook, and even if you could, you’d have to create dozens of different language versions of your ad. Even so, a business has an excellent chance of being seen by a huge audience on social media.
The Focus of Social Networks
With massive audiences, social networks are also fairly specialized. Facebook is the most generalized, with an audience composed of a representative sample of just about everyone. Twitter is more focused on short-form communication and current event responses. LinkedIn is focused on professional networking, B2B communications and corporate blogging. Instagram is limited to graphics, but serves to attract a specific type of artistic people.
Every social media network has a target. A business can study their demographics and find a social network that suits their industry and their needs. Working on professional and technological enterprises? Create a presence on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. Looking to promote a clothing brand? Set up shop on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.
Even within these networks, you have access to analytics and audience subdivision that makes it easy to target specific types of users to expand your audience. If you discover that your business is primarily appealing to young men under 35, you can target your advertising and marketing material specifically to people in that demographic.
Branding, Personification and Reputation
Contrary to all of the above, however, social media is not a good place for direct advertising. Or, rather, if you’re advertising on social media, you’re going to need to use the actual advertising systems they use, not advertising through your posts.
The true purpose of social media is to turn your brand into a human. You build your audience and you talk to them as if you’re a person. You show them the human side of your brand. You convince them there’s more to your company than product and advertising. You convince them you think of them as people, not as dollar signs, even if the decision to treat them that way is driven entirely by the profitability of doing so.
Social media also helps establish a reputation for your company. Are you funny? Do you keep up with the news and comment on current events? Are you active in a social justice sense? Building a sense of humanity helps convince users there’s more to your brand, and helps them build trust in your company. If they know they can contact you and receive the attention and respect of a human, they’re more likely to put their faith in your offering.
Automatic Links and Viral Shares
How about from a mechanical online perspective? Social media sites are highly visible profiles on other domains that you can control. You can post and share your content on those sites and receive links back to your site just by doing so.
More importantly, others can share your links, which further expands the links back to your site. Sure, social media links are nofollowed by default and don’t give you much in the way of SEO benefit. What they do bring in is traffic. You share a link, and your entire social audience has a chance to see it. Any one of them shares it, and their entire circle of friends has a chance to see it. It expands outward with potentially unlimited reach.
Anything you post on social media has the chance to go viral in this way, which brings in no end to the traffic and can elevate your baseline traffic overnight. Amongst the right audience, a viral nova of traffic can bring in weeks worth of profits in a single day.
The Costs of Social Media
If you were to explain all of this to a business that had never heard of social media before, the first question out of their mouth would be obvious. “What does it all cost?” That’s the beauty of social media. It costs nothing at all.
Well, that’s not strictly true. To register for these social media sites is free, of course. To establish profiles, to build an audience, to post content; it’s all free. There are, however, express monetary ways to extend your reach and target your audience. In fact, to have any success at all on Facebook, among other sites, you virtually have to invest a weekly budget to keep your growth going. The same is not necessarily true of all social networks, including several that have no paid promotion option.
There’s also the matter of temporal costs. How much time do you spend on social media for your business? This is where the idea of social media addiction comes in, and where the true costs may show.
Social Media Addiction for Businesses
Social media benefits from time. Short of attempting to automate everything – which fails as automated comments fall flat – there’s a certain baseline of activity necessary to engage your audience and keep them together. It takes time to read posts and respond to comments.
A business has three options here, discounting the “ignore social media entirely” option. One, they can spend the minimum amount of time possible to engage their users. Two, they can hire an internal employee to manage the accounts as a full time job. Three, they can outsource their social media to a third party. In either case, the goal of spending enough time is a high bar.
Businesses benefit from social media, but social media is time consuming. Still, the rewards are truly worth the investment. Every business looking to succeed should have a certain level of social media addiction.