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4 ways social media can save you time and money

4 ways social media can save you time and money Larry Weintraub

If you are just dabbling in social media, you may still not be sure what exactly it will do for you or where it fits in to your company structure. You've probably created a Twitter account, built a simple Facebook page, and maybe even added a company blog to your website. Good. That's a great start. Now step back for a minute and think about what this is all for.

There are four reasons to use social media for your business. In no particular order, they are:

  • Marketing

  • PR

  • Market research

  • Customer service

All four of these are geared to do the same thing -- connect with your customers and interact with them. But don't hide behind trendy words like "engagement;" ultimately you want to do one thing: sell more products or services. Let's take a look at how each of these four components of your social media strategy can help you sell more.

From a marketing perspective, consider social media as an enhanced, more touchy-feely version of CRM. Hopefully you are already running an effective email marketing campaign and properly communicating with your database of customers. These days you need to run several mailings lists. Your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc., all have fans, followers, and subscribers. Just like with your email list, your social media-based customers and potential customers need to be communicated with on a regular basis. They need to be entertained, supported, and rewarded. 

Don't get sucked into the numbers game. How many participants you have on your social media properties is far less important than how you interact with them. Instead of concentrating on how many Twitter followers you have, try instead to gauge success on how responsive and participatory they are.

Utilize the methods provided by each social media outlet to engage with your customer. One recent example of a company using the functionality of a social network to drive sales is Best Buy's Facebook page. Here, users can browse all the products that Best Buy has to offer and then ask the opinion of their personal network of Facebook friends whether they agree with the products they want to buy. This enables a customer to simultaneously browse for products while interacting with their friends via the Facebook platform. Best Buy not only benefits from an innovative social sales strategy but also has valuable research data that may help them determine which products to stock in the future.

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Publicity and public relations are no longer just about getting an article in BusinessWeek or The New York Times. Now there are thousands of influential blogs and online outlets that can create a positive effect on your business.

With numerous major print publications struggling to survive, most publicists have added digital media and the extended social media to their hit list. Going back to the point stressed earlier, quantity should not be the goal. How many people you reach is far less important than the quality of people you reach. With the proliferation of social media you can, and should, target your PR campaign to the web publishers that can position you with the people you want to reach. If your product is a piece of technology then you can find countless websites and blogs that focus on just that. Their readers and followers trust their reviews and advice. While these publications may not reach as many as The Wall Street Journal, oftentimes you will sell much more with an influential blog that has a fraction of the readers.

You can also create your own press exposure by dedicating time and resources to your own blog and social networks. Poignant and helpful essays, white papers, and research should be featured on your company's website, blog, and social networks. You will notice agencies like Razorfish who do this exceptionally well and generate a tremendous amount of positive PR by utilizing this strategy.

Market research
Thanks to social media you have incredible access to your customers. You have hundreds or thousands of "fans" coming to your social media properties looking for information and a dialogue. They want to know more. They also want to tell you what they think. So encourage them to speak freely. Ask them what they like about your product. Ask them what they don't like. Treat them like family and they will give you the tools to better your business. 

If you are like many businesses, you have probably spent thousands of dollars hiring market research companies over the years. Those firms would locate ideal target customers and ask them for input on your product. No need for that now -- the people whose opinions you want most are opting in to your social networks. Take the money that you had previously spent on market research and give it to your social media team to conduct market research directly with your audience. And don't forget your employees. They have a lot to say too. 

The best example of this is being done by Starbucks with their My Starbucks Idea concept, where they ask their customers and employees to suggest things they'd like to see at Starbucks. The suggestions reside on a dedicated website and then the community votes them up or down based on popularity. It's a simple yet brilliant idea.  

Want to sell more? Who better to up-sell to than your current customers? Ask them what they want and then give it to them. 


Customer service
Ok, this is the tough one because it potentially requires serious resources. But you can't avoid it; people are quickly learning that they can get your attention a lot faster by speaking to you via Twitter or Facebook than they can on the phone. So embrace it. 

A tremendous advantage here is that if you help someone publicly via social media then others will see this. If you solve someone's problem on the phone no one knows except that person; but if you solve it online, in public view, others will notice and you may solve several people's problems at the same time. You have greater potential to be regarded as a customer friendly company, which will set you apart from your competition. 

Companies like Comcast, Dell, and Ford have all excelled in this over the past two years. These are three companies that have all struggled with their customer service reputations but have had a positive impact with their public perception, as well as sales, as a result of their customer service efforts on social media.

Understanding that social media touches these four very distinct areas and that most companies have departments set up for each of them, it can often be confusing as to who handles oversight of social media. Here's a radical thought: create a new division for social media with a direct connection to each of the corresponding departments.

Depending on the size of your company and the resources available, dedicate a member of the social media team to each focus that has one foot in social media and one foot in the corresponding department. That way everyone works together and it becomes less about being territorial and more about uniting to sell more products.  

It is great to be the company that embraces social media, and 2010 is the year it becomes a bigger focus for the vast majority of businesses. You should be transparent, helpful, honest, and thankful. Put real focus and attention on the four areas described and establish measurable sales-oriented goals and expectations. It will work. Wouldn't you prefer to buy from a company that follows this plan?

Larry Weintraub is CEO of Fanscape.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. 

Larry Weintraub is CEO and co-founder of Fanscape (www.fanscape.com), the leading Digital Engagement Marketing Agency reaching and activating consumers to foster targeted word-of-mouth marketing through online and emerging media. Fanscape's online...

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