The social media revolution has made it possible for business of all sizes to reach an infinitely expanding audience. With the right integration tools, it's simple and easy to automate your social media activities directly with an existing online presence and eliminate the intimidating time suck that can accompany the move to a social marketing program.
What's in it for you?
Connecting social media with your current online presence allows even the smallest brand to tap into an enormous -- and still growing -- potential customer base. With more than 400 million users on Facebook alone, this single network now boasts more traffic per week than Google in the U.S.
The real value in Facebook and other social networks is in the exponential power of word-of-mouth marketing. Where marketing was once an expensive game of cat and mouse that required an investment in costly ad space or air time in an effort to hopefully have your message seen by your audience when they were ready to buy, social networking uses the power of peer recommendations to spread the message to a much more captive and engaged audience.
New research indicates that more than 75 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations of products and services, while less than 15 percent trust paid advertising. The opportunity to tap into this trusted form of communication is huge, so it's important to think beyond your immediate network and find creative ways to encourage fans to spread the message about your business.
Direct product marketing
The easiest way to get started in social media integration is through the direct promotion of products, services, special offers, and events distributed via a Facebook page or Twitter presence. By sharing news about new products, special offers for Facebook or Twitter followers, and even exclusive events, you can build a loyal and engaged following that will want to share "secret" finds with friends.
Contests, giveaways, and special promotions designed to encourage fans to spread the message can help to grow your network and customer base. For example, create a contest whereby the 100th follower to re-tweet your "deal of the day" receives a special discount or gift certificate.
Charmandchain.com, an online jewelry boutique, has incorporated word-of-mouth marketing into its Facebook page by offering an incentive for the customer to tell friends about the store. By inviting 20 friends to become fans on Facebook, follow on Twitter, and join the mailing list, the customer is entered into a sweepstakes to win a $300 gift certificate.
Brand building with indirect marketing
Besides direct promotion of products and services, social media provides an easy and effective way to build brand leadership, awareness, and trust among your customers and potential customers.
Blogs are an excellent way to weave a bit more of your brand's personality and expertise into the sales conversation without a direct sales push. Blogging about new products and events is certainly important. But, by also sharing your knowledge, tips, and thoughts on industry news, product trends, and other big picture aspects of the business, customers will be more inclined to turn to you based on this established trust factor.
Active participation in community forums is another powerful way to maintain online engagement with customers and potential customers. Answering questions, providing feedback, and serving as an information resource in your own or other public forums positions you as an expert in your industry, someone your audience can trust, and a company they can turn to in order to meet their needs.
Finally, don't forget to integrate these efforts with Facebook and Twitter. By sharing a link to a new blog post over Facebook or Twitter, for example, you are able to expand the audience for your brand's content over multiple media to reach your customers where they live.
Integration tools make it easy
While integrating social media with your existing online marketing mix might be free, it may still come at a price: your valuable time. Maintaining multiple web presences, pages, and feeds can be extremely time-consuming. Fortunately, with the right hosting platform, you can easily integrate and automate these efforts to save time.
First, build a Twitter applet, Facebook "Like" button, and a blog feed directly into your site to alert consumers of your social presence and make it easy for them to find you.
Second, choose a hosting platform provider with social media integration tools that automate the distribution process. This way, when you add a new product, launch a promotion, post a new blog article, or have any other bit of news to share, the message is distributed instantly and automatically across all the social networks you've established. With just a single point of contact to spread the message across multiple platforms, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time you invest in social media management to improve efficiency without sacrificing valuable customer engagement.
While it might seem overwhelming to step into the social media fray, the opportunity for growth by leveraging this evolving medium simply cannot be ignored. With easy-to-use integration tools at your disposal, building a social media presence can not only easily generate an impressive return on investment, but it can also be a fun and energizing way to interact with your customers and learn more about what makes them tick, which can pay further dividends long down the road.
Dimitri Onistsuk is vice president of marketing at Shopify.
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