26 May 2009

Should my company use Facebook, Twitter and social media?

25 05 2009 - If you’ve watched a newscast or the NBA playoffs in the last week, you’ve probably heard references to Facebook or Twitter. Social media has received a lot of coverage lately. Many business owners are asking, “Does my company need to be using social media?” Before we answer that question, let’s examine exactly what social media is.

Simply put, social media is people having conversations online. That’s it. This happens on thousands of sites every day. People talk about everything from environmental issues to what they ate for lunch. At first glance, it can seem overwhelming, but it can actually add tremendous value to your business and provide a hefty return on investment.

From a business standpoint, social media allows you and your company to be involved in these conversations online. Imagine your best sales person at the world’s biggest cocktail party. A good social media team can be just that – they know how to find all the right people in the room, to listen and to sell or simply share information. Sometimes all you need to do is listen and respond when necessary.

For example, I recently had an issue with some computer software. I tweeted my frustration on Twitter. Within an hour or two, I had a competing company offering help via Twitter. I’m now looking into that software for future projects, simply because they were listening.

So, where do you start? It’s important to remember that many of the same rules in traditional media still apply online. You still need to know your customers and public and have a solid marketing and public relations strategy. Twitter and Facebook are hot today, but there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’re selling Medicare services, you aren’t likely to reach your audience via Twitter. But if you are an elected official and you want to rally your constituents behind a piece of legislation, Twitter may be the perfect tool for keeping them informed, minute by minute.

It may surprise you to know that the top demographic for Twitter is men age 45 to 54. Looking to reach a younger demographic? Dig deeper to find exactly where they live online. They may be Facebook addicts, gamers or spend all their time finding new music at imeem. Or, you may have an audience that prefers e-mail.

In fact, a recent survey by Forrester Research reported that the most trusted online information source among respondents was an e-mail from someone they know. The second most trusted source was online consumer product reviews. Not far behind at number three were search results via a service like Google. While e-mails and search results aren’t nearly as sexy as Twitter, they work and they are incredibly important. Some companies jump the gun and forget the basics. E-mail is a basic social media tool for reaching customers or other publics, and it's a great place to start and get your feet wet.

It may also be important for your company to simply post well-organized information online, with the ability for visitors to leave feedback or ask questions.

It does your company no good to dive into social media without a solid strategy, with goals, guidelines and tactics. What is your ultimate goal? How are you going to achieve it? Who is going to run it? How are you going to respond to negative feedback? Do you have a crisis plan in place? These are all important questions to ask, and it’s important to find the right people help you navigate social media. In your search for social media experts, keep in mind that individuals and organizations that are already using social media will have a great head start over those that are not.

Back to the original question: Does my company need to be using social media? The answer is yes, in some way. Don’t think of social media as something reserved for the technophiles. The question could just as well be “Does my company need to be at the world’s biggest cocktail party filled with prospects?” I think the response for every company would be a resounding “Yes,” with the right salesperson in place and a strategy to come away from the party with more than a good buzz.


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