Social Media Helps Business Listen to Customers

Social Media Marketing: Not “if” but “when” -Matthew Coggins

“Should we be on Twitter?” If this question hasn’t already been raised during a marketing discussion at your business, it should be. The raging tide of internet social media has changed the way humans communicate with each other – and the way businesses communicate with them. The result is social media marketing. In its simplest terms, social media marketing (SMM) is a powerful tool to engage your audience in meaningful conversations about your product, area of interest, company, and brand. The key to social media marketing is “social.” It’s about interacting and building positive, long-term relationships through online social media. From blogs (Blogger, Foursquare) to social networks (Facebook, MySpace) to consumer review sites (Yelp, epinions), there are millions of online conversations every day that have incredible influence over people’s decisions about where they live, what they eat, where they shop, and who they elect.

You and your business need to be part of those conversations. It can be a powerful strategy to increase your presence and preference in the marketplace, providing a vehicle for brand building, direct customer service, better understanding of customer preferences, crisis communications management, effective targeting, and more. In 2010, it’s no longer a question of if you should engage in social media marketing; it’s when and how. There is no cookie cutter approach to social media marketing. However, you need a plan. Your strategy will depend on three key areas: your goals, your audience, and your resources. Your goals. Do you want to increase website traffic? Improve customer service? Increase brand awareness? As with any marketing strategy, realistic and measurable goals are the key to success. Remember that as a rule, SMM is not about direct sales and an immediate impact on the bottom line. It’s about building relationships that will have long-term benefit. Your audience. As in traditional media, it’s important to meet your audience where they are.

Long before you can answer “Should we be on Twitter?” you need to know who your audience is, what’s relevant to them, and whether they are on Twitter. Your resources. All businesses can benefit from social media, even those without big marketing budgets. However, you need to understand that although most online tools are free, SMM demands a commitment of significant staff time to be successful. When you build a relationship, you make a commitment to your audience that they will hear from you. If not, you risk negative backlash online.

The first step in planning your social media marketing strategy is to listen to what's being said online – who is talking about you and your competitors and where the conversations are taking place. Many businesses feel they need to have a presence in every social media tool available. That’s impractical as well as ineffective. The best practice is to focus on the few applications best suited to your business’s specific needs – and market aggressively across those platforms. Whether you “tweet” on Twitter or build a community on Facebook, success in social media marketing is engaging people. And the key to engagement is good content. Effective social media marketing is highly personal, fresh, interactive and relevant. In social media people are creating, reading, saving, tagging and sharing content. If you don’t produce the kind of content they value, it won’t be shared. Give your audience ideas, answers, or resources for what’s important to them. Once you’ve built a strong link with them, you can ask for their opinions or feedback and start reaping the benefits. It’s important to remember that in social media marketing, you don’t control the message. When people are freely expressing their opinions, you need to be prepared to address negative comments and complaints. This is where SMM can be very effective in direct customer service and crisis communications management, since you are personally engaging with the audience to address their concerns. As with any other relationship, effective social media marketing takes time.

Although social media can create an overnight buzz or influence (such as affecting movie box office attendance), it generally builds brand awareness and preference over time. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see quick results. Having said that, measuring results is imperative to know how well your strategy is working. While you may not see an immediate increase in sales or your bottom line, there are measurable impacts on your business, including increased traffic on your website and increased mentions (“share of voice”) of your business in blogs and other social media sites. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it or improve it. Right now, your customers and potential customers are out there online, having conversations, influencing behavior, and making decisions. Don’t miss out. With social media marketing, you’ll be right there with them. 

A resident of Lowell, Matt Coggins is Vice President & Marketing Director at Enterprise Bank in Lowell. With a long history of civic and community involvement, he currently serves as Board Chair of the Cultural Organization of Lowell, is a Trustee of the American Textile History Museum, and serves as Vice Chair of the Boys & Girls Club of Lowell. Matt can be reached at 978 656 5708 or via email –

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