The Business Relevance of Social Media:
It’s All About Conversations
By Joanne Costin
Article Date: 10-01-2009
Copyright(C) 2009 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Experts suggest some ways dealers can enter a whole new, customer-centric marketing world.
So you don’t get the social media thing. Based on a survey earlier this year, just 20 percent of AED dealers were using the social media site Facebook and only 5 percent were using Twitter, a service that lets users send short text messages from their mobile phones to a group of people. But don’t assume your customers aren’t. Facebook reports more than 200 million active users. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is the 35+ age group. LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking site, has 43 million users, and overnight it seems, the world is twittering.
The sheer volume of activity is impressive, but the speed at which social media has taken hold is even more amazing. It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users; TV reached that volume in 13 years; the Internet had 50 million users within four years and iPod within three years. Contrast that with Facebook, which added 100 million users in less than nine months.
When the Internet burst onto the scene, no one ever imagined nearly every business would have a Web site, but now, it’s as essential as letterhead and business cards. Workforce demographics are changing along with technology and marketers need to adapt.
Next year, there will be more Gen Yers than Baby Boomers in the workforce, and 96 percent of them have joined a social network. Social media appears to be more than just a fad. At the very least, it is time to examine which social media tools would make sense for your business.
Mobility has historically been the big stumbling block for reaching contractors on the Internet. But now, with the increasing use of smart phones, PDAs and other mobile devices, communication is changing.
“Your mobile devices and phones are going to unlock a lot of the potential for those industries whose customers are just not in front of a desk,” said leading social media consultant, Jason Baer.
There is a growing list of applications geared to contractors available on smart phones. So why not Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn as well?
What’s the Big Attraction?
Social networks bring together people with similar interests and provide users with an opportunity to interact and express opinions. Conversations take place – about problems, solutions, products and services. And where once these conversations only occurred on jobsites, coffee shops and association meetings, they are now increasingly taking place online.
Social media allows you to go to where your customers are, and find out what they are saying.
According to Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs and co-author of the book Trust Agents, listening is among the best ways to get started in social media.
“Use the listening tools that the Web provides,” advised Brogan, “and see who’s talking about you, your competitors, and your industry. Then comment and communicate in that direction first. Don’t talk about your products; talk to people about what they’re interested in, and then they’ll come to know you before you have to sell them.”
Marketers need to keep in mind that even if they decide not to get involved in social media, the conversations will go on regardless.
The fact that social media is about two-way conversation has important implications. Social media is made powerful by peer recommendations. Seventy-eight percent of consumers trust peer recommendations. In social media, customers expect marketers to communicate in ways that are more open and honest, less corporate – and more authentic.
Marketers are attracted to social media because it’s inexpensive. However, experts say it’s important to recognize it can be more involved than traditional marketing methods.
“It is much more labor intensive than typical marketing efforts,” explained Brogan. “An e-mail blast is much easier than answering people’s thoughts and questions via Twitter, for instance.”
Dave Nelson, a social media consultant and speaker, believes that one of the biggest mistakes marketers make is to set up their Facebook page and forget it. “They don’t realize it’s about a conversation,” added Nelson.
Tools and Strategy
Once you start listening online to conversations related to your business, you can begin to think about how you might reach out to customers online. From Facebook fan pages, to blogs, YouTube and Twitter, there are hundreds of ways to integrate social media into your marketing efforts. But like any marketing effort, it’s important to consider your objectives before you start out. Devise your social media strategy with your objectives and your audience at the forefront. Content might be very different for existing customers, versus prospects; for used equipment buyers versus new equipment buyers; for companies who do their own maintenance versus those who use your dealership.
Jason Baer cautions not to get too get caught up in tactics. “The tactics change all the time. A year ago, Twitter wasn’t even a factor, like it is today. If you have a strategy you can continue to lay different tactics as those tools change.”
Construction Equipment magazine has entered into social media, capturing 153 fans on Facebook and 433 followers on Twitter. Larry Stewart, executive editor for Construction Equipment, who has represented the magazine on Facebook and Twitter this past year, offered some insight based on more than 20 years experience in the industry and about five years in social media.
“It seems like the marketplace might be a little more hungry for video,” said Stewart, who has posted several popular equipment videos on YouTube. “There are an awful lot of people in our marketplace who are very visual, and an individual photo won’t do it for them. They want to see the things actually operate.
“There are so many things the dealer has expertise in,” continued Stewart, “I think there’s a real opportunity there.”
Some considerations might be videos of equipment working on various sites, maintenance videos; updates on regulations, job postings, information about the people behind your company or an online tool to calculate costs or the residual value of equipment.
Baer cites Geek Squad’s YouTube channel as a good example of instructional videos. “The company has found that their best customers are the ones who think they can do it themselves,” said Baer.
Experts say the videos don’t need to be fancy, high-end productions. With a low cost video camera and editing software such as iMovie, just about anyone can create a video quickly and easily. Videos can then be hosted on YouTube with a link for your site, Twitter or e-mail.
“Make it honest or authentic and show a little personality so you get a sense of the people behind the product,” said Nelson.
To reach contractors, Brogan likes the idea of creating social media for the mobile phone.
“If you had a text messaging portal, such as Ping.fm, you could Ping whatever might be interesting to construction types to their phone by SMS (short message service),” said Brogan. “By giving them value (not an ad), they’ll have you top of mind.”
Worried about creating content that your customers will want? The experts agree that it’s not as difficult as you might think. “Part of the rule of thumb,” added Baer, “is not to make it about yourself, but to make it about everybody but you.”
“Content almost writes itself if you start from the perspective of helping your customer,” said Brogan. “Listen to what they’re asking about, create content that answers their needs, and you’ve got a friend for life.”
Look to other industries for inspiration. GM dealers are inviting people to Cadillac Tweetups (real world meetings for people who use Twitter), where they let people drive the new Cadillac SRX and compare it to other competitive vehicles like the Lexus. Other companies who have gained traction in the social media space include Starbucks, BlendTek (www.willitblend.com), IBM and Cisco.
The Power of Fans
What business doesn’t appreciate a glowing recommendation? A fan page on Facebook is one way customers can show their loyalty and appreciation. Use your fan base to get feedback about new products or service offerings you are considering. Many companies have gotten new product ideas from listening to their customers on social networking sites.
Employees can have fan pages, too. Consider Mary, a McDonald’s drive-thru worker whose customer service earned her more than 832 fans, on the “I love Mary@McDonalds” Facebook site. Created by one of her fans, the comments remind us that it is often human moments that drive loyalty, not products.
More than 200 million blogs fill the Internet, but what connects them to social media is the ability of the user to post comments. Blogging is one way to establish your expertise and leadership in the marketplace. It’s a popular place to start in social media, because it’s easy and if you use the right keywords, you can raise your rankings on search engines.
Before you get anxiety over writing a blog, keep in mind that your users want quick answers to problems, and aren’t necessarily looking for perfect grammar. Keep out the sales jargon. “The marketplace is very suspicious and very cynical,” said Stewart. A video blog might be even easier.”
How much time should you spend engaging in social media? Baer believes a realistic goal for a modest program would be to spend two or three hours each week on social media. However, if you are monitoring what is going in social media, in addition to providing content, it can take longer because you have to have your ear to the ground on a fairly consistent basis.
Joining Construction Industry Conversations
Look on heavyequipmentforums.com, LinkedIn and Twitter for conversations relating to equipment and service. Offer your expert advice. Join groups in LinkedIn such as those for local AGC chapters or other contractor groups. Ask a question, start a discussion, or respond to someone else’s question or concern.
If you are a small business, your customers probably have a good idea who you are. And in that sense you have an advantage in social media. But if you are a larger business, social media can make your business feel smaller.
“If everybody has the same stuff,” advised Baer, it ends up being who are you potentially more comfortable with, in terms of who you want to have a business relationship with. The great opportunity for social media is to humanize companies and to give people a sense that it is not just about the tractor. It’s about the guy who stands behind the tractor; and who are you going to talk to; and who is your representative, and who owns the company.”
You know from your own business the power of two-way communications; the power of phone calls; face-to-face meetings and customer feedback. “Social media is just an evolution of how customers want to interact with companies,” explained Baer. But instead of one-to-one communications, you are communicating many-to-many; and for marketers that’s a whole new world.
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