There's no doubting that the rise in social networking through social media websites and forums in the last few years has been phenomenal, and for the most part, probably a little scary for some businesses.
"Why should I be bothered?
You might be forgiven for asking why a lone blogger in Darwin with a couple of followers is important to your business. The reason is that the lone blogger is like many of your current customers – small, niche and tight-knitted communities of people who are airing their views online for all to see. There's a huge shift occurring in the way people now consume information, how they wish to receive information and on top of this, they're not afraid of saying what they think either.
Traditional marketing will have seen you place an advert in the local press, or send out a piece of direct mail to your customer database. But really how effective is this in generating sales and targeting your customer's individual requirements? As broadband penetration continues to increase and downloads speeds get faster, people are turning towards the internet for their information to investigate and validate for themselves. However there are ways to reach people, and the great news is that it's targeted, cost-effective and highly measureable too.
"Many Australian businesses have been successful at targeting their customers through traditional channels, so of course there is always the natural reaction to ask why they need to shift focus," says Bernie. "But with the vast majority of people online in Australia, it doesn't take a genius to work out the shift that's occurring at the moment.
"People no longer wish to be spoken to with company rhetoric, they want to be part of the conversation - and even drive the direction - of what's being said about a brand. This is where social media comes into its own," says Bernie. "It's great if you can go around to all of your customers and speak to them face to face, but quite often many businesses can't. Social media allows this conversation to happen, but through the use of the Internet. It's a platform that facilitates engagement customers on their terms, at their leisure and on a medium they feel comfortable and for the most part, safe with."
Whilst engaging, social media is also a very cost-effective way of reaching customers, and more importantly it's highly measureable too. Bernie said:
When devising an online strategy, there's virtually nothing out there that can't be measured, from click-throughs to your website, through to feedback from individuals, it's one of the big appeals of using social media
Social media innovation = competitive advantage
Perhaps one of the best uses for social media is to help you understand your customers better. Like any business in the country, you have a product or service to sell which appeals to a certain type of person. That's the reason you went into business in the first place. But if you stood in front of the mirror, could you honestly say you understood the way your customers think and what their preferences are? Better still, wouldn't it be great to actually respond to those preferences in real-time rather than a few months later, when they've moved on?
"This is one of the huge benefits of social media," says Bernie. "Many companies are now using Facebook "Pages" as a tool to raise the visibility of their brand and engage on a higher level with their customers. It's free to set-up a company page on Facebook and, if your news and content is updated regularly, it can quickly gain a high ranking in Google search results. Just as importantly, you can observe conversations about the experience and interactions customers have had with your brand, all in real time.. Companies have been trying to extract this type of information for years, now social media platforms are doing it for them. If there's ever a reason why Australian businesses should be looking at social media then this is it."
And it's not just Facebook. There are xx million blogs now in operation in Australia, all detailing the types of things people enjoy doing, in effect building communities of audiences. "For the smart businesses, this is their chance to innovate in the way in which they engage with their customers and, more importantly, add value to that relationship ," says Bernie. "And all of this can be done on a level that they are comfortable with and that does not feel intrusive or too much of a hard sell."
If you're looking for ideas and guidance, take a leaf out of the book of the following two companies. To launch its new Cayan Grill burger in Australia, KFC decided to delve into the Facebook community and offer free burgers to those who turned up to a specified named store between the hours of 12pm and 3pm of the 16th June this year. In studying its demographic and using highly targeted advertising, the response was amazing with queues of people heading to the stores for their free burger.
The key to the success of the campaign was that KFC was wise enough to do its homework first by visiting Facebook to get a feel of what people were talking about and how they were talking to each other.
"It is very important to know what is happening in the entire social media space. The whole premise of social media is that the customer is now the platform, not just a part of it. If you want your social media strategy to work, it's imperative you keep this theme central to anything you do." says Bernie.
Through research, KFC knew that it could not lecture its audience. What it did was to give its intended audience a place to interact with each other, which in turn strengthened and deepened its relationship with its customers, further motivating them to continue their loyal support to the brand (and collect a free burger!).
"This approach to customer retention is not unique, it's just a simple understanding of your audience," says Bernie. "The same rules apply no matter what medium you use to target your audience, be it a blog, Twitter or forum. You need to firstly listen to what people are saying about you or the market you operate it. Then you need to engage them in a way that they understand and empowers them. Too many businesses ignore these rules, which is why you see highly publicised mistakes. Above all, take your time to understand social media and what it can do for you before you become involved."
In the other example V Australia recently launched its first big social media campaign, partnering with Twitter and radio station Nova giving the chance for Australians to win a trip to Los Angeles for three days or 4320 minutes of "tweeting". The challenge is for a team of three people to fly to LA, take in the sights and delights on the City of Angels for three days non-stop and between the team, tweet every single minute of the 4320 minutes they are in LA.
The campaign "4320 LA" was inspired by recent trends which show Australians are continuing to travel overseas but are increasingly value conscious and keen to cram in as much action and activities into shorter breaks. (Tourism Research Australia 2009). Once again, a simple and effect campaign which seeks to understand its audience and use an appropriate medium to reach them.
Monitoring the conversations
With so many forums, social networking sites, blogs and Twitter posts, it can a little daunting to know where to start and what to monitor. "Before you dive into the first conversation you come across online, it's important to firstly build credibility and to also monitor what's going on. You wouldn't dive into a face-to-face meeting without preparing first and the same rules apply in the online world. Know what is being said about your company, product, industry or market, and who is saying it," says Bernie. "You need to have insights and from there build credibility with your audience. We've all seen the horror stories in the media where companies have steamed-rolled into a conversation where they're not invited, and in the online world, the consequences can be very damaging to you and your brand."
There are many tools that can help you understand what's being said on social media platforms, here are a few to get you started:
TweetDeck – the self described 'air-traffic control' for Twitter (http://tweetdeck.com/beta/) TweetDeck is a personal browser for staying in touch with what's happening now and connecting you with your contacts across Twitter, Facebook and more. TweetDeck shows you everything you want to see at once, so you can stay organised and up to date.
It allows you to customise your Twitter experience with columns, groups, saved searches and automatic updates helping you to stay updated with the people and topics you care about. See what people are saying about you and join the conversation by tweeting, sharing photos, videos or links directly from TweetDeck.
Google Blog Search (http://blogsearch.google.com/) It does what it says on the tin, searches blog postings and key words contained within blogs so that you can keep abreast of what is being said about your business. As with Google search, you can look for specific words or phrases, search blog titles and URLs and even by author.
Radian6 (www.radian6.com) 'The grand master of all aggregators'. Free for a 14 day trial, this more advanced platform covers everything you'll ever need to search for in blogs (over 100million), online mainstream news and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter. Data is also delivered in a dashboard format in real-time as it's discovered.
What do they mean?
Blog - A blog (a contraction of the term "weblog") is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.
Twitter - Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the author's profile page and delivered to the author's subscribers who are known as followers.
Internet forum - An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site. It is the modern equivalent of a traditional bulletin board, and a technological evolution of the dialup bulletin board system. From a technological standpoint, forums or boards are web applications managing user-generated content."