Your customers are talking. Are you listening? The web can help you listen-in on your customers. What they say may surprise you.

Does it feel to you as though every way you turn you are reminded of the prevalence, relevance and importance of Social Media Marketing (SMM)? Does the fact it has a TLA (Three Letter Acronym) make you steel up inside? Let’s see if a few facts and figures can help soothe those nerves! Wikipedia defines SMM as: the use of social networks, online communities, blogs, wikis or any other online collaborative media for marketing, sales, public relations and customer service. Those functions will all have their relevance in your business, and will be served by off-line interactions, and increasingly on-line contact. There is a lot of information and data freely available to show where companies are up to on their journey with SMM, and to what rate it has been adopted. There’s a great, free report authored by Michael A Stelzner about How Marketers Are Using Social Media To Grow Their Businesses. Some of the indicators would make the would-be Social Media Marketer sit up and take note, and, for those who are newbies, to realise they are in great company.

• 88% of marketers surveyed in Stelzner’s report stated that they were using social media to market the businesses they worked for.
• That said, less than a quarter, 23%, commented that they had been doing this for more than a few months.

and from the Interpreting Marketing Trends Report 2010
• Every day bloggers publish about 900,000 blog posts
• YouTube is the second largest search engine
• Facebook – the 4th largest site in the world with 250 million active registered users – is the number one photo sharing site
• Social networks now rate second only to email in marketing tools

The scale is there and critical mass has been reached…and yet how can this relate to your business in real, tangible terms? What benefits are there to be had from starting or continuing your engagement with SMM?

To this end, I interviewed Stacey McClenathan, Principal of Bee-line Communications, Inc., and asked her to give me her view on the top 3 social media marketing benefits companies could achieve. McClenathan is a passionate advocate of SMM, and has supported many customers (such as Johnson Controls, Abbott Labs and McKesson) and associates as they have taken their first steps in this medium; helped them optimise their strategies and made this channel work for them.
We spoke first about the general, business-level benefits which her clients and contacts are experiencing, from their social media efforts such as:
• Generating exposure for the business
• Helping rise a site in search engine rankings
• Increasing traffic and subscribers
• Generating qualified leads
• Helping to close business
before considering the marketing angle more specifically. McClenathan proposes:

Listen to who is influencing your customers and perhaps you can influence the influencers.
McClenathan shared recent data that revealed that 50% of all consumers research a purchase online before they make that purchase either online or otherwise. Moreover, 92% of business-to-business purchases involved online research. These staggering figures should tell companies two things. First, your company should know that consumers are looking to your website as a primary go-to communication vehicle. Secondly, your company should be mindful of what consumers pull up when researching your products and services. Are the comments positive? Are negative comments abundant, and if so, can you do something about it? Quite simply – perceptions are shaped by what your customers find on the web. Yes, there are ads on the web too, but there are also what are perceived to be impartial and objective posts – blogs, message boards, discussion groups (e.g. Mumsnet), Facebook walls, opinion and experience feedback sites (e.g. Beer in the Evening), LinkedIn Q&A, Merchant Circle Local CouponBook of Local Businesses etc etc where users can find recommendations and experiences written by real people – not employees of a company trying to self promote their goods and services: consumers trust what others have to say about a brand more than what a brand says about itself.

Universal McCann’s Social Media Research Wave 3 tells us that 34% of bloggers post reviews and opinions on products. Bloggers are generally perceived as being objective, and, if they have interesting and appealing content, can create quite a following. So, if you as a marketer research who out there is talking about your company, product, services or business category you can start to, for example, facilitate a centralised discussion; create a community; offer the influencers a preview of your new product or service, and so on.
This link shows how Jeep successfully worked in this way.

Strategic decision supportMarketers strive to steep their strategic decisions in data. This data should consist of research regarding emerging trends in the markets they operate in, and on consumers’ and users’ feedback. Gathering the information to convert in to intelligence afresh is an expensive and time consuming business, and will give outputs dependent on the way that the information is gathered. For example, attendees at a focus group will respond to the questions posed to them as they sit in the group. Marketers ask questions they want answers to, not necessarily what is top of mind to the consumer. What do consumers say about you when you aren’t asking or prompting them? What are their priorities and what gets a rise out of them? You can find that out using social networking and web research tools. Such tools that in particular quantify and qualify consumer feedback pulled from the web are highly valuable intelligence sources for the firms McClenathan supports. “Web based research offers insight about what makes your consumers tick; what their main concerns are, and how can you flex your products and services to meet those priorities. Furthermore, web based research is far more dynamic and real-time,” added McClenathan. She observed that interest in these tools is exponentially higher than it was a few years ago, attributing the cost effectiveness of web research, coupled with mindfulness among companies on just how powerful web based research is to this significant increase.

Expands reach at reduced costIt’s a rare marketer who hasn’t felt the pinch in the last couple of years, and found marketing budgets held, if not decreased. And the same individual feels the pressure to deliver “more bang for the bucks”: increased reach and results from the marketing investments they make. The web expands the reach of advertising or (effectively) advertorial activities, and moreover it is totally trackable and measurable. The clicks and the purchases users make, and other metrics besides, can be built in to the campaign. In no other medium is “going global” so cost effective. Campaigns on the web do not need to know geographic borders – the content just has to be compelling to the targets and available to them where they seek information or engage.
This is well illustrated by what Intercontinental Hotels did in their online viral campaign aimed at drawing people to its Get a Free Night website, at this link.

McClenathan was able to convey these benefits clearly because she has seen them in numerous businesses at close quarters. She knows though that there are many, many marketers and businesses where engagement with SMM is in its infancy and hoped by sharing these examples that it would give readers the encouragement to take the next step with SMM.


Naima says:

Specializing in small and medium-sized businesses in both traditional and Internet environments, Merchant services has one of the highest merchant acceptance rates in the industry, with most applications approved within two business days.

In addition, our technological advances have effectively harnessed and exceeded the growing demands in the processing industry—allowing us to support nearly every vertical market with increasing and profitable business solutions.

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