independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Like it or not, social media can win friends and profit

GOLDMAN Sachs is advertising for a "social media strategist". The investment behemoth has 3,700 followers on @goldmansachs but hasn't tweeted one dicky bird yet. That looks set to change, and staff are reportedly getting tutorials on how to best use Facebook for work, now that Goldman is a €400m investor there.

If the multibillion earning 'Vampire Squid' is taking social media seriously, your business probably should too.

You can do a lot for absolutely no money (though it will cost you time). Think you don't need to bother? There are 1.8 million Irish 'active users' of Facebook and 200,000 on Twitter. Are these audiences you can afford to ignore?

Here are some do's and don'ts to help you start turning hashtags into hard cash.

DON'T Leave your company's social media reputation in the hands of the MD's wife's nephew who's in on work experience, or a harried sales rep. Entrust it to someone senior and trained.

It can go so wrong. Fast food giant McDonald's Twit failed spectacularly with their McDStories hashtag, and an April Fool's day 'prank' by a Dublin car dealership where a competition to win a Mercedes turned out to be for a toy car resulted in a storm of Facebook abuse and lost fans. A restaurant tweeting "chef didn't turn up tonight" probably didn't do itself any favours.

"Have an internet champion, someone senior who gets the business," recommends accountant turned social media consultant Greg Canty.

DO Measure your results in leads and converted leads. "See this as part of your key performance indicators and sales performance," advises Canty. "Track how many interactions you've had on Twitter, Facebook etc, whether your 'likes' have increased or decreased, how many retweets or mentions you've had."

Putting a price on the worth of this stuff is tricky. Some estimates value each Facebook fan's 'like' being worth €2 and each retweet at being worth €1 to your business. Some suggest each Facebook fan spends at least €50 more than they would otherwise on products or services that they 'like'.

If you can afford a social media budget, you can target customers you want to reach very precisely through Facebook, filtering by male or female, location, education level, marital status etc. It costs between 30c and 60c per click depending on how finely you target potential clients.

"For example, a dance school in Cork whose clients are mostly couples getting married might target engaged females within a 20-mile radius," says Canty. "That's much more effective than local press."

Paul O'Mahony of Social Media Frontiers has been helping clients monetise social media for several years.

"On Facebook and with Twitter add-ons, you can measure the level of interaction on your networks, the number of comments, followers, friends and whether there's more click-through to your website as a result. You can measure how many interactions turn into leads. You can track the number of email addresses you capture then the number that you convert into clients."

You can also value the "cost avoidance" you've managed to achieve compared to what you might have spent on direct marketing, press and TV advertising versus social media engagement. "With the advent of Sky Plus, as little as 18 per cent of TV ads give return on investment -- people skip ads," O'Mahony maintains. "There's very little return, if any."

There are other potential savings. " Vodafone and Dell use social media for customer service," says O'Mahony.

"It saves on call centres and can turn negatives into positives, increasing customer retention."

Your fired-up social media activity can improve your ranking on Google. "Google give quality scores on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity that can boost you up its rankings. This can take you right up to the top of Google very easily in a couple of months. You can outrank companies that are paying tens of thousands to be at the top of the ranks or advertise above the search on Google ads, costing €1-€2 per click."

DON'T Just post or tweet your special offers. If you use Facebook to advertise your buy-one-get-one-free bags of carrots, people will block you from their feed, or worse. The return on investment comes from much more subtle play.

"Lot's of businesses just put up special offers that are mini adverts," says Canty, "But you almost have to not sell.

"Big brands like Coca-Cola and Nike promote their Facebook and Twitter addresses rather because they want customers to interact with their brand," says Canty. "That way they can learn who their customers are. Customers that engage with a business on Facebook are twice as likely to engage with that company in real life."

It needs an imaginative approach. O'Mahony gives the example of a well known beer brand asking its Facebook fans to name their top 10 tracks for going on a road trip. Friends can see this, the amount of eyes that it gets in front of is huge." DO Start with your existing client base. "It's seven times harder to get new clients," says O'Mahony. Then from there you build on that client base through customers' connections and you have an instant referral system.

"All your clients' friends see what they're endorsing or who they're engaging with in their Facebook or Twitter feed, and 90 per cent of people trust a friend's recommendation over an advert."

Next you need to target your ideal customer.

"Find out who has your ideal client base and try to leverage that to get them to join your network. Social media is not about how many likes or followers you have, it's more about attracting people who are interested in your business."

DO Blow your own trumpet. Post testimonials, retweet them, put them on your website, thank people for recommendations and comments, blog.

"Some 80 per cent of business comes from word of mouth and social media is the ultimate referral network," says Canty. "You need to grease the wheels of that."

DO Have the same branded look and feel running across all your social media platforms, and make sure your website carries buttons linking to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pintrest pages.

DON'T Give it the hard sell. "Social media is very personal, you're in someone's circle of trust," says O'Mahony. "Your message runs alongside feeds from relatives and friends, so by blasting sales messages into that you abuse that trust. You're in a privileged position, you're in their pocket on their phone, in their livingroom. Listen, look for feedback, engage. It's free market research done for you."

The main thing to remember is that whether you choose to be part of it or not, conversation about your business online can carry on regardless.

As O'Mahony puts it, "Just because you're ignoring it doesn't mean it's ignoring you." It's probably better to be part of the conversation.

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