by Paula on October 15, 2010

Social Media is a relatively new term to describe the online communication and activities between people all over the world. You can’t turn on the news these days without Facebook, You Tube or Twitter being mentioned. News websites immediately turn to the social network for live reactions to any news events, and use them as a gauge for the general feeling of people. Decisions being made by companies turn quickly into debates or challenges and the power of this instant and relevant communication cannot be underestimated.But despite it’s fairly recent introduction into modern life, most people will have heard the term and have an opinion about it.

In order to truly benefit from Social Media in business it’s important to make 3 assessments. Firstly, looking at yourself as an individual – what type of Social Media User are you? Are you someone who thinks it’s the root of all evil, somewhere for vulnerable people to be preyed on and manipulated? Are you someone who has a Facebook account in order to be able to say ‘Yes’ to all those friend requests and to occasionally drop in and have a quick browse over what your friends and contacts have been up to? Or are you a full on Social Media user who looks at every experience in your day and thinks how to interpret that into a Tweet? Do you make sure everyone knows exactly what you’re doing at all times, and thinks that it’s vitally important that you let all and sundry know you are having ham, egg and chips for tea?

Once you’ve assessed and recognised who you are in the world of Social Media, then it’s time to think about your business. Do you have a company website? Is it up to date and constantly changing? Do you have a Facebook Fan Page? Are you on Twitter letting customers know what you’re up to, or do you go that one step further and talk to your customers, engage them and ask for their opinions? Maybe you don’t think that’s necessary, you have a website if they need to find your contact details and then they’ll call you if they want something….. won’t they?

So thirdly and maybe most importantly, you need to think about what type of Social Media users your clients are. Not just your current clients but the clients you’d like to have. The clients that your competitors have. Where are these people and how can you reach them? Knowing this is one of the most critical factors in business marketing today. If you as a business think that Social Media is nothing more than trivial chit-chat but it’s the place where your customers and competitors are, then you have a problem. Perhaps your clients are out there today chatting about a problem they have, which you have a product to solve? Perhaps a competitor of yours is out there witnessing people talking about your business and steps in to divert their interest to his? Maybe there is a chance for you to get advice from your prospective clients on which way to develop a new service or product. Making sure you meet their needs and having them feel a value part of your product development is a sure fire way to engage their interest and get people talking about your business. If you don’t know who is out there needing your services or talking about your business, how can you get involved and win people over? It is a huge potential marketing area which done right, can generate significant amounts of your company turnover.

It isn’t that long ago when if you wanted to purchase something you went into a store and you talked to a salesperson. You asked them questions about their product or service and then you went to another store and asked the same questions to someone else. What was it that helped you choose where to buy? Certainly price would come into it, but there was often more to it than that. Did the salesperson seem knowledgeable, did they treat you like you were valued, were they genuine, did you like them? These soft skills were so important in making a choice. The more expensive the product or service the more you needed to trust the salesperson and the company.

What do we do now when a lot of our purchases and decisions are made on line? Sure we can look at a company website and we can see what the company says about themselves, but what next? Is that enough? Personally from my own on-line buying experience I can say no. Let’s take a recent purchase of my own. I wanted to take my family off to Wales for a mid week break. I looked at the holiday websites, I used review sites to choose an area. I went on a couple of family forums and asked opinions on who had been where and what they recommended. I chatted on Facebook to some friends about holiday websites they’d used and been happy with. I then narrowed it down to a couple of holiday appartments and Googled them to see if I could find any comments or reviews on them. I then made my decision. How much of what I did was actually influenced by the company advertising the apartment? It was a relatively small percentage. What about if the owner of the holiday apartment had picked up on my conversations and had been able to talk to me? Or if I’d been able to directly look at his Facebook FanPage and see how he responded to queries from previous clients. That would have been very valuable and hearing and seeing the apartment owner would genuinely have made a big influence on my decision.

Now this was a relatively small purchase but this is what happens every day with your customers out there. Swapping stories, asking for advice, sharing bad and good experiences, and if you want to be the one winning the business, don’t you think it’s time you joined them?

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