In years past, if one wanted to market their business, regardless of size, there were only a few ways that it could be done with any degree of success. If you had a big, profitable business and had the money, you'd probably hire a marketing firm. If you were a small business, or “worse,” a start-up, you'd rely on word of mouth, or put an ad in a local newspaper, or create special coupons for insertion into blue Val-pak envelopes that came in your mail every other week. Think about it; when was the last time you picked up a newspaper, or found those blue envelopes in your mail box? Been a while, right? Because as a means of communicating and marketing, they're now pretty much obsolete.
Word of mouth, though, has taken on a whole new meaning. In the 80s, there was a shampoo commercial that had a story-line that went like this; “if you told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on.” The premise, of course, is that by word of mouth, eventually everyone would know what a great product they were pushing. In today's parlance, we'd say you need to go viral.
In this particular space and time, the best way to go viral is by social media, pure and simple. Social media can help you find new customers and increase your existing customer base. It does that by raising product awareness which in turn can result in increased sales. Did you know that over 50% of the world's population uses the internet? The latest data shows that there are more than 4 billion people who use the internet worldwide, and about 3.2 billion claim that they are active on social media. Though the Google search engine takes the award for the most visited website, Facebook is not far behind; similarly, YouTube and Twitter have a very significant share of the social media market.
The data beg the question; if you own a business and are looking to have it grow, how can you NOT consider social media as a key avenue toward achieving that goal? Given the massive penetration of social media powerhouses like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, one cannot ignore their importance and relevance. Well, you could, but then you'd be making a grave mistake.
Social media platforms are where consumers go for product information, even more than the product or brand's own website. Facebook alone has some 60 million pages dedicated just brands and companies. Recent data shows that about 5% of all of Facebook's users will engage with a brand's Facebook page; they may like it, or comment, click on a link or watch a video. In fact, reaching out to a brand page via their social media account is often more satisfying than just emailing customer service – they are that much more responsive because they know that they will very quickly receive backlash for apathy. In a nutshell, there's good and bad with having a social media presence as your marketing go to. You will want to conduct yourself in a way that encourages interaction, and the resultant positive testimonials.
Social media is also one way to ensure brand loyalty. In a 2017 marketing survey, 69% of the respondents (of 5,700) said they were developing a fan base via specific marketing to social media. And those efforts are paying off; in the demographic of 18- to 24-year old survey respondents, 66% say they're more inclined to be loyal those brands with a strong social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with about 60% of the 25- to 34-year old demographic concurring. And there's a reason for that, too; the respondents said that they believed companies which actively engaged with their followers were better focused on customer service.
What kind of impact could social media have on sales? In a report issued last year which broke internet usage into various components, it was learned that 17% of the global population uses the internet for online purchases or to pay bills. The US has the 5th highest concentration of e-commerce penetration (behind the UK, Germany, S. Korea, and Sweden), with some 69% of users regularly making online purchases, accounting for what is expected to be over 12% of all sales in the coming year in the United States. Within the 18- to 34- year demographic, purchases were largely influenced by a brand's social media presence.
Marketing on social media can be one of two ways; either a direct ad which targets users that have expressed an interest in some particular type of item, or through a special purpose page set up on a social media platform (or all of them, perhaps), that targets potential customers organically. The former costs money, while the latter can be free or at least, with very minimal outlay of funds. One survey of senior marketers found that the highest return on investment came from a specific “channel” or page on the social media platform. In fact, they found that targeted or direct ads had a significantly smaller return on the investment.
There are is number of benefits to using social media:
1. Create awareness of your brand. That's self-explanatory. You need your product to be out there, in front of the largest audience possible; the main social media platforms do just that.
2. You can contain advertising expenses. This can be huge, especially if you're a small business with limited financial resources; essentially, you can do this on your own, with no outside help. Do you have a good story to go with your great product? Can you type, cut and paste, find cute memes on the internet? Of course you can. You can be your own web-master, at least until your followers become so numerous that you need round-the-clock help to keep your social media content current and relevant.
3. Make the process fun again for consumers. Be engaging, funny, forthright, and charming. Are you sarcastically endearing? You could find yourself with a huge following on Twitter, for example, with users absolutely loving those who have “mastered the burn.” And remember, tweets and retweets are nothing but free advertising.
4. Minimize backlash and encourage support. Be quick to respond to a complaint about your brand or product so that you can minimize potential public backlash. To that end, if that is unavoidable, sometimes a heartfelt mea culpa goes a long way to engendering sympathy for your brand. On the flip side, encourage testimonials of your brand or product (because people do love to see their name in print, even if only cyberspace!).
The bottom line in marketing with social media is that, given the numbers, it is obvious that the influence of the billions of social media users on a brand can be huge. That is why it is critical for a business owner to craft a strategy that keeps up with the target market. How simple or complex that is will be entirely up to you and will depend on how much you can invest (in both money and time). Creating a brand page on Facebook, for example is free, and there are many guides online to help you do that. Get one page up and running and share it on your own personal status and you're on your way to creating the social media presence you need to grow your business.