When used correctly, social media can be a great asset to your organization. Whether commercial or nonprofit, legacy or startup, the capability to connect your organization directly with those whom you are trying to reach can give you more loyalty and a stronger customer relationship than you've ever experienced.
But, like any other tool, social media needs to be used properly in order to maximize its performance. After all, you wouldn't use a hammer to open a bottle of soda. Well, you could, but it would be quite messy.
My book The PayPal Official Insider Guide to Social Media: Make Money Through Viral Marketing looks at many ways you can apply social media, along with PayPal payment tools, to help your business grow. In this article, we'll explore five important ways in which you can use social media to generate sales for your business:
- Set your strategy.
- Research your audience.
- Join conversations.
- Find the right tools.
- Create relevant content.
Set Your Strategy
There are three reasons why you shouldn't start using social media platforms without a plan.
First, remember your parents' advice about thinking before you speak? That definitely holds true in social media, because what you say in cyberspace can and will be remembered (and found on Google) for a long time.
Thinking before you engage with people on the Internet is also important because it takes a long time to build good relationships, and just a few ill-chosen words to damage a relationship irreparably. This is reason number one why you should have a strategy in place for social media.
Second, a plan is important because you need to know what your overall message will be. This is just business common sense[md]if you have a marketing and advertisement strategy in place already, you don't want to throw a wrench into it and start delivering another message entirely. The strongest message is the most coordinated message.
Third, it's very important to recognize that, as with most technology, social media tools will change[md]often very quickly. All of the social media networks available right now could very well be obsolete in a year's time, or even less. That's the nature of technology.
This is why it's critical to craft a plan that delivers the messages you want to convey, and then you need to push those messages out to the platforms where your customers are. If that happens to be only Twitter, fine. But you need to bring the conversation to your customers on whatever site(s) they're using.
Research Your Audience
It's an age-old problem for business owners: In order to sell to customers, you first have to find those customers. Pre-electronic times were simpler: Hang a sign on a storefront, and if your products and services were good and your prices fair, customers would come through the door.
Today attracting customers is much harder. With more competition, and customers spread out all over town (or even the world), it's harder than ever to find people with whom to do business. But not impossible.
So how do you find these customers on social media networks? You have to know them.
A lot of business owners assume that there's some special trick to figuring out where their customers reside online. And while there are some ways to find this information on your own, you can do the easy, friendly thing first: ask your customers what social media platforms they use. Be proactive, too; it's important to advertise that you're on the Internet, ready to be followed.
Use the social media platform's own tools to find out who's on that platform. All you usually need are the email addresses of your customers to conduct such a search.
At first, you might be tempted simply to broadcast all that you think is cool about your organization[md]product, people, brands[md]all the things you love about your company. It's a common place to start, but understand that if you keep doing that, the novelty will wear off quickly.
Remember, you're always involved in a conversation, no matter what type of social media platform you're using. It can't be a one-way broadcast of just the aspects of your business that you find interesting. Be prepared to engage your audience, as you would if they were in the store. When you do this, you'll tap into what's valuable about social media: You're conversing with someone, but everyone else can listen, too. If the conversation ends well, people will think that your business must be interested in the needs of its customers.
Meanwhile, offer compelling points of interest so people will seek to converse with you. This might be content on your blog or other social outlet, but it won't be solely a broadcast, because that would be counter-productive. You'll need to strike a balance between talking and listening, with the understanding that people will mostly want to learn and listen to you, but will expect to be heard when they do have something to tell you.
Find the Right Tools
There’s a good reason why there aren't a lot of business tools integrated into social media platforms yet. It's not easy implementing a transaction system that's safe and secure within an environment that wasn't designed for eCommerce. Social networks are great at conversations, but not so great (yet) at commerce. But tools currently coming into existence will create a much tighter integration between social conversation and commerce online.
Social media platforms are all about open information distribution, which is problematic when financial information is at stake. Open and financial data are two terms that don't mix particularly well. For instance, PayPal plans to be right at that intersection point by being the layer of "protection" for your financial information online, regardless of the medium in which the transaction is taking place: Web or social media.
Beyond social commerce tools, you need to have the right tools for managing your social media content. A great many tools are available to manage multiple social media accounts on more than one social media platform. HootSuite and TweetDeck are excellent examples of tools in this category.
Create Relevant Content
One great way to figure out what content is the most relevant is by determining what your visitors want when they come to your company website, blog, or social media site.
When visitors come to your site, they'll usually show up by typing your website directly into the URL bar of their browser, following a link from another site, or running a search for some term in a search engine and finding content on your site that closely matches what they're seeking.
This last kind of entrance to your site, known as an organic search, will help you to figure out what content is most interesting to your visitors now, and usually what will be interesting to them in the future. Using this kind of search engine optimization (SEO) analytics can be of great assistance in creating your social media conversations.
For more information and guidance on how to use social media and eCommerce tools effectively, read the book The PayPal Official Insider Guide to Social Media: Make Money Through Viral Marketing. Having a solid foundation in this new sector is crucial for any business venture.
The social media field is only going to grow as time goes by, as more and more companies innovate new ways to connect commerce to social media users. Stay on top of this growing field of technology and business, because someday (probably soon), it will become an important part of your business plan and success.