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Why No Business Should Be Involved In Online Social Networking
Sure it's a powerful tool, but will it accomplish want you want it too?
By Marc Gordon


Take a look at these four scenarios.
1. A teenaged boy in Cleveland is sharing strategy secrets on a Playstation 3 Facebook group.
2. In San Diego a father is posting photos of his family's day at the beach to Flickr.
3. A mother in Toronto is uploading a video of her daughter's dance recital to You Tube.
4. In New York, an HR consultant is twittering about recent changes in employment law.


Which one of these people stands out as being unique from the others in the way they are using social networking?
If you answered number 4 you would be correct.

That's because the first three people are using social networking web sites for the purpose of social interaction. They are keeping in touch with friends, family and people of similar interests. Their goals are nothing more than to belong, share, and socialize.

But the HR consultant is networking for a different set of reasons. This person has chosen to use networking sites as a tool to position themselves as an expert-an invaluable source of reliable information. Beyond Twitter, this person may also be on Facebook, Linked In, Plaxo and others. This sharing of information would, in theory, impact on how they are viewed within their industry by current and potential clients. Over the long term, these efforts could materialize into new business. That is why they are there.

When business people use social networking sites, they often do not understand why. And that is a big reason why so many of them see no positive return from it. Although a positive return can mean different things to everybody, for most business people a positive return usually involves making a sale.

The problem is that for the last couple of years, experts have continuously preached that the success of a business is dependant on participating in online social networking. They will try to convince you that you need a Facebook page, that you need to regularly update your Linked In profile, that you should post articles to a myriad of resource sites, and of course let the world know you are doing all this by Twittering at least 5 times a week.

What every expert has forgotten to share with you (or just don't know to) is that this is not social networking. There is in fact nothing social about it. You are not trying to make friends, get in touch with old school chums, or keep tabs on the ex. You are trying to grow your business.

So maybe it's time to stop referring to all this as social networking and start seeing it for what it really is: social marketing.

Any form of communication you perform on behalf of your business is a form of marketing. Regardless of whether it's a business card or a Facebook page, your are building an image - a brand identity that will help you convey your values allowing people to better understand the advantages of doing business with you.

Think of social marketing as just another tool in your marketing toolbox. In many ways it is no different than web sites, yellow page ads, trade shows or promotional items. Each of these is important in their own way depending on your needs, industry, budget, and time. One tool should not be favored over another simply because it seems like the right thing to do.

But as this article is specifically about social marketing, we will try to determine if it should be a key component to your marketing program.

It seems I come across a lonely blog at least once a week. I can tell they're lonely because the last entry was from 2008 or earlier. The owner of the blog no longer posts and people no longer visit. The same can be said for Facebook profiles that have no personal information or photos. Or Linked In sites that have outdated employment history.

So many business owners jumped on the social marketing bandwagon because they felt compelled to. Yet when they finally spent the time and money to create those blog sites, they had nothing to say, no information to share, and no time to maintain it.

Time is one of those things the experts rarely bring up. But for anyone who runs their own business will tell you, finding time each day to write about who-knows-what can be impossible. I have always believed that the most successful people in business do not invest a lot of time in networking sites because they are too busy making money doing their real jobs.

On the other hand, networking sites have contributed to making countless people famous and wealthy. And it can be argued that many of whom possess no real skills in the first place outside of being able to successfully exploit their following. I have to wonder where celebrity gossiper Perez Hilton and socialite Kim Kardashian would be without the internet. (Of note, Kim Kardashian charges $10,000 to mention a product in her tweets to her 2.7 million followers.)

So should you be jumping into the social marketing pool?
Only you can answer that. But here's some things to think about before getting wet.

1. What are your goals? Are you looking to increase sales or just to build a list of contacts? Both can be important depending on the type of business you own. A restaurant can use Twitter to let people know about specials available only for that evening. Whereas an accountant might want to build a list through Linked In as a vehicle to let people know about changes to tax laws.

2. Content is key. Not actively participating in social marketing is like being a wallflower at a party. If no one will know you're there, what's the point in even going? Being an active participant means contributing relevant content. Depending on the sites you choose to join, this can involve submitting articles, industry news, anything that your contacts, friends, or followers will deem useful or worthy of reading. This means avoiding Twittering about what you had for lunch or posting photos of your trip to the beach (unless you're a travel agent).

3. Time commitment. Like other types of marketing, frequency is important in reinforcing your message and getting people to remember you. Just as you would not place an ad in a magazine for just one issue, you must also contribute to your social marketing presence on a regular basis. For many business owners, this can be anywhere from 15-60 minutes per day. Are you ready for that?

4. Know your audience. A hair salon creating a Facebook page sounds logical until you find out the average age of their clients is 55, most of whom do not even use the internet. So are they trying to keep in contact with current clients or attract new ones? (Refer back to #1)

5. Coordinating with conventional marketing. Social marketing should not be treated as a stand alone program. To be effective it should be combined with traditional marketing. For example, if you send out a flyer by mail, mention that people can get notice of additional promotions by following you on Twitter. Or use Facebook to post photos of special industry events you were involved in.

6. The return. Even with conventional marketing, many business people are guilty of thinking they can expect a certain return for every dollar spent. If they don't see that return in a specific period of time, they deem the campaign a failure. Social marketing can be even more abstract. In many cases, your posts or submissions will not be focused on generating sales, but instead providing information. As such, readers would be less likely to contact you looking to spend money. However if you choose to create a social campaign focused on driving sales, you may find yourself ignored as many people get turned off of sales pitches made through social media sites.

Using the analogy of farming (for some reason people like to compare business to farming), if a sales presentation is like harvesting fruit, then social marketing is like planting seeds. That is, in sales, the harder you work the greater the immediate gains. An effective sales presentation will generally result in more sales.

However social marketing is less about what you can get and more about what you can give. More information, more posts, more contacts, more referrals-all of these can lead to an increase in business over time. How much time and how much business no one can say. It can take months just for people to take notice of you. But like a farmer planting seeds, if you plant enough of them, invest the effort, and be patient, eventually you will bear the fruits of success.

About the Author:
Marc Gordon is a professional speaker and marketing consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. His firm, Fourword Marketing, specializes in helping businesses create a brand identity and developing effective marketing campaigns. Marc can be reached at (416) 238-7811 or visit www.marcgordon.ca. Follow Marc on Twitter at twitter.com/marcgordondotca.

 

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