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Why social media is not just a marketing tool

Anna Spargo-RyanI spend a lot of time talking to clients about how social media should be approached in similar ways to traditional marketing channels. Sometimes I can even be heard crying out in my sleep: “It’s not that different! Think of it like TV or print!”

The truth is, social media is not strictly a marketing tool. It was designed to be a method of communication between peers, not a means for businesses to talk to consumers. It has gradually been adapted for this use, but that is far from the only value it offers.

Social media is a customer service tool

More than half of social media users jump online when they have a question or grievance. Being active across the relevant platforms – even if it’s just to listen – will give your business an opportunity to showcase your excellent customer service skills, retain business and cultivate advocates.

This type of engagement has been a natural progression for social media, and is more often the playground of unsatisfied customers (the old “a happy customer will tell one person, but an unhappy customer will tell ten people”).

How can I use it like this?

The best way to start is by listening. You can use a number of different tools to keep an eye out for keywords that apply to your business, and then engage with customers directly. At the budget end of the scale is Sprout Social, which is an excellent little tool for both monitoring and interacting and for watching the growth of your engagement over time. At the Prada end is Radian 6, which is an enterprise solution with all of the bells and whistles. And you can always monitor manually – pop some keywords into a Twitter search, or set up a Google alert for your business name.

Social media is a product development tool

Perhaps the greatest value to organisations that use social media successfully is growing an audience that is passionate about a brand. One way to use this to your business’s advantage is to market test, research and get feedback in real time with a group of people that will tell you the truth.

How should I be using it?

Don’t go to your Facebook page with every idea that you have – you want to help your audience to influence your offerings in a way that adds value for them, not make them responsible for your entire new line. Use your social media platforms to encourage their input and to demonstrate how much their loyalty and feedback is appreciated … and then incorporate it! This doesn’t mean you need to change everything you do because someone on Facebook said so, but it will help to increase your customers’ loyalty and your relevance to them.

Social media is a brand positioning tool

The way you conduct yourself in social media is just as important as the messaging you’re putting out through traditional brand and marketing campaigns. Your Facebook page is another place for your potential customers – and potential former customers! – to see the way you conduct business.

How should I be using it?

It’s important to use this knowledge to your advantage. Be deliberate in the messaging that you’re delivering, even when it’s not strictly marketing. Yes, your product is one of the many things that interests your audience, so talk to them about the others. You conduct segment profiling to understand your customers for traditional media, so use that knowledge to speak to their whole life.

The goal isn’t to become everything to everyone, but to help your customers realise that you know who they are – and that who they are means something to you!

Social media is a PR tool

Whether proactive or reactive, social media is a platform to speak directly to market in the PR space. Here is a group of people with an existing relationship with your brand, and here you are with an opportunity to give them exactly the information you want them to have. At the other end of the spectrum, what you’re cultivating is a public profile that can act in a public relations capacity to promote, to mitigate risk or to manage issues.

How should I be using it?

Use your social media networks to build relationships with customers and peers and the media. Be deliberate in the persona that you give your online representatives, and make sure it’s consistent with the rest of your strategy. Incorporate news and changes in your business into your messaging, and your customers will feel like they are part of your story (but don’t overwhelm them).

Hopefully you won’t have any PR disasters, but in the event that you do, taking to social media can be a good way to address consumers and help to mend relationships with customers.

In part two, we’ll look at why social media IS a marketing tool!

Anna Spargo-Ryan is a writer and digital marketing strategist at Tiny Antelope, where she pieces the internet together with wonder and joy.

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