How and why using social media is now part of life – and what that means for business.
Every now and then a celebrity very publicly disavows social media and says they are the happier for doing so. It’s an interesting idea. So quickly has social media become interwoven into our lives (Facebook is less than 20 years old) that it’s hard to imagine doing without it.
True, approximately half of the world’s nearly 8 billion people don’t use social media at all, but that still leaves a staggering 4 billion (i.e. 4 x 109) who do. The great majority of those who live in developed economies have at least one social media account; the same is true for businesses. Add rapidly increasing internet access in developing economies, then numbers are set to keep growing and platforms multiplying accordingly.
Amid the huge volume of social media traffic, it’s easy to get distracted as to the point of it all, and in particular why, whatever your personal instinct, it matters in business.
The clue is in the name
Checking online (where else?) for the meaning of social media, the first result says this: “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”.
This is a start but it only gets us so far. Perhaps it’s easier just to go back to the name itself – it’s social (interacting with other people, as people) via a medium or several media. The key point here is that is it’s called social – not business or professional. So its primary purpose is to support interpersonal interactions in, above all else, a social context. That’s worth thinking about.
Of course, it’s foolish to pretend that social media was ever going to be only purely social. From the first primitive exchange of goods, communication has always included elements of business. And let’s not forget, social media has succeeded because it’s users (that’s you and me) have been happy to let the platforms monetise our opting in to the convenience of near instant communication, mainly free of physical location.
So, the big questions are not really about the fact of social media. They are about how we use it.
For any business, visibility really matters, so a social media presence is essential for most – remember those other 3,999,999,999 users? Seriously though, we not really talking billions, but with something like 52 million people in the UK being 18 or over, that’s still a big pool to fish. To be visible, then, your presence needs to be targeted carefully at the audience most likely to be receptive to what you want to say or sell.
Choosing how you’re visible matters. For many businesses, regular blogs supported by conventional online advertising is a powerful and effective way to build and strengthen brands. Others do well by enlisting influencers to drive marketing; look at Gymshark, for example. Those who do this well, while still being commercial, manage very effectively to access the social elements of social media while still driving forward their business purpose.
Add value, establish dialogue
And because this media is social, it’s different to up-front e-commerce. Thus the best traction comes from offering something of value which may not be directly connected to generating sales, but will help strengthen links of identity, personal value and aspirations. Hence the many professional blogs which pertain to share secrets of success. The real secrets may be somewhere else, but there are lots of genuinely helpful blogs which make our lives a little easier and what we do a little better.
With these connections can come dialogue. Sometimes this is direct (comments and discussion) or at arm’s length (likes and shares). Everything increases visibility and awareness. When it works well, new business is followed by referrals. It all matters, so everything you publish should be as good as you can make it.
Social or Sales? Online or offline?
There’s a fine line between keeping things social – friendly, co-operative – and overly sales driven. Done carefully, you can do both, although there is a serious caveat. Different countries, markets and audiences react differently. For some, anything sales-y is a turnoff. For others there’s real enjoyment in reading a clever sales pitch (essentially, an advert) or a carefully crafted video on Instagram.
This is where it pays off to focus on the details. Using social media for business requires care – identifying audience, establishing purpose, and deciding on which particular elements of social media to use and how. It can be time consuming and results, which can occasionally be instantaneous, usually take a while to build. To get the benefits of social media, it really pays to do things well.
The alternative? Well, some businesses thrive without it, but they are increasingly few and far between. And anyway, are you really that anti-social?
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