In four short years social media has gone from relative obscurity to becoming an integral part of how Australians live their daily lives. Over 60% of Australians over 15 years old are active users of Facebook, and they use the site for over eight hours a day. Twitter has over 100 million active users worldwide; that's over four times the entire population of Australia. From sharing photos, checking into venues, catching up on the news or reading reviews about a business, social media has forever changed the way we live our lives.
The rise of social media has given rise to the ‘social consumer’. This is the internet-savvy generation that learn about your company through social channels and who expect you to listen and engage with them when they need you. They have increased expectations of how much you already know of them, and they have little problem doing their best to damage your reputation if they're not happy with the level of service they are receiving.
The social consumer is taking greater control over the relationships they have with the brands they deal with, and businesses who adapt are seeing increased returns. Recent research from the Sensis Social Media Report showed that small businesses who had a social media presence said they believed it was driving an increase in annual sales of 8%. Now do I have your attention?
"How do I start?" you might ask. Easy. Here are three simple steps to kick-start your social media strategy.
Step 1. Enable the conversations
The first step is thinking about where your customers and potential customers are, and creating a presence in those forums that you manage. The most obvious place to start is to create a Facebook page. Also consider whether a Twitter account is right for you, if there is a social site that is relevant to your specific industry.
Having a presence on these sites creates a place for people to direct their conversation, and increases the amount of control you have.
Step 2. Start listening and engaging
Sometimes it's not obvious what you want to say on these forums. You might have a business that doesn't obviously lend itself to social media, so figure out through trial and error what works. Post photos, link to other people and brands of interest and above all, keep it personal and fun.
The beauty of Facebook is that it provides a host of data against each and every post that you make, including how viral it was and how engaging it was. It's from these insights that you can tailor your plan. Perhaps a post with a photo really hit a sweet spot, but another post on a specific topic was less engaging. Use this information to improve how social you are.
It's also important to remember that you shouldn't directly sell in these forums. It's much more important to talk about the community that you represent than to do a hard sell on the products you sell. At this stage you're trying to create loyalty and positive branding, so avoid the hard sell as much as you can.
And finally, if someone publically comments on how they are unhappy with your product or service, do your best to rectify the situation quickly and tell them how you fixed it. It is far more powerful to leave a negative comment on your site which you successfully resolved than to delete the comment completely.
Step 3. Convert fans to customers
Over time you will slowly see the benefits that social media can provide, and you will learn new and innovative ways of utilising it for positive outcomes. You might realise that the best use is to manage customer complaints, or to share general business information. You might use it to road test new product ideas or you might use it to share discounts for certain products. For each business the exact use will be different, and is likely to evolve over time.
Facebook has more sophisticated ways of converting fans, including some very snappy tools to learn about who your fans are. Facebook will show you were your fans are located, their age, gender and even the language that they speak. This enables you to not only make smart business decisions (such as the location of a new branch), but also enables you to target messages to specific people. Launching a product in Brisbane targeted at young women? Well now you can just send exactly those women in your network a tailored message. How's that for increasing your conversation rate!
The bottom line? Social media is a brave new world, but businesses who engage in this new phenomenon are seeing the benefits. Don't be put off by all the jargon and technology, just jump right in. Who knows, you might turn into the next social media mogul.
Adrian Perillo has over 12 years professional digital experience and has spent the past four years focussed on local search strategy and product development with brands including Yellow Pages, White Pages, Whereis® and Citysearch. He spent eight years as an accountant and consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and in 2001 he moved to America to help establish PwC’s global innovation program. He is a frustrated writer, part-time radio announcer, good Italian son, proud father of newborn twins and can be followed on Twitter at @axp.