Be prepared to move outside of your comfort zone in 2013 as the only constant will be change. The continuous cycle of technological developments and the subsequent surge in social networking platforms have acted as a catalyst for what is now a period of business transformation, across every sector and within society as a whole. Witness HMV’s demise, and the poor performance of certain retailers who have failed to adapt and respond to the challenges of the new digital world.
Today’s average consumer is more connected and tech savvy than ever before, spending an increasing proportion of the day digesting and contributing to blogs, Twitter feeds, podcasts and a plethora of tailored news feeds. Social networking is being embraced by millions and is continuing to grow all over the world. For example, in the UK alone, there are over 10 million users on Twitter; Twitter usage has overtaken the numbers who buy a daily newspaper in the UK. The knock-on effect is as evident in the business-to-business world as it is for those selling direct to consumers. Companies are having to respond and consider how they can exploit this change for improved customer service and recruitment, and of course for better engagement and other marketing activity.
The challenge for businesses is how to align their existing business goals with this changing world, and ensure that time and money are not wasted on the wrong set of strategies and tactics. Below are some tips on where to start.
Identify and track key audiences
The first step towards aligning your business goals with social media is to decide where your revenue will most likely come from in 2013 and how you can therefore influence those audiences with your key messages. Tracking your top 3-4 target audiences is the most critical step, but it’s also the most difficult one. Business people and consumers move from platform to platform, consuming new information at high speed. This also assumes a certain knowledge of these platforms, in order to exploit them fully.
One key tip is to deploy strategies that allow you to monitor viral video, as well as platforms such as Twitter and other social media sites. This can be very time consuming, but the use of effective, often free, monitoring tools and dashboards such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck will enable you to track the debate and then contribute to and influence it.
Social media platforms vary dramatically; the key to success is finding the most relevant platform, in other words the one that is inhabited by the biggest percentage of your target audiences. For example, you may decide to spend your time seeding messages and influencing via a popular Kent group in LinkedIn, or by contrast, one focused on your sector. Despite having over a billion members, Facebook may not actually be relevant to your target audience, whereas Twitter may provide a perfect warm ‘door opener’ to a whole host of prospective clients. Or it could provide the perfect platform to amplify your PR campaigns – a great route to those often elusive news editors.
‘World of mouth’ – getting influencers on board
We’ve moved from a focus on word of mouth to ‘world of mouth’; a society where brands no longer have complete control. The sheer volume of fragmented channels of influence is hard for companies to keep track of; this has given rise to a powerful role played by online influencers. On Twitter for example this might be no more than a handful of influencers who help shape a brand’s image or keep a specific topic, such as the Living Wage, alive. Often these influencers can cut through the ‘noise’, because their audience trusts their points of view. These influencers may be very well connected and can help spread your message to thousands of their followers, via a simple retweet. Once identified, your task is to reach out to them, build a relationship, make it reciprocal and don’t try too hard to sell.
Invest, long-term, in the right eco-system
The good news is that return on investment (ROI) can be measured on social media platforms but the bad news is that achieving such success is not simple and cannot be achieved overnight. Phones don’t ring off the hook simply because you’ve achieved excellent editorial in the Kent Messenger or Retail Week; and in a similar vein, leads don’t arrive simply because you’ve managed to secure 2,000 followers on Twitter. They are called ‘vanity metrics’ for a reason.
Instead, you have to create an eco-system of trust and influence, which is inter-connected with offline activity such as networking, exhibiting at events like Kent 2020, sending direct mailshots etc. It takes time and investment and won’t simply deliver a series of short term gains. But if executed properly, you can exploit social media to transform your business and ensure its continued success in 2013 and beyond.
Katie King is a respected social media commentator on BBC One and BBC Radio, and is Managing Director of PR & social media agency Zoodikers. You can hear her in action at this year’s Kent 2020 Vision LIVE on Thursday 25th April 2013, by registering for free at www.kent2020.co.uk.