To Facebook or Not to Facebook

A question I get asked all the time from businesses; big and small, is should we be on Facebook? It’s a very important question to be sure, but one that can’t be answered prudently if the nature of the business is not understood. I’m dismayed by the number of “marketers” on the Web who blindly encourage businesses to go social. While Facebook, as an example, may ultimately be the right play for your business; it doesn’t hurt to do some due diligence up front. It could potentially save you a lot of effort, resources, grief and embarrassment.

Here are a few pointers that may be of value.

First things first. Understand 4 key ground rules. Rule #1: Don’t use social media to hard sell your wares. People aren’t interested in being sold to. If this is your sole purpose, they’ll head for the hills.
Rule #2: Social Media is about relationships. The instructions are clearly marked on the box – ie, be social! Engage your audience (see Rule #3 for some ways to do this); listen to them; respond to them where necessary. Show them you care.

Rule #3: People follow businesses on the social landscape because they want something – whether its information or freebies. Give them something – sneak peak into new upcoming products; special deals/promotions; the opportunity to contribute ideas and feedback; share stories and experiences with like-minded consumers; customer service and support.

Rule #4: Don’t expect results over night. Sales will not magically appear just because you have a social media presence. You need to be patient. Nurture your social media relationships and perhaps over time, maybe, you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labour…check out these stats. It’s kind of like fishing. Set your bait carefully; set anchor in the perfect place; and with patience and vigilance you might be rewarded.

If you don’t think you can abide by the rules of the road; don’t bother getting in the car and steer clear of social media.

When you think you’re ready, do some planning. Be as elaborate and detailed as you want.

Here are my humble suggestions.

1) Define your social media goals. Here are 4 of the most common objectives companies pursue online: brand awareness, thought leadership, customer service, and recruitment. Do these align with the objectives of your organization? If so, sounds like a great place to start. We’ll come back to these later.

2) Define who your target audience is. A useful exercise is to create user profiles based on demographic information such as age, level of education, income, occupation, etc. Include psychographic details if you can. Things like lifestyle (eg., empty-nester, new parents, world travellers, etc.), values, beliefs, attitudes, buying motivation, how they use or consume your product or service, etc.
Why are profiles important? Once you know who your users are, you’ll gain insight into what they want. And if you can deliver what they want, they’ll follow you. Getting to do this is half the battle.

For one of my clients in the Banking industry, we developed a number of user profiles based primarily on age range and lifestyle. Here’s an example:

Gen-Y Banking profile

  • Age: 18-29
  • Characteristics:
    • Extremely tech-savvy.
    • Low levels of brand loyalty.
    • Needs: 24/7 mobile and online access to account information. Real-time, anytime, and any device.
  • Bank selection criteria:
    • Low fee accounts and credit cards
    • Upfront, transparent fee structure
    • Mobile apps
    • Quality of Customer Service
  • Behaviours:
    • Heavy online shoppers
    • Highly influenced by friends and family
    • Heavy online researchers – value online reviews, blogs, online forums, etc.
    • When treated well, can be extremely loyal – consuming multiple services with tendency to share experiences and recommend services

3) Once you know who your audience is; what they want; and what you want to accomplish, you’re in a good place.

Identify the what and who first, and the how will follow. In other words, identify “what” your organization wants to accomplish; “who” needs to be targeted; and the platform, the “how”, will become evident.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to illustrate.

Example 1: Say one of your organization’s key goals is recruitment; and say you want specifically to hire new grads. There is ample evidence to show that new grads (typically people in their mid 20’s) are Twitter literate. Twitter is an ideal tool for recruitment, as many organizations are already aware. Why is this so? 140 characters is ample space to show a position title, location, and a link. Easy to write – it’s the perfect delivery mechanism. From the job seeker’s perspective, it’s easily scannable; and an ideal tool to receive concise, regular updates. In this case, Twitter nearly perfectly meets the needs of all parties.

Let’s look at another example.

Example 2: Say your organization offers financial planning solutions, and you’ve identified individuals who are close to retirement as a viable target audience. How can you reach this specific group? how can you engage and compel them to follow your brand online? With a little bit of research, one can find evidence that shows people aged 45-55; those nearing retirement, do substantial research online for products and services. Further research reveals that one of the most common topics Canadians research online is financial advice. A viable strategy for this organization would be “thought leadership”; that is, sharing knowledge and insight with the purpose of positioning oneself as a subject matter expert or thought leader. What the hell does that mean? In practical terms, this organization could leverage the knowledge of its financial experts and share their insights and strategies for preparing and saving for retirement – Information that would be of value to their target audience. Ok, so what’s the platform? I would argue that a Blog would be the perfect vehicle. Is it a social media platform? Some would say yes, others would argue no. My answer is, if it reels in the fish, does it really matter?

So you may have noticed that I mentioned research a few times in the preceding examples. This is where a social media expert could come in handy. Folks like myself have done enough work, research, and demographic profiling to understand what will likely have traction and what won’t.

By now, you’re probably wondering “What’s the ROI?” ROI in the Social Media universe is not all about sales. Wha? Yes, the sales are important – but there are other things to consider. Don’t think exclusively about making $$ – you can save $$ too. Going Social can be a cost effective proposition when you compare it against traditional offline tactics in areas such as customer service, building brand awareness, recruitment, and lead generation.

Something to keep in mind is that once you go social, it’s a commitment – don’t give it 50% effort because it’ll show.

In a future post, I’ll talk a little bit about some key tactical things to consider before you go social.

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