Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Media - A Must Have or A Passing Fad?

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace. You've heard the names. Some of you even have accounts - personal and business. And everywhere you turn, another talking head tells you how these new Social Media platforms are going to change advertising as we know it. Yet the critic in the back of your head wonders if it's really true when they say Social Media is going to make all other forms of advertising obsolete.

There certainly are some advantages to using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. First, they're FREE. That has to count for something. You can set up a Facebook page for your company with almost all of the same information as your website at no charge to you. You can send messages to all of your fans without the cost of an email service. You can change pictures, announce events, and have chats with your customers without contacting the IT department.

And it's all Free!

Well, not exactly...

In life, no matter what you want, you have to spend one of two currencies - time or money.

While Facebook may give you all of the above services at no monetary charge, there is a huge time commitment necessary. You have to create all the content yourself. You have to build relationships one friend at a time. You have to monitor discussions regularly. It can take months or even years to develop a friends list with enough people to move the needle.

The same is true of Twitter. Setting up an account is easy. Getting a bunch of followers is harder. Saying something worthwhile in limited space enough times to be relevant is even harder.

But both can be effective tools in your advertising tool box - especially if you have more time than money. Twitter can be an effective way for stores with a fast-turning product to keep customers informed of what is in stock. Facebook can be a great way to give an active fan base a platform for gushing nostalgic about you.

If you're going to jump into the social media pool, here are some things to think about:
  • Decide your purpose for doing social media. Is it to generate leads, keep people informed, set a platform for customer involvement, or some other purpose? Clearly define your goals and it will help you determine your path.
  • Be transparent. No, you don't have to tell people what you had for breakfast, but if it has your name on it, it better be you writing it (or at least editing it). Don't just dump it off to the "young kid on the staff," and hope he stays consistent with your brand. Be honest, forthright and genuine. Don't try to be something you are not, just be yourself openly.
  • Stay up to date. Update it regularly - at least weekly, preferably more often. If you can't commit to that kind of regularity, don't do it. A stale account can be more damaging than no account at all. (Yeah, I know, my Facebook account needs some more love.)
Knowing how the different social media work is important, too. The three most talked about - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN all work somewhat differently.

Twitter is about inside information - no, not the kind of stuff for which the SEC sends Martha Stewart to jail, but information that lets your followers feel like they know more than the average Joe because they follow you. Your tweets need to have the kind of information they can't just get from your website or off the street. Let people into the workings of your mind by telling people why you're carrying a certain brand (or not carrying one). Show them how you decided on a certain product or service. Tell them about issues affecting your business that may affect them. Be the first place to announce new arrivals. Make your Twitter followers feel like an insider and you create a connection with them that raises loyalty to a whole new level.

Facebook is about making and keeping connections. Facebook is all about the customers and their interactions with you. It is the media of nostalgia - posting pictures and videos, sharing memories. Your Facebook page has to encourage this behavior. Start discussions, post pictures and videos. Keep up a dialogue with your fans. Yeah, you can announce events, but if that is all you do, your fan base will get bored quickly. It isn't about you. It's about them.

LinkedIn is often seen as a more professional site. I liken it to speed networking. Meet and greet people. Find people who think or act like you do and make connections. If you are a service provider or independent consultant, LinkedIn could be a valuable way for you to expand your circle of influence. But like all the social media, you have to be active. Just setting up an account and waiting for people to connect to you won't help. You have to join some groups, post comments, offer assistance, write recommendations, and actively seek out connections. The more active you are, the more connections you'll make.

As you can see, social media is a simple equation - time for money. If you have time, you can make social media work for you. If you have the discipline to stay current and active, you can make social media work for you.

And if you don't have the money to do traditional advertising, you better find the time to make social media work for you.

Do you agree or disagree?

-Phil

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