By Michael Marino, Owner/Principal of Marino Communications
Some might argue that every business needs to be on several social media platforms for maximum visibility. Others may argue that only businesses targeting certain demographics need to have a professional social media presence. In our opinion, the truth is not so simple, and is somewhere in between. The reality is that nearly every company is on social media whether they like it or not, but each business’ level of investment and involvement in social media will vary based on its customer base and marketing needs.
It may come as a surprise that many companies that do not have a Facebook page or Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest, or Vimeo account are nevertheless on social media. While review websites differ from mainstream social media platforms, TripAdvisor, Google, Yelp! Foursquare, and Manta can have an enormous impact on potential customers’ perception of a business. While it is impossible to please every customer, low ratings, not responding to negative customer reviews, or highly responsive competitors can seriously impact a business’ brand image. Business owners or managers of any business need to be proactive on review sites. They should be checking each site at least once a day (if not more often), and need to make a good faith effort to respond to every customer review.
As for mainstream social media, the one absolute must-have social media account for every business is a LinkedIn page. Almost all business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses have important business-to-business relationships they must maintain. Having a LinkedIn page raises a business’ online profile to potential suppliers or distributors. A LinkedIn page also makes a business appear legitimate and active to consumers. LinkedIn pages usually appear near the top of search engine results pages. Moreover, a LinkedIn page can be created and, for the most part, left alone. This differs from most other social media accounts, which look delinquent if they are not updated regularly.
Beyond LinkedIn, the use of additional social media platforms depends on an organization’s primary competitive advantage, its business and marketing goals, and its customer base. A convenience store may be on LinkedIn to attract new suppliers and look legitimate to customers searching its geographic area for “convenience stores”. However, a convenience store does not stand to significantly benefit from social media use due to its business model. Convenience stores compete on their location and their limited inventory of commonly in-demand items. Someone stopping at a convenience store is usually stopping there because the store was on their way to another destination, and they do not have time to shop in a larger store for an item. In the convenience store case, building a social media community on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr is unlikely to drive more people to want to pay premium prices for everyday commodities unless they already have to.
Businesses that compete on price and quality are much more likely to reap profitable benefits from social media and digital marketing. For example, a consignment shop that sells handcrafted items stands to significantly benefit from social media marketing. The shop can take advantage of social media’s low cost, direct marketing model, and targeting tools. The shop can use social media to capture the uniqueness of its wares, quickly inform its customers of new products, and increase its consignees’ visibility to handcrafted product enthusiasts.
Moreover, social media can greatly assist companies with certain marketing objectives. For example, a manufacturer who experienced a public relations crisis may want to use a professional social media presence to engage public opinion proactively and demonstrate steps it has taken to remedy the cause of the crisis. Additionally, newer companies, or those new to a market, can use social media to cost-effectively raise brand awareness and encourage consumers to try their brand through positive social media interactions. A company may also want to show off a new feature on an existing product in a way that can go “viral” and appear more organic to consumers than a paid mass media advertising campaign. A good example would be a company that manufactures football helmets may would want to demonstrate how one of its new helmet designs can reduce head injuries.
Some companies’ products and services cater to demographics that require them to have a strong social media presence. Despite the widespread adoption of social media, younger people are still the most proactive users of social media. The buying power of the younger generations is still significantly less than the more aged generations. However, for retailers and service providers to access the buying power that is there, they must place their advertising and brand where their potential customers are. For many younger Americans, that place is on a phone, using a social media app such as Instagram or Snapchat.
In closing, a business’ level of social media involvement and investment varies based on several overlapping factors. What is most important to remember though is that any social media marketing campaign must be done well. Business managers and owners must analyze their business situation to understand how they may be able to benefit from using social media, as well as what resources it will require to effectively implement a social media campaign. A poorly coordinated or produced campaign, a campaign without a clear purpose or message, or a campaign that is not maintained can easily damage an organization’s brand image. Moreover, brand damage can occur if the resources allocated to implement a social media campaign are inadequate to match the quality of a competitor’s campaign.