Go back only a small number of years, where the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were simply unheard of. We have since entered a social media age, whereby people are constantly communicating through online channels, “liking” pages on Facebook, Tweeting and in general interacting with one another in an entirely new way.
For businesses, Social Media has become a godsend and in my opinion is an absolute essential tool in running a business in the 21st century, with 75% of businesses owning a company page on social platforms (The Social Times, 2014). Yes, businesses did well before social media arrived on the scene, however social media allows businesses to spread the word of their brand easily and gives customers an experience that allows a more personal engagement with a business, whether that be a large multi national brand or your local barber – and customers expect this engagement too nowadays. Social media presence benefits business owners and consumers alike.
First of all, Social Media allows a business to expand its brand awareness. Having a website allows new customers to discover a business in a few seconds thanks to search engines such as Google and Bing, whilst social media presence on Facebook and Twitter allows this to happen too. Current customers help spread the word of the business, simply by “liking” a business on Facebook, this informs their online friends of their action, and encourages others to do the same, creating new customers.
There also paid promotional tools available on Social Media which are a guaranteed way of increasing awareness of the business in the online space. Facebook in particular has an excellent advertising platform which allows users to specify a gender, location and age to target. This could be to promote a post, for example a promotion that is being offered in store, or to increase the businesses reach overall. This is a proven way for the online community to discover a business, thus creating more in store customers. Social Media allows businesses to minimise the cost of advertising and marketing as posts can be made for free, or if a business decides to use paid promotional tools, these are relatively inexpensive, although the more that is spent, the more effective promotion is.
For customers, a businesses social media page allows a much more personal interaction between themselves and the business, creating a build up of customer rapport. Facebook and Twitter, two of the biggest social networks in the world have allowed customers to communicate directly with businesses in a simple and easy way, whilst also offering an insight to business owners about what consumers are saying about the product or service they provide. “Social Listening” is what this is called, whereby business owners “listen” to consumer’s thoughts on the brand. Negative comments can sometimes occur; however, these can help improve the business over time. This is also benefits the business by not having to be in office to communicate directly with customers, as smartphones, tablets and laptops have allowed these interactions to take place, any time, any where.
Instagram, a popular photo and video sharing service is becoming ever more popular with businesses. This is because it offers a simple way of promoting a brand or product by posting a photo or video online. This can also be used as a way to show to customers a behind the scenes look at the day to day running of the business, something that wouldn’t have been possible before without the help of these social media services. Again, this allows customers to feel more involved with the business itself and offers more personal interaction with brands.
Even though Social Media has a proven track record of increasing customers or increasing the customer experience, it is vitally important that online resources are updated on a daily basis, making customers aware of what the brand or product is about or keeping customer up to date with promotions or services. Online users are unlikely to interact with a business if their online presence is only a few posts every couple of weeks or so.
I’m also aware there are certain people that are very reluctant toward social media and will never use it, stereotypically the older generation. It is true to say that younger generations are more accustomed to online services, and are more likely to use them, but it isn’t to say that older generations aren’t using social media at all.
Like anything, there are pitfalls to social media use within business. Social Media is a lot more time consuming than traditional marketing methods, as I mentioned above, it has to be updated frequently to be effective. However, businesses do have the option to out-source their online presence to third party companies that specialise in this area, or employ a member or staff to specifically deal with social media. It is also true to say that traditional marketing methods are still needed and useful, so a combination of both traditional and digital marketing is advised. Another potential pitiful of social media is that businesses are becoming more wary of what staff are posting on their personal social media profiles. Its been known in the past that staff have been fired from positions due to posts on social media because it could portray the company in a negative manner.
Overall though, I believe the benefits outweigh the negatives of social media use within business, and I truly believe that it is essential for a business to have presence online for them to survive in todays tough economic environment. The online generation is here, and businesses need to adapt to this to survive.
The Social Times, 2014, 10 reasons why social media is good for business. Available from: http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/social-media-good-business/501266 [accessed 16.08.15)