How Company should use Social Media as Marketing Tool

During Thanksgiving 2010, shoppers in America just experienced a unique Black Friday, when the large number of specials and promotions were offered by retailers by using location-based apps and services. Users of social networks like Foursquare and Facebook Places got discounts just by checking in to their Black Friday shopping destinations. In addition, many retailers used Facebook and Twitter to promote their early-bird specials in advance of the big shopping day. Coremetrics Benchmark™ Report showed that this year’s Black Friday had a 15.9% online sales growth in comparison to Black Friday in 2009. Also appeared in the report is a world “Social Shopping”, which is defined as consumers increasingly savvy about their favorite brands’ social presence, and are turning to their networks on social sites for information about deals and inventory levels[1].

Nowadays, social media is playing a more and more important role on marketing and cooperation’s integrated communications. If Internet costs people less money and time to communicate with each other and allows people to cultivate many more relationships, social media costs cooperation less money and time to build up relationships with their target audience/partiner, and create social impact more instantly and effectively. Social media is no longer simply a platform for reconnecting with classmates, colleagues and friends; it has become an essential marketing tool for brand management, product promotion, and effective public relation.

This fact was supported by a series of meaningful data collected by some previous studies. As early as July 2010, Nielsen company released a report stating that nearly three fourth of global internet users have ever visited social media websites or blogs and spent averagely 6 hours per month on these sites. As early as August 2010 data from comScore showed that time spent on Facebook was greater than time spent on Google sites in the U.S. for the first time ever. In the meantime, Yahoo continues its downward slide[2].

According to the latest report from L2 Think Tank, 81% of upscale Gen Yers (average age: 27) use Facebook every day, nearly twice the number who watch TV or read newspaper content. Among 535 “high-achieving and high-earning” Gen Y adults who participated the study, 63% use social media to engage with brands and more than 50% say that Facebook, blogs and brand videos affect their opinions about products[3].

As to the situation global wide, Nielsen’s Asia Pacific Social Media Report showed that among the 7 biggest global online brands, 3 of them are social media websites – Facebook, Wikipedia, and Youtube. Close to three quarters of the world’s Internet population (74%) have now visited a social networking/blogging site, and Internet users are spending an average of almost six hours per month on social media sites. More than that, social media is having an increasing impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Online product reviews were listed right behind family and friends’ recommendations as the third most trusted source of information when making purchase decisions[4].

All of these trends illustrated that the flow of marketing dollars toward the social web is increasing exponentially. Social media is a key platform that is changing the landscape of audience engagement and customer loyalty and has become a critical element in any company’s PR and marketing efforts. Therefore, for those of people who work in public relation realm or are in charge of cooperation integrated communication, social media engagement must be in their radar.

From Ford, to Dell, to Starbucks, to Jet Blue, some companies with digital insights have already pioneered early uses of social media for business. However, 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report showed that marketers are mostly new to social media — a significant 65% of marketers surveyed have only been involved with social media marketing for a few months or less[5].  By reviewing and studying their successful cases, I concluded four important aspects that cooperation could follow as their communications and marketing strategy on social media.

1) Create Unique Profiles

For a company, having a LinkedIn profile is like having a resume, creating a Facebook Fan Page is like creating a PR portfolio, setting up Twitter account is like building up an instant massage release system. In virtual world, social media is powerful tool to brand yourself and establish ties with your target audience. Facebook pages, Twitter lists, LinkedIn groups and YouTube channel favorites are all terrific means to identify new leads, because these are all user-created, pre-populated lists that will assist a business in quickly identifying targeted individuals or brands.

Creating unique profiles on most popular social media websites and actively updating them will help expand your business. Lesson from a small business – Tom Bihn, a Seattle-based bag manufacturer, could be learnt. The following list reflected how they successfully managed their social profiles.

  • TomBihn.com forums — customers could share their experiences of their Tom Bihn bags, offer advice for selecting the right bag to new customers, and post reviews/pictures of their experiences.
  • TomBihn’s lively blog – a mainstream hub of the latest company information and new product launch.
  • TomBihn Flickr group – Informative photos show how much can fit inside a bag (and weight) and how items look once they’re in the bag, with some interesting customers’ comments.
  • Tom Bihn’s Facebook fan page – There are posts to the wall a few times a week by both fans and the company. Gray posts status updates such as photos and links to new products, reviews as well as shipping deals. The company also incorporates its blog posts and YouTube Channel videos into the fan page.
  • Demo Videos on Youtube – The videos are thorough demonstrations of a bag’s features — often by Tom Bihn himself. They cover topics including what he uses a particular bag for, items he fits in which compartments, accessories he uses with it and what the bag is made of[6].

TomBihn built up engagement among members on various social media platforms, but each social media platform has unique content that doesn’t overlap with the other platforms the company is on. At the mean time, they’re integrated and linked to each other.  Similar with how should traditional media react to new media, companies should avoid “shovelware” – simply shoving contents from one media platform to another. Instead, what TomBihn taught us was that taking use of unique features of different social media sites would help you showcase your business in a more comprehensive and integrated way.

2) Make Connections

For those companies who have owned various social media profiles, how to generate more traffic to each site could be the next touch objective to achieve. Companies need to identify who is their target audience and where do they interact online and what are the methods that make sense for getting in front of them. In my opinion, those people who the company brings in virtually are mostly from those they bring through real life. And connections are usually made correspondingly with other marketing stratgies and campaigns, such as word-of-mouth and regular PR campaigns.

First of all, you want to target people who are willingly connect and target you. Because this group is already interested, it is important to let them know the existing of your social media websites. You can put a button on your website for people to friend you, follow you, and link in with you. This is also where you should combine your social media marketing strategy with other marketing strategies. Grasshopper, an entrepreneurs’ phone system company, successfully utilized direct mail marketing to promote an online video before they launched their business. Prior to its launch, the company mailed 5,000 bags of grasshoppers covered with chocolate to influencers in their line of business. Website traffic increased by 4,911%, 144,843 video views with 162 comments within a month. The traffic brought to the videos in return helped promote their newly born business as well.

Secondly, you should know where your target market or partners go for meetings or business events and engage with them there to strengthen your footprint. People are willing to put conferences they attend on LinkedIn or other events on Facebook and Twitter. For example, many conferences and events use a hash tag to create crowd on certain topic. Being able to reference or collaborate with conference attendees in this manner is a good opportunity to meet with other professionals and make new connections.

Thirdly, you can engage key targets you identified across all social media platforms. Show them you are interested in them and that you are working to understand what they are seeking. For example, Wells-Fargo targets two audiences on their social media sites; one examines the company’s history and the other is for students interested in getting their finances in order. From their blog and Facebook fun pages, young people seeking personal financial management tips could get lots of suggestions. In this case, social media become an informational resource center; it’s not only for fans to simply follow a company, but also to get useful information from doing so.

3) Establish Relationship

Social media could be used as an information release tool, such as posting short news on Facebook wall or twitter, uploading events’ pictures, or creating discussion topics. For example, Ford publishes news releases with lots of multimedia content and employs a social media news release format to display them in their newsroom. In this case, social media is used as a public relation tool for cooperation to more easily establish relationship with media organizations and their partners.

However, another greatest advantage of social media is interactivity – you could tell, while listen. Therefore, utilizing social media to interact with your audience and clients could help build up stronger relationship and generate more profits. For example, Dell leverages a variety of social media platforms for customer engagement, including an island in the virtual world of Second Life. Beyond regular information releasing. Dell utilized these virtual platforms to provide supports for its customers. Dell is also one of the few companies publicly stated that they created a return on investment from Twitter.

Nowadays, people are willing to share unsolicited customer service feedback openly on social media. Regardless of whether it was a positive or negative experience, people will talk about it and either recommend or encourage others to avoid a particular brand. Dell knows how to listen to what customers are saying. Through interacting with their customers on social media, Dell improves and understands what they need to do better to move past its competitors. The positive result is that Dell’s social media efforts help generate “1 million in revenue.”

Starbucks is another smart company who benefits from the relationship with customers through encouraging idea providers online. Starbucks used mystarbucksidea.force.com to improve its image and to tie its customers closer to the brand. Everyone can post suggestions on what could be improved or done differently at Starbucks, as well as submit wish lists for new products. As a result, Starbucks got 70,000 suggestions  from Starbucks clients and won over 1.7 million fans on Facebook. So, listen and engage with those you identified, and engage both reactively and proactively – not only will you reinforce the relationship with your customers, but you will gain a good opportunity to understand them and create more customer values.

4)  Use it as Low-cost Promotion Tool

We all realize the high cost of promoting on traditional media, so why continue investing more into an unknown and immeasurable result? If you’ve already had unique profiles, made prominent connections and established tight relationships through social media platforms, promotion is just a low-budgeted but effective step to go.

Facebook’s “fans” and “Likes” could enable you to collect your customers’ preference information easily. It would first help with target advertising. Now there’re more than 400,000,000 Facebook users published their “likes” through Facebook, from favorite brand to personal product, from articles to videos, which provided accurate customer behavior information and demographic profiles. It’s easier for companies to identify characteristics of their target customers, thus bring the “right” product in front of them. It would secondly help with location based advertising. People like to check in their destinations on Facebook Places or Foursquare, and companies could embed their promotional information into the check-in site or create a creative PR campaign based on this feature.

I recently read that Mall of America runs a Twitter “Parking” Party to fight with the horror of holiday parking at the local mall. According to the news, this year Mall of America will be rewarding their loyal Twitter followers with a VIP ticket to the best parking around. The event is being run through EventBrite where batches of tickets are being released twice a day for a total of 96 spaces. To claim a ticket, a person must follow the mall on Twitter and provide their Twitter name. There are also very specific times for arrival and a print out of the registration is required. The Mall of America is also offering a $25 gift card to the first five people who check-in per day on Foursquare between Dec. 20 through Dec. 23. In addition, on Facebook Places, the Mall of America Youth Foundation will donate $1 each, up to $500 per organization, to VEAP and One Heartland now through Dec. 24[7].

This idea is a great example of how companies can use social media to increase sales. Like what the author said, “it’s all about offering something of value and at this time of year, there’s nothing more valuable than a no-hassle parking spot at the mall.”

If you own a retail location or restaurant you can offer discounts via Twitter, Facebook etc. For example, you can advertise the following message via Twitter, “If you are in our place, tweet it and show the tweet to your server to get a free drink.”  In this case, you are dealing in real time with your client base and also giving people a reason to eat at your restaurant. The great thing about using social media sites in this way is that it’s immediate and cheap. You don’t have to plan ahead of the print run and calculate the print and publsish budget. You can engage with your customer base and get them involved in the discount process much easier.

The above four aspects are what I learnt from reading some social media marketing cases and what I thought could help cooperation better communicate with theirs customers and partners, and expand their social networks. Most of these cases were retrieved from a 2010 summer social media research at http://www.slideshare.net/courtneycarr1119/social-media-4902336.

In summary, social media offers cooperation the opportunity to heighten marketing and public relations on a consistent basis. However, social media could not be seen as a replacement of companies’ current marketing tactics, but instead is an excellent add-on to what companies are currently involved in integrated marketing communication plans.

At the end, I would love to use a graph from 2010 Social Media Marketing Industry Report to restate the benefits of using social media as marketing and PR tool – “Generating exposure”, “Increased my traffic”, “New business partnerships” etc. This graph reflected business professionals’ opinions on social media marketing.

Realizing these multiple benefits social media could bring to business, how can any company dare to reject taking a more serious look at their social media sites and better managing them?

[1] Coremetrics @ http://www.coremetrics.com/solutions/benchmark-report-black-friday-cyber-monday-2010.php


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About conniezhangq

Media Management graduate at Syracuse University, NY
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