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Seven Things Social Media Marketing Can Do for Your Business

It's vacation time. You load your family in the minivan, pull out of the driveway, and say, "Okay! Where are we going on vacation?" As you pull away from the house, you realize you didn't buy gas, book plane tickets, pack, study the map to know your route, make reservations at a hotel, or arrange for someone to feed the dog. Worst of all, you left without even knowing what your destination was.

That's what happens when you don't create goals for a business venture. Even something as simple as signing up for a single social network to do a few tests shouldn't be left to chance.

To understand what you're going to get out of anything, you first have to have goals just to measure whether your efforts are successful. If you don't, you're racing down the highway toward your unknown destination: You're lost, but you're making great time.

Starting with Chapter 5, "Make Some Noise: Social Media Marketing Aids in Branding and Awareness," we're going to dive deeply into the seven things social media marketing does for your business:

  • Enhance branding and awareness
  • Protect brand reputation
  • Enhance public relations
  • Build community
  • Enhance customer service
  • Facilitate research and development
  • Drive leads and sales

In our experience, these seven areas cover just about everything you can expect your business to accomplish using social media marketing. And the three core business metrics—increasing sales, decreasing costs, and improving customer satisfaction—are built in to many of them, implicitly and sometimes explicitly.

The strategic approach to social media marketing is to review these seven areas, identify which are a good fit for your organizational goals, then map your goals, objectives, and, eventually, measures of success from there.

1. Enhance Branding and Awareness

The image of your product in the market. Its perception to others (and not you).

It is important to look at your brand from the eyes of your customers, partners, and vendors (your stakeholders), not your own. Because you eat, sleep, and breathe your brand, you're going to have an extreme, one-sided perception of it. Negatives will be excused away; positives may be lauded louder than they should.

The marketplace's perception of your brand is far more accurate and indicative of your company's value. Social media marketing can build a more positive brand and increase the public's awareness of you.

Social media marketing can:

  • Increase awareness of your brand.
  • Increase the reach of your brand messaging.
  • Increase online conversations about your brand.
  • Increase consumer preference for your brand over competitors.
  • Increase your brand's Q-Score, or online appeal and familiarity.
  • Increase your brand's online conversational market share—the percentage of industry conversations mentioning you versus your competitors.

2. Protect Brand Reputation

Upholding a positive perception of the brand.

Though considered a subset of branding and awareness, protecting brand reputation is important enough to set aside as its own topic. Sometimes, you need to respond to a crisis, and no amount of marketing speak is going to save you. It is important for a company to listen to online conversations to mitigate any negative (and amplify any positive) claims or conversations. But doing so also protects the reputation of the brand in the eyes of the search engines.

Google doesn't rank your company first in keyword searches because you deserve it—or because you do good and wonderful things. It prioritizes search results it considers the most relevant based on the keywords entered in the search box and what kind of information is being discussed lately. That means, if a lot of people are angry about your company, their complaints are what will be found on Google.

If you want to be the top result for certain keywords, you have to earn it by optimizing your site and its content for search. Social media marketing can

  • Increase positive online mentions and sentiment of the brand
  • Decrease negative online mentions and sentiment of the brand
  • Mitigate all negative online mentions of the brand
  • Rank in the top-five search results on Google, Yahoo!, and Bing for targeted keywords

3. Enhance Public Relations

Building and maintaining relationships with various audiences, or publics, which reflect positively upon the company, organization, or person.

Social media is closely aligned with public relations because the platforms that make up its world are populated by the public. As companies develop strategies and tactics to communicate with their audiences, they look for mediums the audiences watch, read, or listen to. Social media platforms have become one of those mediums.

As a result, social media marketing has evolved as a convenient extension of public relations, incorporating elements of media relations, crisis communications, event planning, community relations, internal communications, and more. In fact, almost every facet of a traditional public relations program has some sort of translation into the online and social media world.

Social media marketing can

  • Build and maintain relationships directly with customers and stakeholder groups
  • Publicize organization initiatives through blogger and influencer outreach
  • Improve the communications success of community or internal initiatives
  • Facilitate critical crisis communications in often a more expedient fashion than traditional media
  • Empower greater public participation than traditional approaches by removing a media filter between a company and its public

4. Build Community

Growing an audience of consumers (of product or content) to serve as an advocacy or word-of-mouth marketing channel.

This is sometimes considered the golden cow of the social media world. Building community ultimately makes a social media marketer's job easy. Community means loyal customers, raving fans, and product evangelists.

With loyal fans and advocates rushing to defend your company when it is criticized, or amplifying your new ideas and messages to the market, strong brand communities and their advocates move a brand into gold-standard territory. Think of Apple iPhone users, Moleskine notebook fans, or the Maker's Mark Ambassadors Club.

Whether cultivating that community through a robust, branded social network or just informally connecting enthusiasts with your company in loosely tied conversations, brands are doing it.

Social media marketing can

  • Increase your number of fans, followers, friends, or readers
  • Grow your opt-in email marketing list
  • Increase the number of your affinity or loyalty club members
  • Increase fan-generated advocacy and promotion of your brand initiatives
  • Increase fan-generated defense of your brand in negative conversations

5. Enhance Customer Service

Facilitating customer needs through proactive and reactive communications (on- and offline).

Enhancing customer service is the most popular way of using social media marketing, perhaps because it is the easiest of the seven functions to fulfill. When all you have to do is ask "how can I help" to someone complaining on Twitter, customer service through social media can not only reduce the call center costs, but can also even boost word-of-mouth marketing.

Social media marketing can drive customer service in a few ways. Note the overlap with reputation protection. This is important because a lot of customer complaints can produce similar reputation results as a product crisis.

Social media marketing can

  • Increase your customers' satisfaction levels
  • Reduce your call center costs
  • Increase positive online mentions and sentiment of your brand
  • Decrease negative mentions and sentiment of your brand

6. Facilitate Research and Development

Idea generation, improvement creation, and market research.

Some companies have benefited greatly by getting ideas, complaints, and suggestions from their customers. This collaboration, sometimes called "open source" collaboration, enables the product development department to get new ideas and the marketing department to see what their customers need. Dell's IdeaStorm, a product and feature suggestion and voting site, is the most popular example of social media marketing as research and development (R&D).

If building community is the golden cow of social media marketing, facilitating research and development within that community is nirvana. By tapping into the vested interest and intelligence of your customers, fans, and even detractors, you can harvest ideas that lead to new products, product features, and even profits.

Social media marketing can

  • Generate new product ideas for your company
  • Improve your product features
  • Improve your service lines
  • Generate market research for your company
  • Generate sales for your company from R&D activities

7. Drive Leads and Sales

Sales of products or services or leads which produce them.

Yes, social media marketing can drive leads and even sales. And no, it's not just some mystical, magical by-product of "joining the conversation." You can prescribe goals and objectives around sales using social media. And you can measure them accordingly.

Social media marketing can

  • Generate leads and sales from blog visitors
  • Generate leads and sales from social channel interactions (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Increase conversion rates
  • Increase repeat and referral business
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