How to Succeed in Business with Social Media: Part 1
Most social media websites were created as open digital spaces where family, friends, and work colleagues could fraternize and share information. Today, while these sites continue to serve this function, they are also being leveraged by businesses of all sizes as powerful marketing tools.
Whether you are a sole proprietor or a publicly-traded multinational, a strong social media presence has become a must-have item in any marketing budget. How did social media end up becoming an necessary tool for modern marketers? Quite simply, it's due to the internet's power to influence.
The internet is arguably the most influential technology of all time. While advancements in telecommunications and transportation have contributed to the growth of stronger international relationships, the internet is the key catalyst behind the world's current state of globalization.
The internet's power to influence people began as its popularity and availability grew during the late 1990s and early 2000s. As internet access became more commonplace, the internet's potential as a marketing channel was recognized by a new breed of digital ad men, and pop-ups and banner ads were born.
The explosive growth of e-commerce websites pushed the technology powering the Internet forward. Static banner ads, the equivalent of billboards at the side of the information superhighway, were made obsolete by more advanced online marketing systems offering features like dynamic content, targeted ads based on a visitor's previous activity, and built-in customer relationship management tools.
Business websites, most of which were launched as nothing better than digital hot dog stands, became more sophisticated and engaging. Companies started to pay more attention to new web metrics like traffic sources, bounce rates, and conversion rates.
This decade has seen the online world enter the Golden Age of SEO: search engine optimization. Or more accurately, Google Search optimization. Google is the 800-pound gorilla of search engines, with 8 out of 10 web searches being done through Google Search, according to a May 2018 report from NetMarketShare.
Getting a website to appear on the first page of Google search results is the goal of every corporate marketing department. As a result, SEO has become its own multimillion dollar business, servicing companies that regularly try to second-guess what adjustments Google is making to its search engine algorithms in any given month, in order to move up in Google's search results.
One important web metric from the SEO toolkit is social traffic. Social traffic is the number of website visitors who arrive via a link shared on a social media account. When Google began to include social media links in search results, the business world realized that using social networks to communicate with potential customers was now an essential component of any comprehensive marketing plan.
When looking at business use of social media, you're primarily discussing these most-popular social networking sites:
There are other social networking sites out there, but these are the ones the majority of businesses are currently focusing their energies on.
Every social network has its own format variations, and its own target audience. For example, Facebook offers a broad range of post formats, while Twitter is primarily a text-only medium. LinkedIn and Google+ are both geared towards working professionals, which is reflected by the more formal tone of the content. Pinterest and Instagram tend to be less formal and appeal more to creative types and hobbyists.
Today, the key challenge for businesses using social media is trying to represent their brand in a consistent and strategic fashion, while making the content compelling enough to gain new subscribers to their social media accounts.
Small businesses tend to find it more difficult to expand their social media audience. What can a local auto repair shop, an independent bakery, or a small law firm do to attract people to their Twitter feeds and Facebook pages?
Large corporations have more options available for attracting people to their social media accounts. Larger marketing budgets enable companies to dedicate more resources to producing professional content that appeals to larger groups of people. Microsoft, for example, has a number of dedicated YouTube channels which are regularly updated with high-quality tutorial and promotional videos.
Part of the challenge of building a successful business social media offering is the natural tension that exists between internet users and corporations. This is a strained relationship that has existed since the earliest days of the world wide web.
Internet users have historically found businesses' online presence to be intrusive and overly aggressive. The current popularity of ad blockers and other browser plug-ins hostile towards online marketing is a response to previous overindulgences by less than scrupulous companies.
Social media gives businesses a fast-paced line of communication with current and potential customers. But, this marketing channel comes with high expectations from its target audience. Modern consumers have very short attention spans, and the online competition for their time and attention is fierce. Companies that fail to create engaging content can easily find their social media feeds turn into deserted showrooms.
In Part Two of this article, we'll look at how some businesses have created highly successful social media properties, and what some of the education options are for people who are interested in starting a career as social media experts.