Yesterday, a prospective client called. He was having difficulty convincing his company management to budget for social media, and he posed an excellent question to me: Why should a successful established niche B2B company spend time, money, and resources on social media?
I think the answer lies in understanding that social media is not distinct from other online marketing efforts; it is really part of the same effort, one of the many levers that could be pulled to reach strategic objectives. It is just one part of a smart integrated marketing strategy. While SEO is used to drive traffic to your website, and advertising is used to build awareness, social media works in concert with all the others efforts and aims to get more people to talk more frequently in more places about your products, services, and company, with the goal of selling more products, more frequently, and at higher margins.
From what my client told me, they had been able to generate excellent word of mouth referrals and that has been a great source of sales leads. This is awesome and I suspect the same business qualities that have enabled them to generate this word of mouth, could be extended online.
Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in both the quantity and quality of online social interactions. Facebook just hit 350 million users. Millions of people write nearly 6 million tweets per day, and YouTube streams more than one billion videos in a day. People are commenting, social bookmarking, sharing and socializing online, both personally and professionally. So, the obvious question is: how could they extend what was successful in face-to-face interactions to the social realm of the Internet.
After a cursory examination of their website, it was clear that they should start with SEO. This became obvious after I did a Google search for the keywords they used in their metadata and on their site and did not find their site after looking six pages deep in the Google search results. Ideally, they want to show up on the first page, hopefully near the top.
If you haven’t yet optimized for search STOP everything else and go do this NOW! It is absolutely crucial for you to figure out what your customers type into the Google search bar when they have the problem that your company solves! You need to know exactly what they type; these are the keywords that you should use in the copy of your website, as well as in the metadata. The Google keyword tool can help you figure this out. If you don’t know how to use this tool call me (831) 239-6745 and I will help.
Doing this will make it much easier for your future customers to find you, and more likely that they find you before they find your competition. You can work in your differentiation points around the keywords. SEO is key, and if you have a website that’s not optimized for search, a huge part of the benefit of having a website is being wasted and sales are being lost. Social media can be great to make people aware of who you are and SEO can help them easily find you when they need you.
Not only will social efforts reach and influence people directly, they will improve search ranking. The more your site is linked to by other sites, the higher it will place in Google results, especially if the linked text is the same as your keywords and if the links come from well respected high traffic or academic websites.
Another factor that influences page rank is the "freshness" of your site; a measure of how current the information is and when it was last updated, as well as, the frequency of updates. A blog can help with this.
The sales will organically come both directly through these interactions and indirectly as part of the resulting brand equity and presence. All else being equal, people do business with people they know and like. Go build relationships, become known, be likeable and helpful.
Social media is a set of tools and techniques that are used to do exactly what you have been doing via traditional methods for years - getting people to be interested in and to comment about your products, services, and company. The great thing is that when it’s done online, it can reach more people more quickly and at the right time.
Most of all, social media is storytelling - tell your story and you will differentiate yourself from your competition. Give your customers something to relate to, something they can remember. One key to success lies in understanding that stories are told and consumed differently on the Internet than in traditional media or in person. They are told in snippets; a video here, a comment there and an insightful blog post – what emerges is a picture who you are, what you stand for, and why your customers rely on you. This is your brand image.
You have the choice to make your website a static online catalog or a dynamic experience for your audience. One is not that much more difficult than the other. You also have the choice to embrace the social internet and create a presence that extends past the walls of your website, or go about business as usual. The choice is yours but I tell you that your competition will sooner or later do this. The social internet is still in its infancy and you have the opportunity to benefit from early mover advantage. When you do this, make sure that your efforts and the tactics you choose are guided by your greater marketing strategy.
First and foremost, whomever you choose to work with must understand your business. Many companies struggle with social media because they rely on so called social media “experts” who know the social tools, but lack the marketing background and strategic experience to understand their prospective clients’ business and their unique challenges. Look for a consultant who listens more than they talk and who is asking salient, probing questions about you and about your business. They should be able to explain how the social web is changing the relationship between customers and companies and, in turn, how that is changing the definition of “brand” and what customers expect of brands. They should also be able to share with you their success stories of working with other clients, both in traditional marketing and social efforts. Make sure they walk their talk and have created an effective social media presence for themselves. And, the last piece of advice is to work with someone you like. Part of their job is to help you understand the world of social media and to help you build relationships, so if they’re not a good communicator and likable, it is a pretty good warning sign that they may not be the right person for you.
I would love to hear your stories and challenges, what you learned, and what I missed in this post; share your thoughts with me here or tweet me@andrewmueller. Thanks for reading!