Navigating the Era of Social Media
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the most relevant conference on Social Media, EngagePrague organised by SocialBakers, a global social media analytics company. On top of being really excited by the inspiring atmosphere of the event and its great speakers from all over the world, I could summarise my feelings during and after the conference as follow:
Without a doubt, we are living in the era of social media;
We need to engage in social media, both as companies and as individuals, in the most appropriate way according to the style of the business and our desired personal branding;
I could not agree more with the slogan of the conference: think social first.
Before addressing the huge potential social media can offer us, let’s first establish a basic definition of social media. “Social media is web-based communications tool that enables people to interact with each other by both sharing and consuming information.” Social media is becoming an integral part of online life as social websites and applications continue to proliferate, while most traditional online media include social components, such as comment fields for users. In business, social media is used to market products, promote brands, connect with current customers, and foster new business opportunities. Popular social media tools and platforms include blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube and LinkedIn.
Social Media is much like a child, growing and changing incredibly fast. As new players enter the market, old players are losing their market positions and every player is moving in one or the other direction according to what users want, how they use social media, and what content becomes more popular.
The three key players within social media are: users, advertisers and social platforms. The nature of the relationship among the three players is one marked by interdependency. Users want to have a place to engage and can do so on social platforms, these in turn need to be paid for, and advertisers cover these costs and also use the platforms to reach users. Now, thanks to social media users/customers and businesses/advertisers can interact.
Research suggests that the majority of internet users get their news via social media, which means people are using these platforms for much more than simple entertainment. Increasingly, we are all using social media in the context of work (whether to take a mental break on the job and/or for professional networking). Facebook usage and engagement is on the rise, while adoption of other platforms holds steady, With over 1,870 million active users, Facebook remains the biggest social media platform. Facebook's dominance is truly extraordinary (Figure 1). Facebook Messenger has an impressive 47 penetration rate, and Instagram (also owned by Facebook) comes second in engagement.
Figure 1: Facebook and the Social Media Landscape. Data from Smartinsights
Every social media channel has a different audience because every channel has or at least should publish different content. There’s truly something for everyone, and that’s definitely part of the appeal. But why is social media so popular? First of all, it gives people the opportunity to meet and keep in touch with one another, it is extremely user friendly and accessible, it is free to use, it can be used as a source of information and entertainment, it can help people to find jobs, and it’s a cost effective marketing tool for companies of all sizes.
The last point is (in my opinion) the most revolutionary from a business standpoint. Can you imagine a small business advertising in magazines or on TV? Absolutely impossible, right? They would never have the resources to do so. Now, thanks to social media, every business – big or small – has access to and can use the same channels, even if at different scale. A small business can promote its products internationally, a non profit organisation can share its activities with a wider audience, an artist can reach a much wider audience, and professionals can connect with potential employers anywhere in the world.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing (SMM) is a form of internet marketing that utilises social networking sites as marketing tools. SMM is an amazing way for businesses to increase their visibility and exposure, create and maintain relationships with potential or existing customers, and analyse the market to understand customer needs as well as other companies’ strategies. Social media marketing represents a multitude of functions and opportunities because it allows:
Businesses to interact with their customers;
Customers to discover new products, read reviews and feedback from other existing clients;
Customers to communicate with businesses, i.e. to make a complaint or share other feedback;
Communities to get together, people from different countries, cultures and nationalities can be part of the same social media group because of similar opinions, interests and lifestyles;
To be global while being local: social media channels have no geographic boundaries, both brands and clients can be everywhere in the virtual global space.
Even if some people still believe that social media is a passing marketing interest and some entrepreneurs think it’s just a buzzword with no practical advantages and a steep, complicated learning curve, in general, companies and brands now understand the importance of social media marketing to increase sales, even if they still aren’t fully sure how to achieve those results. This is why even if many companies want to have or already have a digital and social media presence, only few of them have a comprehensive digital and social media strategy. This is also connected to the fact that many companies still lack internal digital skills and understanding.
All in all, even if everybody uses social media for personal purposes, having a successful social media strategy for your business is another story, which includes lots of competencies (from marketing and analytics, to digital and graphic design), skills and time. Taking that into account, when a brand thinks about developing a social media footprint it’s important to define the expected goals (i.e. sales, visibility, brand awareness or reputation) and the social media strategy to achieve those goals.
It’s evident that if planning is important, listening to your audience is a must to understand your potential market and analyse your competitors, which will allow you to perform better than them. By listening to your audience, their likes and dislikes, you can gain a lot of important insights, such as what they think of your product and what needs improvements, and define what kind of content to post on your social media platform. When defining your content you have to keep one main concept in mind: you need to write content that your audience will engage with, that your audience will be willing to share.
The Four Main Pillars of Social Media Marketing
Social media is indeed a powerful medium that can unite, inform, and move people. One post can start a chain of events that changes the world. Despite the wide variety of platforms, types of users and forms of content available on social today, SocialBakers underlined four main pillars to making an impact on social media:
Create Compelling Content: you need to be thinking in terms of your community and audience. What does your community want to hear from you that they would want to share with their own friends and family?
Care for your Customers: the of social customer care of interacting with customers is the future and smart companies are already embracing these new trends to meet the demands of their customers;
Connect Social to Your Business: use social media as a tool to help you connect with your community and adapt your business strategy accordingly to show your customers that you hear them;
Your Social Media Data: build a data-driven strategy by clearly defining your goals and objectives.
Now, if you still want to win on Social Media, then move yourself and your brand from the centre of the universe. If you want to think social first, put your audience first.
Chiara Caligara is Founder and Managing Partner at Brite