Using Social Media to Sell

Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, and blogs are getting a lot of attention from marketers, and generating a lot of confusion. Should you use these media? How should you use them? How do you evaluate your results?

Activity in online social media has exploded in the past year or so. The number of people using these media is in many cases counted in the tens of millions. Facebook has more than 200 million users; more than 100 million log into Facebook at least once a day. The fastest-growing demographic for Facebook us users 35 years old and older.

Companies are making money. Computer vendor Dell revealed in June they had passed the US$2-million mark in revenue obtained directly from their Twitter activity for their Dell Outlet site, and another US$1-million from people who entered their website from Twitter. It took Dell just two years from when they started posting their Dell Outlet offers (coupons for exclusive deals) on Twitter, and they now have almost 650,000 people following their Twitter feed!

The Dell case is classic Marketing 101: use a marketing tool (Twitter, in this instance) to offer customers something they cannot get elsewhere. Make the offer attractive, and make offers frequently, with limited time for each offer to be exercised.

Could you do this on FaceBook or MySpace? Sure, you could do something similar on any social media site, or using any social media tool. What you need to do is build your brand on the medium you select. You want to gain a targeted following of people to whom you at least provide useful information, and (better) create a conversation.

Whether you are on Twitter, or Facebook, or MySpace, or your corporate blog or wiki (or all of them), there are some basics.

Your Profile is Important

What does a visitor see when they visit your social media page? A photograph (avatar)? If you want to have a conversation with me, I want to know who I am talking to. A well constructed Twitter (or other social media) page helps you and your company brand stand out. Help your visitors identify with your company and the person(s) from the company they are conversing with. Keep in mind these are business pages. If your personal tastes run to 60s psychedelic color swirls, ask yourself if those colors will work for visitors to your business … would you decorate the lobby like that?

Be Newsworthy

This doesn’t mean you should be re-posting or retweeting headlines from CNN! I probably don’t care what you ate for dinner, or whether your cat hates your canary, or what mood you are in right now. Really. I came to your company page/feed because I am looking for information /deals / assistance from you-as-the-face-of-the-company. If I get the impression your company is clueless, I’m leaving. Now.

Go take a look at Dell’s business homepage, then look at their main Twitter page, their Canadian Facebook page, and finally the Twitter page for the Outlet site leader.

Notice how Dell people stay very focussed on their business message? Notice also the consistency of presentation across those pages.

Dell succeeds because they provide value to their customers and visitors, including asking and answering questions, and regularly seeking the advice and input of their audience.

Try to be Helpful

Try to answer questions, or at least refer the questioner to a source that can help. If you have a product or service that answers the question, better still — you have a targeted lead to work with. There is no harm in retweeting relevant information … just be sure it is relevant!

Being helpful also means being responsive. Dealing with DM’s and @replies can take time, but it can help you build the relationships that are the foundation of social media. Don’t ignore negative feedback — answer it first, politely.

Time is a Gift

When people give you their time, by reading your social network pages or tweets, they are giving you and your company a gift. Don’t waste it.

Do you use social media for your small business? Would you? Let’s discuss.

Footnote Social media is not really new — it has been around almost as long as the Internet. In the very early days, in the 1980s, FidoNet and then Newsgroups provided venues for conversations. In the 90s CompuServe and AOL attracted huge numbers of people to Forums where discussions ranged from business to personal. Web 2.0 has simply made the conversations more specific while multiplying the number of venues available.

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