Written on December 7, 2010 Leave a Comment |
If you’re a small business owner, everybody’s telling you that you need to be on Twitter; that you need a Facebook page; that you need to be Linked-In; that you have to be “LIKED” at least twice a week, and maybe you just don’t understand why? Maybe all you’re getting from Facebook is a scroll of Farmville results – or on Twitter – a bunch of announcements concerning people’s dietary habits. Yadda yadda yadda.
And you might be asking: how does any of that crap make you money?
Setting the technology aside for a minute, let’s talk strategy: why is social networking important to you, why is it relevant, and why you should be paying attention to it?
When the modern Internet was launched in the early 1990′s, it was a very stale place. Websites were just billboards and online brochures. It wasn’t very interactive. It was boring. And to be able to use the technologies, you had to be pretty good at computer science. In tech circles, we call this era Web 1.0.
Web 1.0 ended around the year 2000 when new technologies emerged that allowed anybody with a computer to participate on the web. Using web-based tools that most could understand, people could reply to questions, engage in conversation, upload documents and pictures, and write a blog. Around 2005, it became very easy for anybody to upload audio and video and distribute that content for free to a mass audience. Search engines made finding really obscure stuff on the Internet easy to find. Plus, social networks allowed people to connect and form interpersonal relationships on the web. This era is referred to as Web 2.0, and a lot of experts would say we’re still in Web 2.0 today.
What Web 2.0 did is enable people to participate online and interact with each other, essentially transforming the computer from a simple tool to a mass communications device. Web 2.0 technologies – combined with broadband and mobile devices like smart phones and tablets – allow us to interact with each other constantly, sharing information in a mass medium that’s practically costless.
Now, the transformation of the computer and the Web from tool to a social communications device is the key thing to see here.
Increasingly, the technologies that are driving Web 2.0 are interconnecting us in a social web of interconnectedness that’s easy to use and socially-engaging. In Web 2.0, the computer just ain’t a tool – it’s a gateway to friends, family, associates, colleagues, vendors, and customers. It’s a social place for fun and sharing. It transformed the computer into something else, a converged device, that works to reinforce those connections as well as be productive.
Web 2.0 technology is costless as compared to traditional media (print, television, and radio). That makes it a very affordable marketing medium for the small to mid-range business.
With Web 2.0, word-of-mouth advertising principles are operating at the speed of light. What somebody says about your brand, product, or service can be immediately distributed to hundreds or thousands of potential customers everywhere, all at once. What are they saying about you?
With Web 2.0, customers are looking to get closer to brands, and brands can obtain a personalization about them that appears more open and friendly. Consumers can interact with a brand, even upload more content they’ve created (like pictures, reviews, video, or audio) that either speak well of a brand or chastise it. And if something positive or negative “goes viral” where it’s seen by thousands of people overnight, then that has consequences, too.
With Web 2.0, brands are able to keep TOMA – Top of Mind Awareness – by constantly being plugged into a listening audience who willingly your messages on their computers and mobile devices. And it costs nothing to do this. That kind of marketing presence just wasn’t economically possible under traditional media.
Also, we can use Web 2.0 to our own advantage by being able to collect feedback from customers: to listen and to respond to their praise and complaints. Social networking gives you a voice.
A social networking strategy is important because the web is becoming increasingly social. Consumers expect brands to be available for solicitation and feedback, and just as easily connected-to as their friends. Further, customers will turn more towards their friends for advice on products and services. “Hey,” somebody will write on their Facebook Wall, “does anybody know of a good plumber?” Then, a couple of their friends will respond with links to social networking profiles of companies that offer this service and with whom they’ve done business with. There will be reviews, video, feedback, and expertise.
What’s critical to note here is that a person looking for a plumber didn’t Google the plumber. Instead, they asked their friends. And their friends referred them online. Companies like Facebook are – right now – transforming the Internet based off this idea: people trust their friends more than a search engine, and this is how “search” will be conducted in the future.
So, if you don’t engage in a social strategy, here’s what you’re missing out on:
1. A way to inexpensively interact with your customers in a way that they’re growing increasingly accustomed to, making it easier to do business with you.
2. A voice to control the message and listen to your customers to make corrective action to your services and products.
3. TOMA with a listening audience who literally subscribe to what you have to say, where you can constantly demonstrate your market knowledge and expertise, and the value you bring over your competitors.
4. The next generation of “search” where referrals are passed by trusted friends, associates, and families, rather than through search engines like Google. You can’t be trusted or seen if you’re not there.
5. Finally, a means of inspiring your audience to contribute to your brand – to be a part of the services and experiences you offer – by uploading their own content, and participating/engaging with your company.
Some folks would say that the world we’re heading into would be Web 3.0. Myself, I’m not so sure, but surely an evolution is afoot, one that turns this clunky tool we’re using into something much more powerful that interconnects all of us. And it’s that interconnection – the value added through millions upon millions of more voices – that will continue to drive this technology. That’s why it’s important to you and your business. Your brand needs to be listening, improving, engaging, and one of those voices talking back to the social consumer.