It's difficult to turn on the TV or pick up the newspaper without being bombarded with the latest tweeting, friending/unfriending and blogging chatter. Whether a member of Congress is doing something incredibly dumb or the nonprofits you adore are sharing their latest triumphs, it seems everyone, plus all their brothers and sisters, are caught up in social media!
Everyone has a story to tell of a long-lost friend rediscovered, a business associate who happened to catch someone's eye or the latest best deal uncovered online. It is a heady and exciting time to be a citizen of this global community. But is it possible to harness these tools to drive traffic, build your brand and promote your business? How will it be possible for you to assess just exactly how effective your social media marketing campaign is? To answer some of these questions, we turned to one of our online friends, who just happens to be an electronic marketing guru.
We met David Mullings several years ago as he was finding great success on YouTube for the business Web site he built with his brother Robert. The two brothers call RealVibez.com a multinational brand that unites music, culture, technology and everyday island life. According to the site, RealVibez.com "chronicles the best in Caribbean film, television, music and pop culture."
The brothers launched the site while David was still a graduate student working toward his MBA. Today, he uses many of the techniques and strategies developed for his Web site to help other online denizens find marketing success through social media.
We asked Mullings how an online seller could use these powerful tools most effectively, and he was happy to share. For the sake of our discussion, we asked Mullings to assume our seller sold pet supplies, specifically a self-cleaning litter box. Mullings was ready to get started.
The goal is starting a conversation with your customers, not just broadcasting one-way messages and hoping for action
Start a conversation
First, he told us to remember the purpose of marketing a product through social media outlets. Sure, the purpose is to sell litter boxes, but the goal of the campaign itself is "starting a conversation with your customers, not just broadcasting one-way messages and hoping for action," Mullings says.
As for how many and which social media sites to try, Mullings had some good thoughts. "My first advice would be to start with fewer [social media sites] first and get the hang," he says.
"In terms of the litter boxes, that seems like a Facebook Fan page approach would work," he continues. "The page would encourage people to share their stories about life after purchasing the litter box, essentially testimonials. Nothing beats product testimonials, as we all know. He could also encourage people to post pictures of their cats, too."
You don't spend much time on Facebook without quickly seeing that people love all things pets on the site. Giving your customers a place to share their cat stories is a great place to start.
Next, Mullings recommends creating some YouTube videos. "YouTube videos about products are easy to make, and while they may not get thousands of views, they show up in search results if the right tags are added," he says. "That can help generate more publicity for products."
But it's not only the product that will be getting good exposure. "It is also great to actually see the person you are buying from, since it increases the trust factor," Mullings notes. "This can be the biggest obstacle to purchasing on eBay."
Videos are especially helpful when you want to show how your product works, how to get started with the new litter box and if you'd like to offer some user guides for caring for the box, as well as troubleshooting any potential problems. In this way, you not only provide the product, but you also become the expert in making best use of it. Who better than you to highlight the best of your product?
Get to know your audience
With all the rapid advancements there have been in social media, Mullings is still a big supporter of the good old blog "because of the great visitor data you get and the search engine rankings possible," he says. "Always have a blog, but take your time. It doesn't have to be extremely popular to be effective. Think long term, always," he advises. According to Mullings, blogs fit with social media in that the two reinforce each other.
If you intend to market yourself, make sure you are comfortable with the spotlight and can deal with negative comments
We've long been supporters of a well-produced blog. You can use your blog (here's Mullings') to demonstrate your expertise in your product area, provide guidance, and advice to your prospective customers and drive your social media efforts. First, you'll post to your blog, then you'll post links to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Once you've posted links to your new blog entry, you'll be "engaging" your customers instead of bombarding them or interrupting them with advertisements.
Mullings recommends taking your time to identify who your customers are likely to be, and what will likely engage them. For example, once you've created your Facebook Fan page for your business, load it with relevant links. For our example of the self-cleaning litter box, you can load the page with links to animal welfare organizations, trusted veterinary advice, pet nutrition information, and adoption and advocacy groups. Anything you think your customers would be interested becomes another touch point between you and them.
"Spending time to categorize the various people you would like to target makes it immensely easier to plan your marketing strategy because it will be easier to figure out where your audience is and how to get relevant information to them," Mullings writes in his electronic book, Social Media for Entrepreneurs.
Develop a thick skin
While thinking about where your customers are likely to be, also keep Mullings' last piece of sage advice in mind: "If you intend to market yourself, make sure you are comfortable with the spotlight and can deal with negative comments," he writes. We all know how easily online posters forget their manners, and resort to crude and often inflammatory rhetoric online. If you're going to post, you'll need to be prepared to ignore these.
"Entrepreneurs who step into the spotlight must have tough skin, like politicians, and be able to ignore negative comments," Mullings says.
Still, if you have the skin for it, spreading the word about your e-commerce business across the Web it occupies can potentially open a rich, creative and rewarding marketing tool for you and your business.