Social media marketing is a huge tool for boosting online exposure and it is increasingly finding its place as a central component of marketing strategies, rather than simply being bolted-on as “something we ought to do”.
It levels the playing field somewhat between SMEs and global brands by way of providing equal access to a global audience, and if executed effectively it can yield impressive results
An RBS CID report commission in October 2011 found that nearly 9 out of 10 (87%) mid-to-large-sized UK companies are going to maintain or increase social media spending in 2012 (source).
But how do you use social media for business? With so many networks and websites out there, how do you know where to best place your precious resources?
I recently attended Travel Technology Europe 2012 to see how many of the companies there are planning to use social media as a way of securing returns in an industry which has been hit heavily by the economic downturn.
I managed to catch up with two businesses that, although similar in size, are at quite different stages of their social media marketing ventures.
Redspottedhanky are an up-and-coming, one-stop shop for buying train tickets and hotel bookings online. I had the pleasure of grabbing a coffee with their co-founder, Gareth Woodhouse, to discuss how Redspottedhanky are using social media networks and digital marketing to gain market share against the likes of thetrainline.com.
Growing an audience takes time, but there is a tipping point
Gareth began by telling me that, as a start-up company nineteen months ago, getting started on Facebook and Twitter was, at times, painfully slow, and growing an audience organically took time. However, once they’d gained traction, the numbers began to rise.
It was quite demoralising to see twenty people entering a competition, but eventually you reach that tipping point and it begins to spread out; it goes out onto more walls, you begin to talk to [followers] through Facebook and Twitter and you get more customers.
With over 9,000 Facebook likes and 2,500 Twitter followers, Redspottedhanky understand the importance of cultivating an audience in order to have your message heard, and stimulating brand loyalty. That said, they also appreciate the ever-changing challenges that social media presents. Woodhouse explains,
Our biggest challenge [over the next 12 months] will be keeping our Facebook and Twitter fresh, and finding new ways to engage and interact with our audience and evolving our techniques for growing our audience further.
Social media spend has increased by 400%
More and more businesses are realising the power of social media and their marketing budgets are reflective of this shift. In relation to their overall budget Gareth tells me, “Social media is the channel that has seen the biggest proportional [marketing] spend by a considerable amount, approximately 400%”. But even with that staggering commitment to their digital marketing strategy he admits, “If I had more money I’d plough more into social and interactive”.
On the contrary, Colin Carter of Weather2Travel.com, who offer weather guides for holiday destinations to both the B2B and B2C marketplace, are in the early stages of their social media journey and—I think it’s safe to say—are treating it with the characteristic cautious optimism we see from most of the SMEs we encounter.
Having traditionally adopted the more familiar route of press releases, review websites and travel forums, Weather2Travel.com have recently realised they “have to be more active on the social media front”. Realisation came after Colin attended a Google seminar which name-dropped their recently launched social media platform, Google+, a number of times in conjunction with the search engine optimisation impact of content posts on the network.
A great way to talk to an ever-present audience
With Weather2Travel.com I sensed some trepidation in undertaking an online marketing campaign. However, as the launch of their latest website was imminent, I could tell that Colin was becoming more intrigued by the challenge, sharing with me his views on the benefits of using social media website.
The way I see it there are 3 or 4 key benefits for us using social media. From an SEO point of view Google+ will be an important player, but all the networks allow us to be able share our content, interact and ‘speak’ to our target audience and establish ourselves as an industry authority,
explains Colin, “Social media gives you a platform to show off what you can do to an audience who are out there”.
Weather2Travel.com intend to start their social media campaign using a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.
Stop worrying, start doing
Online marketing is an ever-changing, always-evolving beast and new social media networks are springing up all the time. Even in the time between Travel Technology and writing this article, Pinterest has gained considerable traction in the UK with millions of new users.
My advice is: having identified your target market, work out which platforms they are likely to be using (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc) then simply listen to conversations which are already taking place to get a feel for the tone of the platform and see how you can begin to add value. It is not advised to start with overtly commercial conversations as this can turn people off to your input, but don’t forget that this is the reason why you’re there, so plan accordingly.
You’ll never get good at social media by worrying about doing something wrong.
I’ll leave you with a great piece of advice Gareth Woodhouse offered for any company anxious about taking the social media plunge.
I wish I’d known the value of social media sooner and pushed that angle harder and faster. You need to go full throttle from the outset. Understand your audience, understand your strategy, and don’t be disheartened when things take time.