Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. Although some social media channels may lose their initial popularity or significance over time, their inherent ‘socialness’ never changes.
Regardless of the channel, each one gives businesses unparalleled access and insight into their customers. And, when used in a thoughtful way, businesses become privy to a customer’s innermost thoughts, questions, interests, concerns, and dilemmas.
To understand the business importance of social media, we reached out to highly respected industry experts to take a closer look at how and why social media is the secret tool to running a successful business.
Begin Building Trust
Make no mistake, solid businesses are built on solid relationships.
“People do business with people, regardless of company size,” explains Nicky Kriel, a two-time published author who works with empowering businesses on how to strategically use social media. And, for these business relationships to grow, Kriel points out, trust must be involved.
But how do you start building trust? Here’s how:
Julia Bell, the Head of Social Media & Community for Asana Rebel, a yoga-inspired fitness app with over 600k followers on Instagram, says it’s all about “being there for your community.” In her respective case, this means answering and following up with all the direct messages and comments from users.
Veronica Pullen, the self-professed “Mile-Deep Facebook Marketing Queen,” also sees the benefit of having active conversations with your users. “Value everyone who reads and interacts with your posts as a person who wants to feel cared about. They’re not data or credit cards. They’re people.”
Reveal Your Humanity
Showing your face, whether that’s in video or the occasional selfie, can really resonate with customers. “I often get business from people who have been watching me online for a long time,” Kriel says. “They feel that they know me by the time they contact me because they’ve seen how I interact with people and what I post.”
CustomerThink, a global online community of business leaders, echoes Kriel’s thoughts. Instead of hurting your professional image, a touch of humanity only helps. People want to know who you are, not just what you’re selling; this can range from posting images of fun company staff outings or retweets from admired companies/individuals.
Don’t forget the power of humility, either. Julia Bramble, who runs her own social media training, consultancy, and speaking business from the UK, says you can build trust by “admitting your mistakes,” so sharing content around what you’ve learned along the way is a great place to start. Infusing a bit of humor, too, can work wonders.
“Trust can be built by being helpful and being honest,” says Pino Bonetti, Namecheap’s Head of Social Media with over ten years of professional marketing experience. “You can see that with your friends and it’s true on social media, too.”
Bramble believes that honesty can and should be applied to customer questions and queries. This transparency, she says, indicates that you really do care about them. Innocent Drinks, the wildly successful company that began back in 1999 with sold smoothies at a music festival, perfectly embodies this idea. Responding quickly and quirkily to every customer query, they also respond the same way to individual tweets, whether they’re worthy of being answered in the first place. This witty technique certainly works for them, not only generating higher engagement but also praise from the social media community.
In addition to being honest and transparent, Bell emphasizes just how important a consistent tone is to building trust across social media. If your business tone of voice is friendly and conversational, take the time to ensure that all your captions, answers, and messages you post and send to your users reflects that.
Although it takes a considerable amount of time to build up trust, it takes very little to break it. Bramble describes this slippery slope: “What destroys trust in an instant is if people ‘smell’ that you are misleading them, if you say one thing and do another, or if you pay lip service to, say a particular cause, but then do nothing to support it.”
Learn to Listen
We’ve discussed the importance of building trust by being present, human, and transparent. Now it’s time to understand the power of listening.
As the American author and businessman Steven R. Covey once said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This certainly rings true with social media. Whether it’s what people are saying about your product or service, what your competitors are doing or what your industry is at present discussing, it all boils down to listening. But listening with the intent to understand.
Bonetti agrees. “Among social media managers, we believe that social media always starts with listening and I try to apply that rule daily.” While Kriel reports spending at least two hours a day reading up on industry news and what others are posting on social media, Bell consistently checks to see what Asana Rebel users are saying in their tagged content.
The takeaway? By knowing what’s going on in your respective industry, you’re more apt to find your own way to participate in that conversation.
Identify Valuable Content
These days, there’s a lot of talk around creating “valuable content” for digital users. Although the word itself holds different meanings to different people, a good rule of thumb to follow, Bonetti says, is to “help, don’t hype.”
Listen to the questions people are asking in your industry and answer them with your product or service. When you can answer questions such as “How do I do this?”, “How do I get that?” or “Why isn’t this working?” instead of just selling your products, you’re creating inherent value.
Australian software giant, Atlassian, is a prime example of a company that creates content to resonate with their users (namely, software developers). Their blog, for instance, is all about evaluating corporate culture and how to boost productivity. The result? Users get the distinct impression that Atlassian knows what they’re doing and that they can really trust their products, even if a specific product isn’t mentioned anywhere in the blog post.
Here are just a few ways to start creating content that’s of value to your users, no matter your area of business:
Make it Customer-Focused
Kriel, just like Bonetti, feels that too many companies nowadays only post information about their business. “Content becomes more valuable to a customer,” she says, “when it’s created for them and answers a problem they might have or inspires them.” Think of it this way—customer-focused content, just like what Atlassian creates, is what will help your customers make informed decisions and keep them coming back to you.
Ask for Real Feedback
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
This popular phrase is one we’ve all undoubtedly heard but there’s definite truth to it, especially when it involves your audience. Bramble encourages asking the questions and getting their feedback. “You cannot define what is valuable,” she points out. “Only your audience can. So ask.” As Pullen describes it, every question that’s asked by her ideal client is an opportunity to create content that answers that question.
If you’re still trying to narrow it down, she recommends checking your web analytics to find out which content seems to be having the most audience impact, and consider focusing on creating more content in the same vein.
Create Content that Reflects Your Business
“Valuable content to Asana Rebel means content that reflects our brand,” Bell explains. Here, she’s referring to content that helps people to understand their product (in this case, the Asana Rebel app) and in return, generating positive engagement amongst their users. Bell is quick to point out, however, that this doesn’t mean re-strategizing content purely for higher engagement levels. “We always make sure we stay true to ourselves,” she says.
Bonetti is on board with this. “If you want to be successful on social media, you’ll have to publish useful, informative content or people will look elsewhere.”
Which Channel Is Best for Relationship Building?
Each social media channel is inherently different—and depending on who you ask, better at building relationships. Bramble recommends using the channel where the people you want to engage with, aka your potential customers, are the most active. Perhaps that’s Instagram, perhaps that’s Twitter. To help you decide, the folks over at YMarketingMatters break down the choices for you.
While you’ll of course need to consider your business and its resources, our experts weigh in on their personal favourites.
Facebook. Pullen is a big fan of Facebook, which she calls “the biggest networking event.” She continues: “It’s where I network with potential clients, peers, experts in my space, meet people, and add value. It’s got the largest percentage of the population as users. You have access to converse with people, building trust and mile-deep connections. And, you have the added benefit of Facebook ads as well as audience tracking.” Meanwhile, Bell suggests that “Facebook groups allow you to have one-on-one conversations on a regular basis and this is the most powerful retention tool available, considering we have a group of 20k+ hardcore fans.”
Instagram. Bonetti loves Instagram “because of its visual nature, which is naturally very engaging. With the feed and the stories, it also provides different ways to interact with people in the same place.”
LinkedIn and Twitter. Kriel believes “that LinkedIn and Twitter are a powerful duo for social selling. They help you to attract customers, find opportunities, and nurture relationships until people are ready to buy or would recommend you to someone else.”
Improve Your Social Media Presence
Want more followers? Unsure of what to post next? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Every business owner, at some point in time or another, goes through periods of social media uncertainty. What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that it’s not just about gaining followers; it’s also about increasing your reach and influencing your industry.
In the spirit of improvement, here are some helpful pointers:
“It’s not about the technology, it’s about the people.” – Nicky Kriel
Social media is undoubtedly what connects us, both personally and professionally, with other humans.
Netflix takes a human (and humorous) approach to their social media presence, something that Bonetti openly admires. Although it’s a massive company, they’re able to stay very connected to the zeitgeist and keep their audience engaged by publishing questions and memes.
So maybe the best way to move forward, no matter the size of your business, is to use social media as a tool for understanding people. Because when your business prioritizes this understanding through open and honest engagement, trust can be slowly built and success can surely be had.
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