(Peter Roesler) While the importance of social media marketing is generally accepted, the fact that people don’t question its value is all the more reason to think about exactly what its value is. The goals of social media marketing can’t be just to gain likes, fans, and retweets. These things are not ends, but means to an end. Social media marketing is far more than an online popularity contest, and the better business owners understand that, the better they can use it for their companies. Here are five benefits to social media that business owners need to understand.
1. Increase brand awareness
One of the main benefits of social media marketing is the easiest to recognize: Social media is an excellent way to introduce people to a brand. Despite the Field of Dreams notion some business owners have that “if you build it, they will come,” if people are unaware of a business or a website’s existence, they can’t shop there (Kevin Costner was dealing with ghosts, who have a lot of free time to meander around cornfields). Because social networks are used by more than two-thirds of the country, and given the way content spreads virally to others, social media is the perfect channel to promote a brand to potential customers. Relevanza reported that 78 percent of small businesses attract new customers through social media.
Research shows just how valuable this brand awareness can be. According to Adroit Digital, 75 percent of online Americans said product information found on social media influences their shopping behavior and enhances brand loyalty. They also report that social media is the second most likely way U.S. Millennials will learn about a new product (26 percent of respondents), just 3 percentage points behind TV advertising (29 percent). In the future, social media may be even more important than TV ads for introducing new products to consumers. Similarly, research from eMarketer has shown that 33 percent of consumers cite social networks as the way they discover new brands, products, and services.
2. Legitimize a brand
Another way social media marketing helps with customer acquisition is by establishing a brand as legitimate. When Internet consumers discover a business or retailer they want to use but know little about, they often check their social media page to learn more about it. Many small businesses have static websites that change little, if at all, after being initially set up by the designer. Social media pages, on the other hand, should be constantly updated with new posts, comments, etc. A website establishes that a brand exists, but a social media page establishes that the brand is active. Similarly, the number of fans shows how popular a brand is and Facebook reviews can reassure buyers by showing them that other consumers like a business. Research from Ballihoo found that 63 percent of consumers who search for local businesses online are more likely to use businesses with information on social media sites.
It’s worth noting that poor social media marketing can also delegitimize a brand. If a new customer goes to a business’s social media page and finds that a post hasn’t been made in a few months, that customer may assume the business is defunct. If customers are asking for help in the comments and they’re being ignored, they may assume the company has poor customer service.
3. Increase sales
In the end, social media marketing needs to help increase sales and revenue. That’s why it’s called social media marketing and not simply social media public relations. To be fair, improving brand awareness and legitimizing a brand should, by themselves, help increase sales. But there are ways to use social media to directly steer consumers toward the sales funnel. For fans of the business, business owners can write posts that link to products, sales, etc. Marketers can also use promoted content and advertisements to sell products to target audiences who haven’t become fans of a brand yet. The ability to target particular audiences is one of the greatest benefits of social media marketing. Social networks know a lot about consumer interests and demographics, so even though there are hundreds of millions of fans, marketers can accurately target the right people with the right message.
There are also a lot of ways that retailers can sell products directly from social networks. On Facebook, business owners can set up a Facebook store with apps like Ecwid or Beetailer. On Twitter, retailers with Amazon.com pages can allow Twitter users to add products to their Amazon checkout straight from their Twitter feed. There are also ways to sell products on Pinterest, YouTube, and other social networks.
4. Improve customer service
Another benefit of social media that’s easy to overlook is customer service. Even if a business has a dedicated customer service department, telephone number, or email, it’s important to handle issues via the method of communication the consumer prefers. The fact that people use social media to ask customer service questions is reason enough for businesses to ensure their ability to help customers through social media. This also goes back to establishing a brand. One of the key concerns of consumers when they shop online is the responsiveness of customer service. People want to be assured that if they have a problem, they can easily find help. By being receptive to customer needs, business owners can increase customer loyalty to a brand.
5. Distribute content
Social media should be a part of any content marketing distribution system. Social media accounts for a huge portion of referral traffic on the web. People are looking for content that interests them and they want to share it online. A joint study by AOL and Nielsen found that people spend more than 50 percent of their time online with content and an additional 30 percent of their time on social channels where content can be shared. Business owners who want to gain customers through content marketing need to use social media and promoted content to make that happen.
All of these points and data show that social media marketing is a huge benefit for business owners, and exactly what the benefits are. Besides increasing brand awareness and establishing the legitimacy of the brand, social media marketing can affect the bottom line of a business by increasing sales. Learning about the importance of social media for marketing should also underscore why these efforts need to be continuous and the harm it does when social media marketing isn’t up to consumer expectations. Long story short, social media marketing is something that every business needs to do and needs to do well.