It’s incredible to think that social media barely existed a mere fifteen years ago. Hobby groups and sports fans used bulletin boards, and messaging services have been around since the mid-1990s. Yet in the early Noughties, SMS represented the only way to keep in touch from our phones. Email was the default option for group communications while marketing phenomena like going viral simply wasn’t around.
The situation couldn’t be more different today. Entire industries have evolved to handle areas like SEO and digital marketing on behalf of client organisations. Building a social media presence is a specialist skill, blending PR and IT in equal measure. Many companies lack the technical expertise to develop organic networks, while few businesses enjoy enough spare resources to engage with followers and maintain active profiles across multiple sites.
Even choosing which platforms to establish a social media presence on represents a challenge:
- Facebook has the highest active user and engagement numbers, but it’s becoming unpopular among younger audiences; outages and data scandals haven’t helped.
- Twitter is the most immediate and communications-driven platform, loved by public figures, though problems with trolling have led to high-profile account closures.
- Instagram suits companies in visual industries, but it’s of little use to more mundane professions like accounting or programming.
- Snapchat has impressive engagement levels among the crucial 16-24 demographic. However, content is ephemeral and has no long-term value.
- YouTube is the obvious platform to host video content, but it’s hard to make new videos stand out when 400 hours’ worth of new content is uploaded every 60 seconds.
Then there are professional outlets like LinkedIn, encrypted chat platforms including Kik and WhatsApp, bulletin-board descendants such as Tumblr and Reddit…the list goes on. Every social network has an entirely different audience, and few businesses can reach the majority of their clients through a single social media presence. Yet despite the challenges of learning each platform’s unique attributes (Twitch users speak in a language of acronyms which is impenetrable to newcomers), every brand needs a social media presence.
The importance of being social
1. Your customers are already there…
It’s hard to argue against building a presence on sites where millions of current and prospective customers are actively engaged on a daily basis. Market research will identify which social sites your customers are on.
2. …And so are your competitors.
Social media is a mature marketplace, providing a level playing field for startups and global enterprises alike. Do you want rival brands to become industry authorities while building brand loyalty among potential clients?
3. It’s replaced traditional methods of communication.
Consumers tend to complain via social media, which gives brands a chance to create positive PR by resolving negative feedback. It’s far more immediate and effective than traditional marketing methods.
4. It’s free advertising.
Social media is free to build a presence and free to communicate one-to-one. You don’t have to pay a pound to get online and get involved. On the other hand, paid social media advertising can quickly become very expensive if you aren’t careful. It’s important to set budgets to know exactly what you are investing when it comes to targeted advertising.
5. It boosts SEO and website traffic.
Search engines generate 90 per cent of first-time website visits, making a high ranking vitally important. Social media posts are great for deploying SEO keywords, driving organic traffic to blogs or product pages.
6. It increases sales.
Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, social media accounts boost sales. This is the ideal way to promote products, highlight discounts or incentives, and advertise products with click-through links to ecommerce sites.