More and more natural and organic businesses are using social networking sites — Twitter, Facebook and the rest.
But what exactly are they using it for, and what are they getting out of it? Paul Clapham has been finding out.
The media world doesn’t change very often, but when it does the change tends to be major. We are in such a change now, thanks to the explosion of use of social networking media, and it is apparent that a lot of businesses are off the pace.
Since the fifth anniversary of Facebook last year there has been a lot of talk about the extent of use of social networking sites (plenty of it bemoaning that there’s too much). The classic comment is that students live their lives on them. But it goes far further than students. Use of sites goes across all social groups, income groups and age ranges. If you think that this is restricted to the youth market you’re wrong.
“Use of sites goes across all social groups, income groups and age ranges. If you think that this is restricted to the youth market you’re wrong”
No, it’s not a fad
Let us be very clear: this is not a fad. Of those surveyed recently by global market survey agency McCann Erickson, 86% of respondents realised that social media is here to stay and set to grow. It is also moving rapidly from private communication to a business tool. I see a lot of e-mails from PR businesses and, whereas a year ago few quoted a Twitter or Facebook site address, now they nearly all do. They’re at the cutting edge of the communications industry and where they lead, their clients will surely follow.
But there will need to be a change of corporate mindset to gain full advantage. According to the McCann survey, in almost half of the businesses covered the IT department proactively blocks access to popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter, rendering staff incapable of monitoring what is being said about their brands or discovering what real, live people actually want. Many senior marketing people clearly lack understanding of social media. 67.5% of those surveyed thought that the sites were used more by the under 25s. However, according to figures from market researchers Nielsen, the age group making the most use of Twitter is 35 – 49 year olds (42% of traffic) and almost two thirds of them only access it at work. Facebook’s figures show that 25-35 year olds use the site as much as 16–25 year olds.
But come on is it really a business tool? Despite the above, 76% of marketers think social media has a place in the commercial communications mix. Since the figures are contradictory, it appears that a lot of them mean, “yes it’s got a place, but not here.” One very plausible reason why social marketing might not be working for many firms was thrown up by the McCann Erickson survey. It found that approaching a third of those businesses which have an account admit it’s inactive and getting on for half of them post tweets once a week or less. Nothing in, nothing out is the rule of thumb here — just like so much else in life.
Come on, what’s it actually for?
Of course the biggest question of all is what can you actually do with it? Businesses that are already actively using social sites quote a number of benefits. The big one is PR and profile raising and there’s a fairly large use of advertising.
More important, this is word-of-mouth advertising. I have never met a businessperson who didn’t want more of that and there it is available on a plate. We all now have the opportunity to influence millions of people on a global basis at the click of a button.
What are the impacts of this? The first one that is widely agreed is that you can communicate far more often with customers than traditionally thought wise.
The second impact relates to other media. The average family now spends more time online than watching TV. At the same time there is a rising generation who get their information via the net and never read a newspaper. Equally, there is a perception that using social sites may change the way we do business — even fewer face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
The write stuff
Thirdly, businesses will need to write properly. This might sound like professional snobbery but so many businesses just can’t do it. Their communication is stilted, self-centred and dull. More than that, it would seem beyond their capabilities to write a fresh, interesting message once a week, never mind daily, but that’s the ask.
On a positive note, the potential to reach a massive audience at zero cost is definitely there. It isn’t easy because you are asking people to make an active choice to look at your posting — a very different proposition to seeing an ad in traditional media.
“…businesses will need to write properly. This might sound like professional snobbery but so many businesses just can’t do it. Their communication is stilted, self-centred and dull. More than that, it would seem beyond their capabilities to write a fresh, interesting message once a week, never mind daily, but that’s the ask”
Create your community
Twitter is essentially conversation. Berkeley PR who organise Twitter campaigns for clients, recommend the following steps. First you have to find people to follow (Twitter term for staying in touch with) who you hope will also follow you. The issue is who do you follow? Local sports and social clubs, large employers in your catchment area, local PR and other agencies and local journalists would be a good start.
Any of these might say ‘anybody know a supplier of energy drinks’ (if only!). More likely would be something akin to ‘we’re setting up a five-a-side team; anyone want a game?’ Bingo! Sales opportunity. Similarly, those local journalists may use Twitter to source stories. Apparently, some will ask on a dead news day if anyone’s got a story — surely you have!
One recommendationfrom Berkeley is to haveyour local town as a keyword. This might generate a lotof dead information, but it would also give you a stack of contacts and, with intelligent use, opportunities.
Keep it fresh
Aim to draft tweets which mix company information with news and conversation. The content should engage with the audience, be authentic and credible, it should answer questions and give out interesting industry news. Above all keep it fresh, new and varied.
So who in the natural and organic industry uses social media, how do they benefit and what are their tips for new users? Cheryl Thallon of Viridian says key benefits are these: it’s instant, it’s visual, it’s interactive, it’s personal and it’s fun. Hence you create a more personal relationship with customers, you can adjust offers and put them in the market faster than any other medium. Mike Abrahams of Wild Oats says it offers a much bigger market place than an in-house mailing list. He too stresses the potential for making offers very reactive and tightly targeted. Liam Nolan of Viva defines benefits as “it’s easy, it’s quick and it’s free. It broadens your audience, you see results straight away and allows easy analysis so you can target what you do in the future.”
Helen Pattinson at Montezumas says social media allows them to achieve a closer relationship with customers, give them an insight into the business and an understanding of what the company is doing for them.
Julie Goodwin of Natural Health in Hertford is also a big fan — and user — of Twitter. She also has an amazing 11,168 followers (at the last count). How did she get so many? She recently told NP: “The main thing is to forget the hype with things like Twitter and Facebook and think, ‘how can this help my business?’ I Tweet about all sorts of things — health stories I’ve seen in the papers, new products we’ve got in store, or special offers. But it’s also a great way to chat and stay in touch with your regular customers. And it’s free!”
“The main thing is to forget the hype with things like Twitter and Facebook and think, ‘how can this help my business?’
The power of groups
Everybody says that it’s essential to post regularly – at least daily, but Jack Hunter of the Soil Association stresses that you have to have something pertinent to say: “Tweeting for the sake of it is counter-productive. The level of response varies and is hard to quantify but as many as 80 responses per week are reported and the general experience is that it builds as you proceed. There is no question that messages are read and passed around to other groups of followers.”
Industry users regard health products as classic country for social media because customers want to share knowledge in a friendly environment. Particularly beneficial is customer feedback: social media users are happy to give views and product experiences. Montezuma’s Pattinson stresses that you must reply to all comments.
Jump in and start posting
New users should avoid making their postings corporate — chat as you would in a shop. Make your postings very specific, addressing issues of immediate significance that will prompt an immediate reaction. Liam Nolan highlights using Facebook’s Insights which gives you demographic breakdown of who you are reaching. But the overall recommendation I have been hearing is don’t be scared — just jump straight in and get posting.