Think Social Media Is A Waste Of Time? Consider These Five Practical Benefits

Tweeting may not be your thing, but before you dismiss social media as a whole, consider looking at it through a business lens.
Lauren McCadney cdw Head Shot.jpgBy Lauren McCadney, Senior Segment Manager, Small Business, CDW
Lately, I have heard comments about individual social media platforms that seem downright extreme. From, “Not having a Facebook page is the fastest way to lose your job,” to, “Anyone without a Twitter account cannot be taken seriously.” Do people really believe this?
Statements like these amaze me. Most business owners I know do not appreciate being labeled as unintelligent, or being told what they should or should not do. Further, the directive to “get with the program” by signing up for Facebook or Twitter, without compelling business-related reasons to do so, is not necessarily the best course of action. So, with respect for small business owners everywhere, I hereby assert that social media is a choice, not a requirement. However, I do encourage all business owners to look at these platforms in broader terms, and to consider the practical business uses that social media may have.
Social media is much more than just Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. It is enhanced word-of-mouth marketing, and it includes any platform on the Web that enables two-way communication between peers. Think of social media this way – your organization or your customers can speak, and the entire Web can potentially respond. In this context, understanding that conversations about your industry, company and/or product can (and probably do) take place every day, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that conversation?
After years of serving small business owners, (and having been one myself), I know that a dollar can only be spent once. Further, the only motivator to do anything in business is a reasonable belief that you will see a solid return on your investment. Therefore, social media, like anything else, is a choice that must be balanced against your personal return on investment equation. To help you solve that equation, here are five areas in which social media can deliver a return:

Free Marketing Research

Think of the social Web as the world’s largest source of exploratory research. When it comes to your product category or brand, forum discussions and reviews can help you identify what the market chooses to discuss when it is left to its own devices. Read the information and look for patterns that can help you understand the reasoning behind customers’ responses. For example, a plumber can learn from the social Web by analyzing customer reviews of other plumbers and determine what irritates customers and what makes them happy. Checking review sites for your product category can also be extremely informative. Even if your business is not specifically mentioned, I am confident you will walk away with insight into what your customers are looking for.

Employee Sentiment

This is a touchy subject area. My brother, who works for a small business, recently reached out to me because past employees have posted negative comments about his organization on the site Because he is a member of his company’s Employee Advisory Board, he wanted my thoughts on how to deal with the posts.
First, I applauded his company for proactively seeking out and discussing the reviews. In business and in life, we can either bury our heads in the sand or confront an issue head on. I personally believe that it is better to know what caused a negative comment, but also understand that this requires the ability to distinguish between facts and employee resentment. I advised him to consider these questions:

  • Is the comment true for most employees all the time, or does it relate to an isolated event?
  • What are the implications for current employees?
  • Are there any policies that might warrant reconsideration?
  • Finally, I encouraged him to review content on multiple sites to look for trends, and to examine similar reviews of competitors to determine if there are areas where they appear to be excelling or falling behind. In the end, it is much easier to attract and retain well-qualified employees if you are able to identify and address any negative trends before they become major and perhaps costly issues for your business.

Cries for Help

Consumers have grown accustomed to taking their discontent to the Web, airing their grievances via Facebook posts, online reviews, and Twitter. At the very least, make it a priority to monitor what customers are saying about your brand by taking advantage of free tools that are available.
Further, do not fear negative mentions. At CDW, we have a team of customer relations experts who actively look for mentions of service challenges across the social Web. When they spot a negative post or come across incorrect information on an offer, they respond immediately. We recognize that a cry through social media is a cry for help. In the vast majority of instances, the customer simply wants to be heard and to have their problem resolved. So even if a post is negative, your business still has a chance to redeem itself.
In general, CDW’s approach is to publicly acknowledge that the person has been heard, and to invite them to contact us directly. As you would expect, our goal is to make human contact and resolve the challenge off-line. Research has shown that solving the problem at this stage can actually result in a more loyal customer than the one you had before the service breach occurred. In fact, that same customer will sometimes elect to return to the social Web and profess their satisfaction with how the situation was remedied.
It is also important to recognize that customer posts are not all negative. Among the cries for help,you are often able to get a sense of whom your allies are by exploring content submitted by satisfied customers or by enthusiastic fans and users of your products or services.

Brand Awareness

Getting your name out there and helping the market better understand your business has never been easier. Long gone are the days when a company Web site was enough. Because of search engine optimization (SEO) and social media, business owners must work to cut through the digital clutter, and ensure that the market has a comprehensive understanding of what you do and how you differ from your competition:
Do you have a brand with a distinctive personality and a loyal group of followers?
Consider using Twitter to bring your brand to life, and establish a two-way dialogue with your customers
Do you have a well-defined target audience and information that will help your customers between visits?
Consider Facebook’s flexibility that allows you to post additional content about your brand through tabs that you select and build to fit your business
Does your product lend itself to product demonstrations?
Consider a YouTube channel.
Social media can be used in many ways to round-out your marketing strategy. Further, the book is still being written (and rewritten) on how these tools are used to drive engagement and sales.

Talent Acquisition

If you are in need of top-notch employees, why wait for them to find your job posting when social media can lead you straight to them? Increasingly, the landscape for finding employees is moving away from job boards. Today’s businesses have a desire to find great talent that will round out their organization and cultivate it over time.
Thanks to social media, when an opening becomes available at your organization, you are more likely to have established relationships that allow you to know exactly who you want to go after.
The social Web is a great way of doing this. Linkedin, Plaxo and BNET are great sites, not only for building up your own network, but also for searching for individuals with unique skill sets. You can also find forums dedicated to specific industries, enabling you to identify both current opinion leaders and up-and-coming talent. Finally, consider scouring the Blogosphere for individuals with a strong voice in your particular area.
The lack of a Facebook page or Twitter account does not mean you are out of touch. As business owners, we have the luxury of choice when it comes to the tools that we put our money and time toward. But before you decide that social media has nothing to offer your business, stop and consider all of the potential benefits it can deliver.
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Lauren McCadney Senior Segment Manager, Small Business, CDW
Lauren McCadney is the Senior Segment Manager of the small business sector at CDW, a leading provider of technology solutions for business, government, education and healthcare. McCadney joined CDW in 2005, and is responsible for ensuring the success of the small business market, focusing on marketing strategy and program execution. She is also the 2010 recipient of the Corporate Executive Board’s Small Business Marketer of the Year Award, and a graduate of Howard University and the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in marketing and her MBA, respectively.

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