The talking heads agree: Businesses large and small can benefit from using social media. Sounds easy, right? But there are so many sites and options, and social-networking trends seem to change at the speed of light. How do know where to focus your efforts?
To help you find a signal amid all the noise, the Intuit Small Business Blog compiled this list of five big social media trends to watch — and two you can ignore (for now).
Trends to Watch
- Social media marketing: Even after all these years, curmudgeons still occasionally post op-eds decrying social media as some sort of fad. Sorry to burst their bubble, but social media is here to stay. “Regardless of whether Facebook or any other platform grows or wanes, consumers have learned over the past five years that they can speak to and about brands — and they can expect a response,” says Jim Tobin, president of Ignite Social Media. “Good companies harness that for their benefit and, when done properly, it’s the most cost-effective marketing ever created. Platforms may come and go, but two-way communication between companies and customers will only increase.”
- Social search and Google+: Google+ may not rival Facebook in user numbers or engagement levels, but Google has thrown its full weight behind its fledgling social network. You should, too, because G+ posts are indexed by Google’s spiders and included in organic Search plus Your World results. If you’re lucky, your business might even appear in the Plus Box when users search for relevant terms.
- Location-based services: Foursquare turned the whole world into a game (who wouldn’t want to be the mayor of their favorite taco joint?), and many major social media apps include some sort of check-in feature, including Facebook, Yelp, and Google+. The trend is poised to continue: PC World reports that upcoming location services stole the spotlight at the most recent South by Southwest technology conference. If nothing else, setting up a basic business page on these networks lets your business get in on the action (and the free advertising). Still on the fence? Read more about the business of Foursquare on Social Media Examiner.
- Blogging: Ah, what’s old is new again. Long before the closed ecosystems of social networks, the blogosphere was social media, giving businesses an outlet to share their thoughts and engage their clients. Blogging took a backseat for a while, but now it’s making a fierce comeback, thanks to Google Search’s thirst for new and original content. Basically, blogging not only starts a dialogue with your customers, but also boosts your search rankings.
- Monetizing social media: It can’t be done, some say, but Dell would beg to differ. The company has made millions selling PCs through Twitter promotions. Of course, sales can’t be the primary focus of your social media account if you want it to be successful, digital marketer Amy Jo Martin explains on the Harvard Business Review blog. You also need to build your brand credibility by engaging clients first and foremost. Advertising agency Mr Youth reports that 80 percent of social users who receive a response from a brand make purchasing decisions based on that contact. Make it a good one! Pinterest is also driving huge amounts of referral traffic these days, and Twitter and Facebook (among other sites) have new, more traditional advertising initiatives available.
Trends to Ignore
- “Big data”: The major tech and business blogs have been going on and on about collecting “big data,” but that data is still a bit too big for small businesses. “While many people think, rightly so, about the engagement that is generated by good social media marketing, other people are pursuing another powerful benefit: the possibility that they can extract new insights from the vast amount of data they can often collect,” Tobin says. “And that, in 2012, will be the fallacy.” Few businesses are in a position to aggregate, sort, and interpret any sort of useful information from the vast volumes of data coming in from the social networks, he explains. “That doesn’t mean it will never happen, but very few will make the big breakthroughs in 2012.”
- Ignoring customers: Social media gets its good name from engagement. Despite that, a Maritz Research survey from 2011 found that two-thirds of all complaints tweeted to a business account were ignored. Among the complainers who received a response, 83 percent “liked or loved hearing from the company they complained about,” and 75 percent reported that their issues were resolved in a satisfactory way. Go ahead and re-read “Monetizing social media” (#5) above. It’s worth engaging your followers!