4 questions to ask to get the most out of social platforms

According to Wikipedia’s non-exhaustive ‘List of Social Networking Websites’ page there are, at the time of writing, over two hundred social networking websites in various states of growth and decline.

Now consider this, that’s two hundred social websites with a collective registered community of around five billion registered users. Think about that number for a second… Five billion. That’s five thousand million (in American money). Now, I don’t know many trade titles with that sort of readership. Maybe if you add together the readership of every trade mag ever produced, you might get somewhere near that. But I doubt it.

The numbers are staggering – and a little misleading. Actually, the vast majority of those gazillions will not matter a jot to you or to your business. It’s the rapid growth or user adoption and the subsequent ‘potential’ reach that can’t be ignored.

Let’s follow this through…

…there’s more to life than Twitter

As we’re talking about Twitter let’s start with them. Twitter has a reported half a billion users worldwide. Facebook has reached a billion users – but according to Forbes their adoption rate is in decline by 1.1% in the US.

LinkedIn, a stalwart of B2B social media, has 161 million users. And continues growing. Pinterest, which I believe was started sometime last week, has 11 million pinners and counting (mostly wives, Architects and interior designers).

And Instagram has attracted 80 million users, and it was only launched in the last 25 minutes! I’m joking of course. Instagram is at least two months old, maybe even three.

Foursquare has 20 million users. And did you know 60% of them are male? No? Nor did I. Tumblr – the blogging platform – has 12.5 million users generating over half a billion page views per month (American money again).

There is even a gaggle of ginormous international social sites that you may not have heard of: Qzone (in China) has around 500 million users. Probably not your target?

Badoo and Orkut are popular (collectively reaching over 300 million users) in Europe, India and Latin America. But who cares right? No customers there.

Skyrock and SkyBlog are popular with the French. Selling to the French market?

And not forgetting the 2 million interconnected Goths and industrial types on the ever-popular VampireFreaks.com

So, there IS more to life than Twitter then?

Well, if you roughly add up the numbers on Wikipedia list, there are 4.5 billion users currently engaged in social networks other than Twitter. Is it fair to say then, that at some point, a small minority of these humans (let’s not forget that we’re talking about humans – prospects even) will come into contact with your business, either directly or indirectly from social networking sites other than Twitter? I think it is.

So perhaps the question is ‘Which complementary social platforms should I be considering?’

Websites and social media platforms are integrating with each other, opening up each other’s API’s and feeding off each others information and cross pollinating interconnected communities. Yes, I just wrote that.

And assuming you’ve worked out why you’re bothering to market yourselves in the first place ie. you’ve written down your business goals. And you’ve set yourself some marketing objectives aligned to those business goals. Then you’re ready to ask some better questions.

What should I be asking?

If a key business goal is to increase the amount of specifications from UK based Architects from X to Y, then a strategic requirement might be to identify, research their need and influence those UK based Architect communities on the internet. Your upfront research will have identified communities relevant to your products. They may need segmenting even further. In which case, a tactical approach might include the creation of specific content designed to prove capability, build credibility, promote sharing of information, start conversations and so on.

That content might then be promoted within those communities using social media for example; on Twitter. Research from Construction Media Index 2012 suggests Twitter is actually helping construction industry professionals with their working day. Imagine that!

But remember this; Twitter is just the vehicle to the help, not the help itself. Whether Twitter or another platform is right for you is wholly dependent on whether the channel has been ruled in or out by a thorough and objective audit process. A process that proves, without a shadow of doubt, that that’s where the company’s audience actually hangs out. There is no place for instincts, gut feelings or any other random arbitrary reasoning. The only decision left to consider should be who is going to be blamed if it all goes wrong. And, you know what, even that can be managed.

Convincing ‘the Board’ that Social is valid…

As simple a process as that may seem to you and I, the most common road-block facing marketers is typically the wise collective known affectionately as ‘the Board’ and getting past, round or through, their ‘funny old ways’.

Figuring social platforms into the marketing mix, ahead of budget ear-marked for glossy car-boot-filling brochures, golf balls and mints is, in some cases a painful struggle. Marketing budget return on investment [ROI], and how to prove it, is a clear barrier to adoption. Thinking about it, does anyone ask if golf balls are in fact returning anything other than excuses for jollies, maybe they should (but not too loudly).

And yet in the outside world [ie. not in construction] research from Econsultancy [Sept 2012] suggests that 67% of businesses say Social is integral to their marketing mix. Yes. Social is ‘integral’.

Blimey.

Not a wishy-washy, half-arsed add-on then. But ‘integral’ or ‘essential’ or ‘necessary to the completeness’ of the companies marketing success. That’s quite a shift in thinking.

Moving forward with growing Social adoption.

I would be inclined to start asking how those business got over the most common obstacles of board level buy-in, policing, roles and responsibilities and time management. Because they clearly aren’t insurmountable.

With 86% of companies now employing the services of both Twitter and Facebook, my next question and probably yours too, would be how many of those businesses questioned were indeed from the Construction industry? I suspect not many. Although, I don’t believe B2B or indeed construction should be lagging behind.

The CMI 2012 survey suggests that the barriers are coming down, especially from the professional service industries within construction sector. The proportion of companies with a written policy now allowing the use of Twitter amongst Quantity Surveyors, Building Services Engineers and Architects has risen dramatically in the space of a year. And this trend is matching the phenomenal speed of adoption of Social Media platforms as marketing tools by mainstream marketers.

How you will get the most out of Social platforms?

The success lies in the research work carried out prior to the media being selected in the first place. For building product manufacturers, which make up the majority of our own clients, Twitter is most often prescribed as an integrated marketing tactic primarily to direct visitors to content and as a customer ‘help’ tool. It is employed to drive traffic to blogs and resource centers, and for picking up opportunities through listening for particular search queries and questions. It’s great for networking and referring contacts and it can be a really effective customer service channel, for being generally helpful.

When my business surveyed 117 Architects who were already using Twitter, we found that 99% would even provide a recommendation if asked – will they be recommending your products, business or services?

As with all marketing channels Twitter is measured and reviewed. Its use is tested and refined. The strategy is fixed, the tactics are there to prove themselves worthy. Or they get axed!

All marketing channels have their uses for the right audience but none of them are, or should be, free from scrutiny.

The nuggets are in niche groups.

Of the gazillions of socially savvy types, your communities will likely be a teeny-weeny fraction of that number. This is a good thing. Minority audiences help you focus on what’s important. They make you think about relevance and creating content that is less generic and more specific. This process will ultimately help businesses attract qualified prospects quicker saving time and money on the random acts that go nowhere.

I’m not suggesting you sell to a narrow audience, I’m suggesting you use social to speak to smaller audiences. I’m suggesting you segment your prospects and not bunch them all together. Whatever the platform, nobody cares about or shares mediocre, use-free content – they only share great, relevant, helpful, knowledgeable content. If your content is poor, it might go no further than a single, lonely Tweet.

We recently wrote an article which provides some social sites which you may not be monitoring.

Measure what Matters

Using something as cheap and cheerful as Google analytics you can analyse what’s been useful and what’s been not so. The results will more often than not help you decide which platforms to focus on in the future.

Great information is like Salmon. Eventually your best content will come back to you by way of new visitors, greater reach within search engines and popularity among your audience. Sales even!

To want to be the best provider of really useful information within your target market is a tremendously bold strategy to undertake and ultimately a rewarding one.

The mainstream social platforms are hard to ignore due to their volume of users but don’t overlook the niche platforms, forums and blogging sites before you’ve done your homework. We’ve discovered online conversations dating as far back as 10 years about the big brands in our industry on niche social sites such as DIYnot and Green Building Forum. You should have a look at what people are saying about you, your products or your business.

Well the ultimate answer is unique to your own business, it’s goals and target market. And as a suggestion you could start by asking yourself three or four good questions.

  • Why? Why do I want to use Social Media? What are you hoping to achieve? How will using social profiles back up your business goals?ho? Who am I looking to engage with?
  • Who is my audience? – You will no doubt have more than one type of customer. Where are they most likely to hang out online.
  • What? Information is going to be relevant? Content is always king (apologies, cliché) What content is going to attract your audience in the first instance?What content will keep them coming back for more?
  • Measurement? What will I measure? What will success look like? Work out some KPI’s eg. more visitors, more downloads, more phone calls, less phone calls? How will you measure? What analytics tools will you use; free or paid analytics? Who will take responsibility?

By Nick Pauley, Managing Director.

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart has worked in the world of digital marketing for over 15 years. With his measured and planned approach, he has delivered robust digital strategies for construction companies to achieve real business growth. He now heads up the team at Pauley Creative as Managing Director and is leading his team & clients towards digital marketing excellence. He’s helped over 100 construction clients; helping them on their digital transformation journey, providing sustainable strategies that return year on year incremental growth, delivering award-winning websites and adding value from board level to marketing assistant.

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