While incorporating social media into marketing strategy is becoming standard practice, many organizations still struggle with how to make the most of opportunities created by social media platforms and tools. It has been well documented that just having a Facebook page or sending the occasional tweet are not enough to have a significant, sustainable impact on business results. The good news is that there are multiple ways to take advantage of the social media space and one of the most effective places to start is actually from your own Web site.
If we step back and look at the value of social networks, it becomes immediately obvious that just because there is a new ecosystem in which to operate, the fundamentals of interaction remain unchanged. The customer experience still matters and luckily there are multiple ways to create powerful online experiences that are customized to the user. The objective should be for a user who is on your website to stay engaged with content, products, services or other key parts of the site.
The engaged user can now become a proponent of your content, products or services. This is similar to a customer picking up the phone, or telling the neighbor about a great experience they just had, or a deal they found. In this case you make it easy for the online user to share that information back to their friends on the social networks. In doing so, a bridge is created between your website and the social networks, and that bridge is built on the strongest marketing material available -- social influence through an engaged user.
Traffic to your Web site from a social media platform is, by its very nature, more valuable than traffic from other sources. That may be a bold statement, but when you think about what social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn has been created for, and you look at the data, it makes sense. The Nielsen Company published research showing that global consumers spent more than five and a half hours on social networking sites in December 2009. This represents an 82% increase from the same time a year ago. Facebook continues to be the number one global social networking destination and people are spending more time per month on the site - almost six hours according to Nielsen, but the concurrent meteorite rise in Twitter usage shows that consumers like variety.
People spend time on social networks and share information with people who are interesting and important to them. At the same time, they are interested in learning from these same people, hearing their stories and experiences, and checking out what they think is important. Because trust is high among peers, recommendations and messages exchanged among friends are more likely to resonate than those from a company directly to an individual. Thus, you can augment your organization's push marketing strategy (advertising or email marketing, for example) with a pull strategy that empowers your users to promote their online interactions with your brand to their friends on the social networks.
Here's how it works:
You have a visitor on your Web site. Whether the focus of your site is commerce, content or community, one goal is most likely to have that visitor login or register on the site thus becoming an engaged user and doing more -- make a purchase, contribute to the conversation with a comment or expertise, or post content. Once that user is engaged on your site, make it easy for that person to communicate back to the social networks of their choice without leaving your site.
Activity-based social publishing tools enable the user to perform this action from within the flow of your website experience.
Once the user publishes activity or content to a social network, your website has a presence there as well - and the presence has been defined by the user. This is critical to note. The user has found something of interest on your website and then called that specific piece out to promote to his or her community.
The engaged user is an effective filter both for their community and your Web site. Online users are overwhelmed by the amount of information and data resources online, and organizations need to stand above the noise to be both heard and seen as credible. When an engaged user on your site decides to share information back to a social network, it is a win for both their network and your organization. The user's network benefits from gaining a window into his/her thoughts and activities online, and your organization benefits by enabling word of mouth marketing through its users.
Instead of a standalone Facebook page that you need to drive traffic to, the engaged user is doing that piece for you. But this is just the beginning. People spend time on social networks to learn and share. When an engaged user on your site publishes information back to a social network, it is being viewed by people who are hungry to learn new information. What happens next is a benevolent circle of referral traffic. As the user shares their activity or content from your site to friends on a social network, the post from the initial engaged user drives traffic back to your site, some of whom will login and publish comments of their site activities back to their networks, and so on and so on. Many organizations that have implemented this functionality are experiencing a range of 6-25 new referral visitors for each social action a user shares with friends on the social networks. As this cycle repeats, these organizations create a direct link to the social networks and a sustaining stream of new referred visitors.
Tapping into an engaged user's social network is an approach that has relevance for any type of organization. One of the challenges of crafting an effective social media program is how to make best use of the new tools. One popular tactic and a great first step is to create a Facebook fan page. This is an effective method for organizations to reach their target market directly on the social networks and directly push content and information. An organization can complement this approach by leveraging tools that tap into word of mouth marketing and utilize a pull strategy to drive users to their website.
A Facebook fan page can be an influential communication platform to promote your message, but to reach individuals not already familiar with your brand or following you on Facebook, you still need to invest in outbound marketing activities to drive traffic to the fan page. Consider the more powerful scenario of a user influencing other users, and driving traffic back to the website at a point of activity.
By connecting your website to the social platforms through the engaged user and empowering that user to be your advocate, any organization can tap into the social networks to reach new audiences. Content sites can enable users to interact and share their thoughts with their social network. Community sites can allow members to share their blogs, surveys, videos, downloads, or other site activities with friends on the social networks. Commerce sites can make it easy for customers to share their purchases or product recommendations with friends on the social networks. These are all examples of how any organization can implement a strategy that leverages engaged users on its website as a bridge to the social networks.
You can expand your organization's digital footprint and tap into a wider set of social graphs by supporting multiple social platforms. While Facebook boasts a vast member base and robust social sharing features, data shows that not all Internet users are on Facebook, and many prefer other social networks as a means of connecting and sharing information with friends. The ensuing sample of major U.S. media and entertainment organizations all enable social publishing and sharing of user-generated content from their websites to multiple social networks.
As the Web continues to evolve, success will come to organizations that take advantage of new tools to reach target audiences and create meaningful interactions. Social media has democratized communication and made information sharing easier. Augmenting push marketing strategies with tools to empower your engaged users as a bridge between your website and the social networks will yield the most powerful results and true word of mouth marketing success on the social Web.