As 'Social Media' has become too big to ignore, most companies are dabbling with it in some way. Of course, there are businesses that take Social Media extremely seriously. Meanwhile, others are merely dipping their 'toe in the water'. Of course, the million dollar question that every company wants to know is this;
'Will my investment pay off?'
'Will social media be an effective communication channel for my business?'
To be honest, I have become bored with the question. In fact, asking the question in itself shows a complete lack of understanding of the communication revolution which we are experiencing.
I have yet to work with any business that has not acknowledged that one of their most important lead sources is Word Of Mouth; in other words, recommendations and referrals from existing customers, or those people who have been 'touched' positively by your business in some way. If Word of Mouth is not an important marketing channel for your company, then you can stop reading right now. However, if it is, then the truth is quite simple:
Word of Mouth Went Online
There is no point thinking of social platforms as one channel to market and word of mouth as a separate route to gain customers. They have become one and the same.
For example, I was on a recent flight and watched an extremely funny sketch about an electric toothbrush that the comedian Rhod Gilbert received for Christmas. I was crying I found it so funny. In the past, I would have mentioned it to several friends, in conversation, until it was something about which I forgot. Instead, however, I found the sketch on You Tube, and posted it up to several friends who I thought would appreciate it as much as I did.
The point is, whether the platform be Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter etc., these tools have become the way we regularly share stories, events and information with colleagues, friends and family. For many individuals there is no difference between telling a friend face to face or tweeting the same information. We do both things seamlessly depending on where we are and who we are with etc.
The single biggest influence on human behaviour is 'social proof'. That is, our actions are greatly influenced by what others 'say' and 'do'. Especially, if these are friends and colleagues whom we respect and trust.
Therefore, the simple truth is this. Social Media is a vital channel for your business because this is increasingly where the conversations are taking place. The challenge is to become part of the conversation. In order to do this you have to ask, 'what value can I give which people will want to share with others?' Whether your audience comprises mechanics, estate agents, footballers or lawyers, what value can you provide that they may share with some of their colleagues?
With old marketing, your reach was limited. In other words, if your company had a database of 5,000 people and you decided to send them a direct mail piece, your biggest hope was to reach 5,000 people. This is because people generally, when receiving a direct mail piece, don't carry it about in their pocket, or handbag, with the intention of showing it to others.
However, with digital media, this is not the case. If we read an article, listen to a podcast or watch a video which we find of value, whether it makes us laugh or think etc., we will often 'retweet it' or send it on to friends to whom we think it will be appreciated. In other words, with digital, you are not limited to those people with whom you are in direct contact.
'Birds of a feather flock together'. As a professional speaker, I have more professional speakers in my network than the average person. Therefore, if a business wants to engage with professional speakers, and I see a communication from them which I decide to share, they are likely to reach a disproportionate amount of professional speakers. Whether you want to reach lawyers or accountants, recruitment agents or doctors, the best access to these people is via those with similar profiles already in your network.
The point is this; I do not know a business that would declare they do not want Word Of Mouth recommendations. That being the case, social media is impossible to ignore, because it is where Word Of Mouth is now taking place.
Asking whether social media works is akin to asking whether referrals and recommendations work, a dumb question by most peoples' standards.
The reason, however, why so many businesses fail to make Social Media work is their complete failure to produce, or say, anything of value or interest to their prospects and customers. One of the keys to make social media work is to ensure people are sharing and talking about you. This requires companies to produce comments, materials, contests, information etc., worth talking about. If a business succeeds in that, then they will get a 'return on sharing'
Does social media work? Please don't make me laugh.