Social media has revolutionized the way that businesses interact with and market to their customer bases. Though social media offers a number of advantages over more traditional marketing mediums – including real time interaction, more personable communication, and a platform that allows for multi-media marketing, from video to graphics to text – one simple characteristic above all differentiates social media from other marketing platforms, and that is that users voluntarily opt in to the marketing channel. This makes social media unique – and powerful.
Whether on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, individuals who follow businesses online, be it Coca-Cola or Sony, choose to do so. The conventional belief is that this active participation on the part of the consumer makes them an ideal marketing demographic, and one that is particularly receptive to marketing efforts. Knowing this, it should come as little surprise that businesses are increasingly using these social channels to market not only generally, but in more specialized ways as well. Increasingly, businesses are monetizing their social channels, and not simply using them for customer relations.
Is It a Conversation? Or Purely Marketing?
If you follow any businesses on social media, you will likely find them promoting Black Friday deals this holiday season. And that is because businesses expect you to make online purchases. Reports indicate that upwards of 50 percent of individuals follow a business in the hopes of receiving a discount or free product; a business can offer said discount through its social channels and not only reap financially, but help build brand loyalty and trust as well (not to mention its number of followers).
Yet, in a way, everyone benefits – the consumer receives the discount that he or she wanted and the business is able to sell a product and build its reputation with customers. Though it may be a lopsided conversation (after all, the argument can probably be made that the seller always benefits more than the buyer), it does allow for a sort conversation to take place, in that it is reciprocal. And this conversation is made possible through the following tools:
When it comes to social networks, none is as large as Facebook. And with users spending upwards of 400 minutes a month on the website, businesses have plenty of opportunities to catch their customers’ attention. With a range of promotional options to choose from, as well as standard posts that show up in followers’ feeds, Facebook offers businesses a number of different ways to communicate with their followers. And vice versa, makes it easy for individuals to follow their favorite businesses.
For example, if you’re interested in learning more about Black Friday sales at JCPenney, you should 1) follow JCPenney on Facebook (this may seem obvious), and 2) log on to the website starting around 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving evening. Why 8 p.m. on the day before Black Friday? Because research has shown that 60 percent of females (and nearly as many males) do their online shopping between 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving and 6 a.m. the next morning. This means that businesses will be likely be heavily promoting deals during this narrow window.
If Facebook is a bulletin board, then Twitter is a bullhorn. Updates come far more often, and often times are less substantive, because there is an expectation that the lifespan of a tweet is incredibly short (it’s also limited to 140 characters). But the dynamics of Twitter also make it conducive to conversation and customer interaction. Businesses can monitor their followers’ tweets, follow hash tags like #blackfriday to gauge consumer interest, and interact directly with followers, both to promote deals and to answer questions or build a reputation with the customer base.
For the user, Twitter is beneficial as well. Put simply, following a business on Twitter is easy. Consumers can receive push notifications or simply monitor their twitter feeds while they are shopping to stay abreast of the latest deals and promotions, which can be promoted in real time via Twitter (Facebook is less suited to such marketing). In effect, you can be having a real-time conversation with a business as you’re shopping with them. Twitter allows, even encourages, such a relationship.
Make the Most of Your Relationship
Though businesses are increasingly turning to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to market their services and products, this does not automatically mean that you, the consumer, can’t benefit from such an arrangement. Perhaps of most importance, you have the option to simply ignore such marketing efforts (far harder to do when you’re being bombarded with television ads, radio commercials, and billboards all day long). But it is also important to remember that you can develop a relationship with the businesses that you turn to most. In many cases, you can receive exclusive deals and discounts, and in turn, businesses can hear directly from you, the customer. The choice is ultimately yours, but so long as potential customers continue to flock to social networks, so too will businesses.
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