Accept it - social media is here to stay

From the Sacramento Business Journal - July 17, 2015 By Douglas Elmets

You’ve never heard of Tumblr. The thought of tweeting or blogging makes you cringe. You don’t know the difference between friending and liking on Facebook. You realize social media could be key to growing your business, but you’re bewildered and apprehensive and have no idea where to start.

If any of those statements resonate with you, relax — you’re not alone. Although social media’s power to boost exposure, increase sales and generate consumer loyalty is now undisputed in the corporate world, many smaller business owners are arriving late to the party and aren’t quite sure how to join in.

Typically, four factors make companies resistant to giving social media a try — a lack of time, concerns about budget, an inability to measure impact, and the challenge of blending social media with other outreach efforts.

Those are legitimate concerns, but make no mistake: The horse is out of the barn, and if you don’t climb in the social media saddle at some point, your competitors will win the race.

Before developing a social media strategy, however, business owners and marketing executives should first have a strong grasp of what it is and how it has fundamentally shifted the way we communicate. Understanding the risks is a good idea, too.

From a communications standpoint, the biggest change wrought by social media is its ability to extend the reach of a message and allow us to interact instantaneously — and simultaneously — with millions of people around the world. Indeed, most social networks have user bases larger than the population of most countries.

For many companies, Facebook is the starting point, given the ease of simply creating a page bearing a business name, logo and mission, and inviting “friends” to show their love with a click of a mouse. From there, the sky’s the limit, and successful companies use Facebook to raise awareness of a product or service, drive traffic to the company website, share important business news, and run contests or promote events.

Starbucks, widely recognized as a leader in generating online fans and translating such loyalty into bigger sales, has successfully used its Facebook page to launch promotions such as “Free Pastry Day” (fans print a coupon for a free treat redeemable in stores) and Frappuccino happy hours.

The coffee giant also has used social networking to help it identify problems. At a time of slumping sales in 2008, its founder, Howard Schultz, launched, allowing customers to make suggestions, ask questions and share criticisms.

And for-profit companies aren’t the only folks making good use of social media. Remember the ice-bucket challenge? If not, you must have been living on Mars.

Created by the ALS Association, the memorable gimmick quickly went viral, with rock stars, athletes and other celebrities joining ordinary folks to videotape themselves getting an ice-cold dousing on behalf of the charity. Combining the competitiveness of a “challenge” with social media narcissism, the contest helped the ALS Association raise $114 million in donations since July of last year — compared to the $2.5 million it raised during all of 2013.

While all of this may sound overwhelming, playing in the social media sandbox is not, as they say, rocket science. And it’s fun.

With a bit of courage, a dash of creativity, and a few millennials on your team, you’ll soon be tweeting and hashtagging with the best of ’em.

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