Posted on June 27, 2019 by staff

Harnessing social media for business


Businesses are constantly being told that they need to have a social media presence to drive sales, increase engagement, provide an unrivalled return on investment, increase brand loyalty and dramatically increase the prospects of return customers.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for social media – often delivered via social media itself – is harder to quantify, which makes deciding what percentage of your resources to dedicate to it rather tricky.

There is no disputing the exponential growth in the reach and use of social media (SM). Research by Avocado reported that 83% of adults use social media regularly, and whilst that can be interpreted as 83% of a company’s potential market, it does not necessarily follow as it’s dependent on demographics, geography, accessibility to devices, connectivity, etc.

However, what we do know is that without data you cannot interpret anything.

So where do we start?

  • understand what we want to do with the data
  • set parameters, goals and objectives around what we want to do with the data
  • assess what data we can access and where from
  • assess the data properties for it not only being robust, qualitative and quantitative, ie will it serve our purpose but also avoid multi-collinearity
  • start to build your own ‘data mountain’

To do this though you’d need to dedicate resources, both time and money, to generate insights.

In a 2018 article in Forbes magazine, it was claimed that 44% of businesses can’t measure social media ROI. The report went on to explain the options for tracking, qualifying and quantifying your return.

Building your data mountain then mining it for information should be a driver for action to ensure that investment is not only delivering a return but being continually adjusted to optimise that return.

Social media clearly provides an easy route to share content, but what is the benefit to a business of users sharing content? Where is the evidence that improving reach garners any benefits?

What research there is into social media interaction suggests that potentially the biggest problem facing businesses is not using social media, but properly understanding why consumers do so. There appears to be a large perception gap between what businesses think is going on and what social media users are doing with the platforms.

In their paper From social media to social customer relationship management Baird and Parasnis discovered that while 71% of businesses thought that the most important engagement with customers was to inform them about new products, consumers were most interested (61%) in searching for discounts.

While entirely understandable, those are vital differences and negate a large percentage of business social media spend.

Another favourite trope of the social media advocates is that the platforms engender a sense of engagement and belonging. In the sample surveyed for the above paper, businesses were clearly listening to the ‘experts’, as 61% stated that their use of SM was to ‘be part of a community’.

A laudable goal, but not one shared on the other side of the divide where only 22% of respondents shared this goal.

Intelligent design is necessary to understand what consumers do and why they do it. Only then can a business align its activity with the goals of its audience. Failing to achieve that leads to poor return on investment, poor reach and little or no meaningful engagement.

Businesses are constantly being told that social media is the most dynamic route to reach and engage with their customers, and to grow that customer base; those much-sought-after customers on the other hand do not seem to have got that message, and are busy searching for Groupon vouchers.

So how do you square that circle?

By ‘realigning expectation’ we are suggesting nothing particularly novel; rather the importance of good business practices in a rapidly changing world. Social media is unlikely to go away, but before you can derive benefit from it, you must understand what the users of social media are after.

As Baird and Parasnis state: “Most (customers) do not engage with companies via social media simply to feel connected… customers are far more pragmatic.

“To successfully exploit the potential of social media, companies need to design experiences that deliver tangible value in return for customers’ time, attention, endorsement and data.

“To put it crudely: ‘What is in it for them?’”

One of the problems that flows from this is determining what that benefit may be. It could be fleeting and very personal – information or entertainment, or it could be cold, hard cash in terms of discounts.

Such evidence as is available suggests that to focus on the fluffy; the feel-good, the laughs and to imagine that this alone will magically translate into increased sales is delusional. Here’s an example of this from an eCommerce business owner.

Planning goals and how to achieve those goals is as important to a business using social media as it is in any other aspect of their overall strategy. Unless you just like posting stuff because it makes you feel good about yourself as a business, a failure to understand what you hope to achieve will result in a poor return on investment.

Despite being exciting and shiny, social media is no different to any other aspect of business – it must work for you in some way to be worthwhile. Like so much associated with the internet, it has been hyped to the point that it is difficult to determine whether it is a fad or the potential cure for mortality.

Deciding where it should rank in your online priorities can be difficult, which is where Inspire can help.

It is critical that you factor the following into your approach to social media.

Do you understand:

  • The purpose of having a social media presence?
  • Who your audience is?
  • The intelligent design of your social media strategy?

Once you have achieved that you need to have:

  • Clear strategy for using social media
  • Clear, well-understood, SMART objectives
  • Regular monitoring of your social media effort

There are many social media management tools available to companies to help them manage their social media presence and crucially analyse the results and effects of their strategy. How can you fix something if you don’t know that it isn’t working?

With years of experience and a proven track record, Inspire can help you sort the wheat from the chaff without resorting to hyperbole or unicorns.

A successful online presence is the result of hard work and informed decisions. If you are unsure where to begin, or you are unhappy with your current strategy, talk to us to discover how things can be done differently.