As we roll into 2012 companies are looking at ways to either boost their social media campaigns, or in some cases, launch them for the first time. One of the big questions they have is whether or not they’re too late to the game. While I’m not going to lie and say it’s the easiest it’s ever been to get in the game, I can say more companies will find it easier to get involved today than they ever have before. I see six key reasons for this.
Reason #1 – Social Media has Reached a Saturation Point
While I work with all shapes and sizes of business, small business is where my heart lies. Limited staffing and limited budgets leaves little room for “let’s just try this” in the small business marketing budget and forces you to really focus in on what you want to accomplish and how to get there in the most efficient manner. That means I spend a lot of time watching social media outlets and making judgement calls on when they’ve reached a saturation point. I rarely suggest a company begin utilizing a social media outlet until it’s crystal clear that outlet has enough members of their target audience to be worth the time and effort.
Social media as a whole has reached a saturation point. Forrester research now reports that 86% of the online U.S. population engages in social media these days. Its no longer a growing medium, it’s simply an accepted form of communication. Facebook claims one out of every thirteen people on EARTH have an account. 86% usage rates means your customers ARE on social media, end of story. You’ll still have to do some research to find out where they are, but they ARE there. You can stop wondering if it’s worthwhile to be there and start worrying about what you’ll do to reach them.
Reasons #2 – Social Sharing Continues to Rise
If you get involved with social media for no other reason, it should be to take advantage of the sheer volume of sharing that happens online on a daily basis. Add This shows astronominal growth rates for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, among others. Interestingly, copy and paste from the URL bar into emails, intant messages and other social channels still makes up an ever larger portion of sharing than simple “click to share” options. That means a ton of people are sharing, without even realizing they’re taking part in “social media.”
Very few businesses can’t benefit from word of mouth. Unless you are one of them, you need to have a plan in place to leverage it online. Social media is what helps you do that.
Reason #3 – Social Media is Diversifying
For some reason, a large portion of companies still think social media equals Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. It’s a short sighted way of looking at things and for specialty, niche and most B2B businesses, it’s a mistake. Whether you’re a small online clothing boutique hawking your wares through Polyvore, a donut shop in Youngstown, Ohio pulling new customers from UrbanSpoon, an extreme fitness studio attracting new students from LivingSocial or a Etsy shop driving sales from Pinterest, the options online are almost limitless. Sure, it’s great to build at least a baseline presence with the major players, but more and more companies are finding success by building strong and loyal following on some of the specialty social media sites.
If you are only looking at the biggest players, the game is going to seem a little overwhelming. If you start digging deeper to find those pockets of conversation your audience is having online, there’s wonderful opportunity to build a grassroots social media campaign.
Reason #4 – Staffing is Easier to Come By
Sure, there’s still a distinct lack of people in the marketing world who really understand social media from the perspective of how it can impact your business…but it’s way better than it was even just a few years ago. College students and recent grads understand the new environment and are constantly exploring new outlets. Find one with grea communication skills and provide them with a little direction from someone with actual marketing experience and an understanding of your business and you can go a long way in a short time. Whether you choose to hire a team in-house, hire out a consultant to help keep your team focused, or turn the entire thing over to an agency…there are enough workers out there now to actually give you a choice in whom you hire.
Reason #5 – Social Media Analytics Have Come a Long Way
Remember when people cheered because they gained a Facebook fan, or got X number of retweets? Those things still count, but we’ve finally matured social media to the point where we dig deeper. Social media isn’t just about presence and engagement anymore. The tools are rising to the challenge issued by marketers and our ability to track actions across networks gives us more data than ever. We’re understanding the need to create social media specific metrics like amplification and applause and we’re finally getting companies to look at business goals and figure out how social media can be used to address them.
This makes it easier than ever for companies to carve out dollars for social media. It was one thing to say “we need to try this.” It’s an entirely different thing to say “we need to accomplish X and we have Y dollars to do it. Can you make this work?” Companies that embrace social media from the latter perspective will see far more success.
Reason #6 – Offline and Online Experiences are Converging
A girl walks into a bar and sees a cowboy, a clown and a priest having dinner. It may be a joke, or it may be a social media post. With the proliferation of smart phones and social media apps, our every day lives now intersect so tightly with our online lives that they’re barely distinguishable. Congregations check in on Facebook on Sunday mornings to share their choice of church with their friends. People take pictures of the things they want for Christmas and post them to their Tumblr accounts for all to see. Live tweeting happens during everything from conferences to earthquakes. Brick and mortar stores are finding new ways to encourage foot traffic to broadcast their activity online by offing coupons, discounts or special experiences. Every experience is sharable and every share is trackable, giving businesses more insight into their customers than they’ve ever had before.
Do It, But Do It With a Goal
Here’s the one down side to all this. The more options you have, the more likely you are to get caught up in the rush and get lost. Take the time to think about the goals you have for your business in 2012. Write them down. Then look at them and ask yourself if you can think of any way social media might be able to help you reach those goals. If you aren’t certain, ask a trusted voice in the business. A good social media marketer will tell you if you just aren’t ready, or if your goals aren’t realistic. Once you find a fit though, it’s time to map out a strategy to meet those goals and to get yourself to work.