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Sand Sinclair , Publisher & Editor-in-Chief


Using social media to grow your business isn’t just social—it’s strategic

2 Jul, 2015

Per Essendant: the term social media is a misnomer. Although it's great for staying in touch with friends and colleagues, social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are also ideal for businesses looking to find new customers and retain existing ones.

“What social media is to businesses is a way to listen to consumers, and listening is one of the best marketing tools you can find,” says Starr Hall, author of The Social Wave: Why Your Business Is Wiping Out with Social Media and How to Fix It. “Most traditional marketing, like radio, TV, and billboards, is one-way messaging; social media is really a two-way conversation.”

It’s a conversation that many business owners are having, according to the social network LinkedIn, which early this year surveyed nearly 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses and found that 81 percent are currently using social media.

Just because they’re using social media, however, doesn’t mean businesses are using it well. In fact, Manta, an online community for small business, conducted a survey of more than 1,200 small business owners in 2013 and found that 61 percent see no ROI from their social media activities.

Whether your goal is attracting prospects or engaging current customers, the following four tips help ensure your social media efforts enable your business to prosper.

1. Leverage a social intelligence platform.

There are dozens of social networks vying for your time. Because there aren’t enough hours in the day to be on all of them all of the time, your first step with social media is to decide where to invest your limited resources. A social intelligence platform can help, according to Hall, who recommends solutions like NUVI, Tracx, or Meltwater, which one can use to research social media usage by customers and competitors.

“You can see what your competitors are doing and look for gaps and opportunities,” Hall explains. “If I’m an office supply reseller, for example, I can plug my two biggest competitors into my social intelligence platform and learn things such as how many people are buying from them online and what channels their audience is on. Once you see where your competitors are—where they’re gaining traction and where they’re not—you can decide where you should be.”

You can use the same social intelligence platform to monitor online conversations for lead opportunities. If you want to sell more toner, for instance, you could set up a keyword search for “printer ink expensive,” at which point the platform will look for relevant conversations on social networks. When someone complains about ink prices, you can reach out and engage them, turning a total stranger into a qualified business lead.

2. Be helpful.

Social media is a means for being more helpful to both current and prospective customers. What you post to social networks is just as important as where you post. A four-part formula—listen, communicate, teach, and help—is useful in ensuring your content engages prospective customers and eventually generates sales leads. 

For example, if you pull up conversations on your social intelligence platform and notice that people are upset with a specific brand of printer, consider writing a post about the ‘5 Best Printers on the Market,’ or ‘How to Improve Performance of Your Brand X Printer.’

You should also post content (e.g., articles, white papers, case studies, photos, polls, etc.) first on your website, then share this content on social networks. This creates a trail prospects can follow to your sales channels if and when they’re ready to buy.

3. Post regularly, consistently.

Social media requires patience and persistence and many businesses give up too early, according to Kate Lee, director of research and strategy at Fronetics Strategic Advisors, a management consultancy that provides demand generation and social media services to the supply chain and logistics industries, “It takes 60 to 90 days to reach a tipping point,” she says. Posting should be constant, continuous, and consistent.

“You get what you put into it,” Hall says. “If you only spend one hour a week on social media, you may only get one lead a week. But if you spend five hours to 20 hours a week, you might get 25 to 200 leads.”

4. Show your love.

Public displays of affection are encouraged on social networks—especially when your goal is engaging existing customers. In that case, you should provide not only information, but also customer service.

“A lot of businesses are now turning to Twitter to answer different questions customers have,” Lee says. “Rather than picking up the phone and waiting on hold to talk to someone in customer service, your customers may send you a tweet.”

If you’re going to use social networks for customer service, you should be prepared to respond in a timely manner—typically within an hour—Lee says, as social media users usually expect instant gratification.

If you lack the resources to provide adequate customer service via social channels, you can still use them to engender customer loyalty. “If you work with really great customers, write case studies that show what an incredible job they’re doing, or quote them in a post or article,” Lee continues. “It shows your customers they’re important to you.”

Another idea is brand advocacy, according to Hall: You can increase customer loyalty by rewarding it. For example, if a customer mentions your company in a social media post, you might offer them a discount on their next order. When they claim the discount, you can invite them to submit a testimonial or write an online review of your business, which you can then promote on social channels.

Ultimately, it’s all about building relationships. “It won’t happen overnight,” Lee says, “but over time many of those relationships will turn into customers.”  

Essendant is a leading enabler of B2B ecommerce success whose goal is to be the fastest, most-convenient solution for workplace essentials. Essendant emerged in June 2015 from the portfolio of brands owned by United Stationers – including United Stationers Supply Company, Azerty, LagasseSweet and ORS-Nasco. For the latest industry insights and expertise, check out the Essendant blog and follow Essendant on LinkedInTwitter and Facebook.

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