Not so long ago the question businesses were asking was "Why should I waste my time and money on social media?". The question they ask now is "Where should I invest my time and money on social media?". That's a dramatic change of attitude in a relatively short space of time - less than two years in my experience - but it's heartening that most businesses are now recognising the value social media can bring to a business. And that they are starting to ask the right questions, even if the answers are not always obvious.
There are three major social platforms a business can look to leverage and a whole host of minor ones that can also bring value. The question of which one would be best comes down to the nature of the business in question but there are some very obvious factors that need to be taken into account by every business.
First of all, there's the numbers game, which makes Facebook a no brainer. Approaching 1 BILLION users, Facebook is the social network and I would advise any business looking at social media to set their page up as soon as possible. Some interesting facts came out of a conference I attended a few months ago that back this up:
1 in 10 visits to any website comes FROM Facebook - that's traffic you're not getting and should be.
1 in 6 of all page views in the UK is on Facebook - that's eyeballs that could be on you and your brand.
Facebook commands 54% of all social media traffic, compared to YouTube with 19% in second place - they are dominant and you can't ignore that.
So yes, as a business of any kind you should have a Facebook presence and you should use it. However, that does not mean it will be most successful channel for your business.
Perhaps the next most well known social networking channel is Twitter. Twitter says it has 100 million active users, which is clearly significantly less than Facebook but those 100 million matter. The Twitter community is hugely influential - get a good name on their, you'll reap the rewards. Get a bad name, you'll feel the effect.
Even if your business can't use Twitter to generate leads and sales as effectively as on other channels at the very least you should have an account and be monitoring the conversation surrounding your brand. You could spot an opportunity or two to join a conversation, influence it and turn it into a valuable lead or sale. Even better, if you spot negative sentiment towards your brand, you can step in, find out what the problem is, resolve it and turn an unhappy customer into a brand advocate.
If your business sells tangible products then YouTube could prove to be a valuable social media tool for generating sales. Video demonstrations of products, How To videos and behind the scenes videos will all help customers build confidence in your business, your brand and your products. And who knows, if one of your videos goes viral you could see a major influx of traffic and enquiries.
That covers the top three social media channels available. As previously stated, there are hundreds more that could work wonders for your business if invested in properly.
There's also a newcomer to the social media playing field - Google+. Debate on its value will rumble on for quite some time, but there's no doubting the potential it has for business. And if you get in now you'll be well ahead of much of your competition. Create your Google+ Page, promote it to your existing customers and try to become established before your competitors do.
Finally, there's a host of other social networks that are plowing their own furrows with certain groups of people. Find the one that best fits your business and you can benefit massively. For example, if you have a physical presence like a shop then Foursquare might be for you, as might any other location based mobile app.
The best bit of advice I can give you when it comes to social media marketing is do your homework before you do anything else. You're going to have to put time and effort into this before you start reaping the rewards so make sure you're putting it into the right places. Identify your target market, research where they hang out socially and join them.