The 3 Essential Functions of Social Media

A friend asked me the other day why companies get involved in social media. After posing her question, she proceeded to answer it herself. “So they can do more advertising and stuff, right?” Wrong. There may be some companies out there that just use social media to further flood the market with their current ad campaign, but there is so much more to social media. And the companies that are truly successful at social media understand that it is so much more.

1. Monitor

One of the most basic functions of social media is to help businesses monitor their name, brand, and products as they’re discussed in the  online world. This is a crucial point that many businesses overlook. There will always be conversations online and in real life about people, places and things and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. But a business can monitor and listen to those conversations and in some cases join in on the conversation. This is particularly important when it comes to negative comments about a company’s product or service. Often a scorned customer can be appeased with a simple acknowledgment of the problem and an apology. People want to be heard and they want people to care about what they have to say. If they don’t feel like they’re being taken seriously, a problem that often times could be quickly and easily resolved, gets blown entirely out of proportion. Look at the apple iphone fiasco. The antenna issue could be easily resolved with bumpers to fix the reception. Had apple immediately acknowledged the reception issue, apologized and said “We’re looking into it,” maybe they wouldn’t be facing a class-action lawsuit. Instead, Steve Jobs chose to deny, deny, deny and they’re in much hotter water because of it.

Tools like Twitter and Google Alerts can be so valuable in this function. With a few quick searches, any business owner can be aware of exactly what is being said about the company, the product or the service and the owner can be immediately notified if there is a storm brewing so he can step in before it’s a full blown hurricane.

Using tools like Hoot Suite, you can monitor conversations by searching for exact phrases, names, topics and more. 

2. Connect

One of the most valuable functions of social media is the ability to connect with people. Social media, in any shape or form, creates a public persona for a business that allows it to connect with consumers. Social media humanizes businesses and allows consumers to see more than just the high dollar ads and business execs on TV. A business can share more like company values, the corporate culture, other projects that the company is involved in like various philanthropies. By showing more than just the finely tuned marketing campaign, consumers are able to connect with businesses on a more personal level. This allows consumers to become more vested in the company and more willing to support the company in the long run.

Facebook is a perfect example of how businesses can connect with consumers. All it takes is one person to become a fan of the company. Then that person is updated regularly on sales and regular goings on in the business, but also on the people behind the business, what they’re doing, what they’re supporting and what they’re thinking. The next time a consumer needs a product or service offered by this company, the consumer is much more likely to do business with a company he can connect with on a more personal level as opposed to one of the other competitors that the consumer knows nothing about.

3. Interact

Once you’ve monitored what people are saying and you’ve connected with them on some level, the next step is to interact with them. This is the ultimate goal of social media because its possibilities are limitless for your business. Once you start interacting regularly with consumers, you can learn more about them, what they think, what they do and how they act. You can then use this information to better your business. And by forming meaningful relationships and interacting with consumers, you will strengthen their customer loyalty. Odds are that those loyal customers will not only support your business for years to come but they will introduce your business to their friends and family.

One way to interact with customers using social media is to provide special offers and coupons to encourage them to give you business. But more than that, you can interact with them directly by responding to their comments and providing them with useful information and feedback. Foursquare is a  fun new way to interact with consumers on a personal level. Customers can check in whenever they frequent your business. They can get special deals using promotion codes and if they check in enough, they even get the glory of being dubbed “mayor” of your business.

There are plenty of different ways to monitor, connect and interact with consumers using social media. The important thing is not how you go about it, just that you do it. By getting involved with social media and in turn getting more involved with your consumers, you create a ripple effect. Each time you create a meaningful relationship with a customer, they’ll share that with a friend, who will share that with a friend and so on. The return on social media is only limited by the effort and energy you’re willing to put into it.

So what do you think? How do you use social media? What are some other benefits and basic functions of social media that haven’t been discussed?

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