The website today is a shop window for many companies, whether they are selling their wares online or other less tangible products and services.
But, imagine the scene in a real setting- an infinite row of virtual shops more congested than Oxford street and endless varieties of garish signs that scream for business, yet blend together in almost perfect anonymity.
This is the e-commerce scene today and the unfortunate position of most companies.
Years of advertising have drilled into owners and marketer’s psyches the power of brands. Many business owners we speak to obsessively focus on developing their brand identity; producing graphics, guidelines and websites that make them stand out from the crowd.
Unfortunately times have changes and and continue to do so at an increasing rate. The accessibility of professional-standard graphic design programmes, stock photography, website templates and a readily available archive of endless ideas (Google images and image libraries), all makes content production much easier. This means that even amateur brands are slicker than ever before.
Easier also means brands are cheaper than ever to design and produce. More businesses have one and spend more time polishing it, often forgetting it is the meaning and consumer attachement to a brand that gives them their true value. Competition is rife. Visual “cut through” and differentiation is harder than ever to achieve. A strong visual identity and brand is no longer enough.
In the meantime…. Social Media took over
Facebook has been cited as “part of the Internet ether” (McKinsey ad Company, 2013) like search and email. This is not unreasonable given approximately 16% of the global population are active users, and in the UK this figure is 33% (Daily Mail, 2013). Social media overall is a core part of everyday Internet use with 22% of all computer time being spent on it (Experian, 2013).
Significantly, along with the increasing popularity of social media, it has also become a key part of our everyday decision making.
Research into online communities from Nancy Baym in the mid 1990s through to today shows positive social interaction online leads to validation, trust and reputation va the development of online communities. This has now also been widely demonstrated at the consumer level (also here). Edelman’s (2013) trust barometer shows trust in business and media is in decline while trusting “people like me” remains top. “People like me” refers to friends, colleagues and anyone in a group of similar interest or association. People regularly join groups and affiliate themselves with brands and organisations they are associated or identify with. This behaviour now predominately takes place on social media.
For years now the marketing industry and mainstream media have been touting social media as “the next big thing” that will change all of our lives. That time has now passed.
Despite all the positive evidence relating to social media marketing there is still significant concern from businesses and marketer around how to use social media effectively and its actual value. This has caused the majority to “play safe” and focus on maintaining mainstream (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) profile pages. Content updates are often self-serving and solely aims to drive traffic to sales websites or at best their sales team- whatever form that may take. In most cases speaking with business owners (of varying size) CEOs still believe they are “adopting the latest trend”, or they need to maintain a social media presence out of competitive fear.
This has resulted in most companies posting general social media updates as a tidal wave of mundane company news and embarrassing Christmas party photos (at best), in which their customers have little interest.
Please look at your last four social media posts and ask yourself if you were a customer whether you’d really care about what has been posted.
Does your business spend most of its time developing the website or posting to social media?
A content (or inbound) marketing strategy can be highly effective if well conceived and executed. Yet time spent developing a well designed website generally competes with time and resource dedicated to social media.
The reality is that people tend to buy goods or services from websites, (generally via search engines), while using social media to seek validation from recent or future purchases. The former is your key to making direct sales now, the latter indirectly generates customer loyalty and more sales later. Both are crucial to a successful long-term business.
Consumers share brand experiences and seek others with similar problems. No matter how good your website or marketing communication, there is no competing with your potential customer’s friends telling them your product is terrible.
The real challenge businesses face today is to encourage customers to share positive experiences, while managing negativity through embracing an open dialogue as much as possible. This can be achieved in numerous ways both technically and personally, but both is necessary for maximum effect.
Companies must lose their obsession with brand consistency and identity design in favour of building a new identity around customer discourse.
In particular this is useful for businesses;
- With a social media presence in its infancy, with less than 1,000 likes and/or less than one post every two days
- Operating an e-commerce website
- Experiencing visible feedback on social networks
- Failng to achieve repeat business (less than 8%)
This is where a social website comes into play:
Marrying the brand presence:
Commerce and ownership of a website with the social kudos and dialogue created by social media is a powerful combination yet to be realised by just a fraction of businesses.
Utilise the socal media functions that create testimonials:
Companies who sell products online require a registration form for fulfilment. Integrating this with social media technology like Facebook’s social graph can enable people to share specific purchases made on your website with their friends. This provides instant validation and can even automate customer testimonial, naturally promoting the product.
Ensure your website has a feedback feature:
Sophisticated techniques can be used to enable your web visitors trigger messages to their profile pages or allow direct interaction with your website. It enables your website to talk back. DISCUS the comment management tool can be connected with social media so a discussion can be shared online and encourage other people to engage with the product or offer etc.
A shoutbox or integration with Twitter can provide a direct connection with the company to offer sales or customer support. This can help manage negative feedback and stimulate direct sales through answering any questions directly. Planned responses and FAQs can be developed and used in conjunction with this approach to minimise response times and resource needed to achieve a full customer support system.
Use social media as a sales channel:
Social applications (Apps) can provide a sales interface on social networks enabling sales to be taken directly on social networks in a variety of formats. This has the added advantage of being able to enrich customer data capture to include a variety of information that could be used in future marketing efforts.
Connecting consumers with your sales function using social media helps move people from consideration to contact more effectively as well as provide an additional sales channel.
Using advanced social media tecniques and web development, your website and social marketing becomes a seamless communication platform, ensuring each element is used for its relative strengths and combine to make a serious online presence. Developing the exact features of integrating both elements will depend on the target audience, product and sales process.
Empower your customers to become part of your business development cycle:
Combining the above with true insight into your target audience and how they purchase the goods or services you offer will ensure you have a fully empowered customer base who can provide the valuable feedback to make those decisions and others for you in the future.
What is stopping your business from using them in combination to achieve the differentiation and competitive advantage you are looking for? Coffee Marketing offer free 30 minute initial consultations to help you identify how your wesbite and social media can work together better. You just need to contact us.
Proud of your social website? Want to share how social media and your website works for your business? Let us know below….