Once thought to be a passing fad, and still relatively new, social media has taken a firm hold and warrants attention in many retailers' online marketing efforts. You can't avoid it. No matter where you turn, it seems you hear terms like, "fan page," "followers," "tweet," "re-tweet," "blog," and more. With all the social media hype, many are questioning what social media actually is, and how they can use it to move their business forward.
This article will provide some strategies for making your site more social media friendly, touch upon differences between options presented by major social media outlets, and answer the question of whether you should do it yourself or hire a social media consultant to do it for you. Social media can be time consuming, but when implemented correctly it can add a level to your business that helps build brand loyalty and awareness, which in turn boosts your bottom line.
What is Social Media?
Wikipedia defines social media as:
"Media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social media uses Internet and web based technologies to transform broadcast media monologues (one to many) into social media dialogues (many to many). It supports the democratization of knowledge and information, transforming people from content consumers into content producers."
In short, social media is a group of Internet based applications that utilize new web concepts to promote user-generated content.
Examples of some of the major social media applications are Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Twitter can be seen as a "micro blog" service that enables you to post short messages of up to 140 characters that feed in real time to your followers. Facebook is more of a publishing platform which enables you to create a page that integrates multiple media options into one (i.e. discussion boards, blogs, photos, shopping carts, etc.). YouTube is a service that enables you to produce video content to the masses, possibly to demonstrate the use of your product. The power and uniqueness of each application provides pros and cons. Because Facebook has a little more of a learning curve to it, and because it has a number of options to choose from, I'll briefly touch on that below.
Simple Tricks to Make Your Site More Social Media Friendly
Whether or not you're on social media platforms, odds are, your customers are. They're sharing your URL with their friends on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or MySpace. If you want to engage in social media marketing, you'll want to be sure to have a social media presence on your ecommerce site.
Social Media Sharing
There are dozens of sites you can visit that will provide embeddable code to create social networking icons on your site. These icons make it easy for visitors to share what they like about your site with their social media friends and followers.
One site worth checking out is ShareThis (http://sharethis.com). ShareThis is a tool you can install on your site that makes it easier for visitors to share with their network. You've probably seen some form of ShareThis on news sites. There are typically several icons spread out in a horizontal line or grouped together under a header of "Share." Installing this tool allows your visitors to easily spread the word via social networking sites about a page or website of yours that they like. Add this (http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php) is very similar to ShareThis. Both require site registration and some publisher information, but are easy to use and do basically the same thing.
Show Off Your Social Media Presence
If you're on several social networking sites, it behooves you to display that affiliation somewhere on your site. For the consummate online shopper, these links show you're not just an ecommerce beginner. The more social media sites you partake in the more web-knowledgeable you appear and the greater your brand awareness will be. You can display your social media links either in a self-created sidebar module or by using sites like Lijit (www.lijit.com). Lijit is similar to ShareThis; however, rather than pushing people out to social networking sites, Lijit pulls them into your other sites.
Facebook Fan Page or Group?
A question that often gets asked when it comes to Facebook is: should you build a Facebook Group Page or a Fan Page? It is a good question, and the answer depends mostly on what your plans are for your site. I've broken down the pros and cons of both a fan page versus a group page.
Facebook Fan Page
Facebook Fan Pages are a great option for brands, including ecommerce sites that plan on posting information at least once a week.
Facebook Fan Page Pros:
Looks polished; closely resembles an individual profile page.
Can include videos, photos, links, events, etc.
Can be fed into "fans'" update stream, similar to an individual profile update.
Can be given a customized URL similar to an individual profile.
Hides the name and address of the page creator.
Offers options to add applications such as a Twitter feed.
Includes a "wall" similar to individual profiles that people can post comments on.
Can be paired with a Facebook Fan Page Widget on your site.
Facebook Fan Page Cons:
More difficult to manage conversations between fans.
Conversations are on display for the public to see.
Unable to convert Facebook Groups to Fan Pages if you've already got a Group page set up.
Until you have an adequate number of fans, you'll be posting a lot.
A dismal Fan Page linked to your site can hurt your inbound links in SEO.
Facebook Group Page
Facebook Group pages are easy to create and slightly more personal than a Fan Page. Since it is not a constantly fed profile like page, you do not need to post as often.
Facebook Group Pros
Can be more intimate; people see who created the group.
Still allows for pictures, photos, videos, events, etc. to be posted.
Allows for emails to be sent to all group members.
Pre-dates Fan Pages; more familiarity among early adopters of Facebook.
Facebook Group Cons
Visitors must visit your group page for updates.
Does not allow applications to be added to the group page.
Will automatically post related groups to your group page, whether you want them or not.
Cannot be linked to your site via widget(s).
The Verdict? Consider a Facebook Fan Page if you want to keep your fans up-to-date on the goings-on of your site. Consider a Group if you have a niche within your site about which people might want to create conversations.
Should You Hire a Social Media Consultant?
With the hundreds of social media sites or applications available, it's easy to get overwhelmed. When you are already trying to keep your ecommerce business afloat, social media can seem unnecessary and time consuming. Research has shown, however, that ecommerce retailers are reaping the benefits of social media (i.e., offering better customer service and increased sales), therefore, it pays to utilize it. Not everyone is social media savvy, nor do they have the time, which is why many companies hire social media consultants to help them with their campaigns.
Do you need a social media consultant, or should you do your own social media work?
When to hire a social media consultant:
If you really do not have the time to commit to social media sites.
If you don't have the time to learn social media sites.
If you don't consider yourself a strong writer, and/or interactive with your audience.
If you want to launch a large social media campaign and need experts to help get things off the ground.
If you tend to defer project work to experts, rather than attempt to try it yourself.
When to do your own social media work:
If you are familiar with social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, and use them on a personal basis.
If you are a quick learner and tech savvy.
If you are planning a small campaign with only one or two social media sites.
If you have content ready to post on a blog or Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Note: Social media consultants tend to pay per project or per hour, depending on their rates and availability.
What We've Learned
Social media seems to be here to stay. It most certainly will evolve and change as time goes on, but you can be sure that in one form or another, this new media will continue. Much like TV or radio were when they began, the power it harnesses for those who use it will shine through. This new medium will bring awareness to your product or brand, and help you build a stronger relationship with your customers, which may lead to greater sales and future growth for your business.
Having said that, keep in mind that social media can be time consuming, and integrating a social media marketing campaign into your business should not be taken lightly. Proper planning and implementation is critical to your success. You may even want to consider hiring an expert to handle it for you. This will largely depend on your needs, budget, and time you have to allocate your own resources to getting the job done in-house.
When it comes to Facebook and the choice between creating a Fan Page or a Group, you'll want to consider your objective before determining which is best for you. Fan Pages are best for pushing brands and for ecommerce sites that can commit to posting at least once per week. Consider a Facebook Group if you want a more personal touch, and if you cannot commit to posting at least once per week.
Integrating social media into your site is easy. There are sites that provide the code and icons to simply paste into your web structure. Once you utilize social media, make sure you display it on your site to let customers know where to find you. Remember, social media is a tool that can push your business and brand forward. Plan carefully and choose wisely. Like those that harnessed the power of TV and radio, social media adopters will see the benefits with time.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce Optimization blog, www.TheEcommerceExpert.com. He coaches store owners using his online coaching system, Ecommerce Amplifier (www.EcommerceAmplifier.com), teaching them how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. He can be contacted at 1-866-602-2673.
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