By Kristen Carroll
Everyone—marketing consultants, social media mavens, your brother-in-law Steve—keeps telling you that your company has to have a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. You don’t feel convinced; after all, when was the last time you actually made a sale because of your Facebook page?
The right question: What has your social media presence done for you lately?
The answer is that it all depends on how you’re using it. Your social media presence can be your most inexpensive customer service rep and brand manager, or it can be a fairly useless representation of your company, collecting virtual dust, or worse, annoying people with salesy content or excessive anti-Uber sentiments.
It’s amazing that we’re still having this conversation in 2018 after many years of seeing the benefits of social media working for companies, but let’s delve a bit deeper into why it’s a must. The LMC Group has been providing social media services since day one, and I have personally been advocating for social media strategy for companies and organizations since before I even had my first Facebook page. It is almost hard for me to remember a time when social media wasn’t part of the tapestry of our existence ... and yet, it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that even the largest brands in the U.S. were dipping a toe in the social media pool.
Back in 2008, Forbes reported on the lackluster results of a few major brands that had begun experimenting with social media marketing. The consensus of the article was that the future of advertising via Facebook was not guaranteed, and widespread adoption was uncertain. Yet by 2017, digital advertising was an $83B industry in the U.S. alone.
I recently came across the first presentation on social media and business I ever created. It was from 2009, and it included statistics of the time:
1. There are now over 300 million active users on Facebook.
2. Twitter allows users to write and read 140-character messages (tweets), and there are millions of tweets posted daily.
3. LinkedIn has over 50 million members.
I presented this information to the executive leadership team of a hospital system, encouraging them to embrace social media, but my conservative and seasoned audience was skeptical. I outlined potential uses in recruitment, customer service, public relations, and community engagement, and I addressed concerns about negative user comments and communication management. Fortunately, the hospital system ultimately decided to embrace this new frontier of communication. They became early adopters of the resources social media provided, and they haven’t looked back.
The world has changed remarkably in this past decade, and our way of communicating will never be what it once was. Here’s how those numbers from my 2009 PowerPoint look in 2018:
1. There are now over 2.13 billion active users on Facebook.
2. There are 500 million tweets posted daily (and messages can now be 280 characters).
3. LinkedIn has over 500 million members.
Still, nearly 10 years later, I find myself having these same discussions with executives and business owners. What is the purpose of social media? How am I supposed to stay on top of it? How can you prove to me this is going to help boost my sales? What if someone says something negative about me? I suggest we take a different perspective on social media ROI.
Social Media Marketing Saves Money—Lots of Money
In the early days of social media, I had a senior level position in a large organization. I was given an advertising budget of $5 million to manage. I knew there were digital and social options that could be as effective as traditional advertising sources for far less money, and by leveraging those newer methods, I completely reengineered the advertising plan I had inherited. I reduced the annual spend to $500,000, thus saving my department $4.5 million annually. My CEO was skeptical at the beginning, but it didn’t take long to demonstrate it was not only more effective, but also significantly less expensive. The landscape of traditional marketing and advertising was forever changed.
I realize that the money I saved from that advertising budget alone exceeds the average annual revenue of a chauffeured car operator, so let’s bring these figures back down to earth. Most chauffeured car companies spend just one percent of their annual revenue on advertising and marketing. That is significantly less than the U.S. Small Business Administration’s recommendation of up to 12 percent for companies with an annual revenue of $5 million or less, or up to eight percent for companies with an annual revenue that exceeds $5 million. If you are the company in your market that invests in marketing and advertising at a deeper level than your competitors, you can stand out quite easily!
However, no matter how small your advertising and marketing budget is, you can both easily afford and cannot afford not to have a social media presence. I say this with the caveat that this article is primarily geared toward U.S. and North American operators. In Europe, having a social media presence can sometimes be perceived negatively and associated with lower-end brands and services, so it is important to always be aware of your market.
I have been combining marketing and advertising as related concepts thus far, but they really should be considered separately. Advertising is a part of your overall marketing efforts, but generally includes a specific call to action to prompt an immediate inquiry or sale. Marketing is how you promote and raise awareness for your business and brand on a larger scale.
Let’s Get Engaged
Once you have marketed your brand and people are aware of it, the next goal is to foster brand loyalty and customer engagement. This is one of the most important tactical goals, and it is not an easy process. To foster brand loyalty, your clients need to feel as though they connect with the persona of your brand. You are no longer a car service: You are an experience that has somehow enriched their lives and caused them to have a positive and relatable impression. You have transcended from product to partner, and your clients have grown from consumers to marketers on your behalf. If you have developed a sense of brand loyalty with a client, you are infinitely more likely to receive the benefit of the doubt and a second chance to make it right when you make an error. Brand loyalty is the ultimate in client engagement.
So let’s tie client engagement back to where we started: social media. The question you should be asking isn’t how social media will increase your sales, which is what we so often hear. The question is, what is the most inexpensive and effective way to engage with your clients, market your brand, foster brand loyalty, and stay in the front of the mind of your target clients. And the answer to that question is—resoundingly—social media.
You can manage your own accounts for no cost other than the time you spend with them, or you can invest in hiring a social media company that will generally perform the service for a reasonable amount that is aligned with your desired investment. Many companies we work with spend tens of thousands of dollars on print media and sponsorships, as they should, but don’t want to spend a fraction of that on their most visible presence via social media.
Social Media: It’s Not Just Funny Cat Pictures
The comment I hear most from the aging population of executives is: “Why do I need to be on Facebook? I don’t care what you had to eat today, or what your dog looks like.” Yes, people can be annoying and often overshare on social media. As it turns out, people can be annoying in real life, too! If you avoid people, however, you’re going to have a hard time getting your message out. Social media can be about vanity, helping others, promoting yourself or your brand, solving problems and sharing information, creating communities of like-minded individuals, and so much more. Social media cannot, however, be put into a box, especially with an antiquated understanding of its purpose, or encapsulated in an outdated punchline about food photos and kitty memes.
Like life, social media is what you make of it. If you aren’t getting results from your efforts, it’s because you’re doing it wrong. Asking if social media generates any results in today’s global community is akin to asking whether networking and sales are worthwhile. Our social media presence is our face to the world, but so much more.
The neat part is, it’s not too late to join the movement as we continue to expand and grow this new dimension of communication and relationship fostering. Here’s what we have to look forward to in 2018:
1. Facebook has launched a jobs portal that aims to be the LinkedIn of more entry-level positions. Now when you post a job on your company page, it will be searchable to everyone in your area, whether they have “liked” your company page or not. It’s time to jazz up that online posting to ensure you stand out. This is a great opportunity for early adaptors to shine above the rest.
2. According to the Sprout Social Index, 1 of every 3 consumers will now mention or tag a brand when posting about a personal accomplishment. Have any friends on Whole 30? CrossFit? Odds are, they’ve told you about it.
3. Brands are investing more and more in their social media presence as the first line of defense for customer service issues. This not only gives you a public medium to show off your service recovery skills, but also provides a quick solution for your clients, and they love you all the more for it. This is why you need someone monitoring your social media accounts often—so that those customer issues can be answered as quickly as possible! Your 24/7/365 phone answering should be complemented by 24/7/365 social media monitoring, because customers will move on if they don’t get a fast response.
4. Users are equally likely to see your Facebook page when searching for your company. So your Facebook page should have the same care and attention invested into its curation and development.
The Bottom Line
If you are not maximizing the still very affordable solutions offered through social media, you are missing out on the best marketing opportunity any generation of businesses has ever seen. It is imperative to join the conversation, put your best foot forward, and use social media for the tool it is. Stop looking for results that aren’t associated with this venue. As of today, your Facebook page isn’t going to make your phone ring off the hook with new calls for reservations. What it will do, however, is make your current clients like you more, humanize your company while endearing you to your potential clients, showcase your services to your target market, keep a pulse on your competitors and partners, and give you a cost-effective platform to share your message with a limitless group of potential users. In the past, such a medium would cost tens of thousands of dollars on a monthly basis to leverage ... but today, the solutions are in the palm of your hand. Even with hired social media help, they cost significantly less than what you would pay for one traditional advertisement.
The question is not whether social media is worth the investment. The question is how much longer are we going to have access to these transformative resources at such an affordable price and how can we ensure we don’t lose one minute of momentum as we proceed.
Kristen Carroll is the Founder of the LMC group. she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.