For many years now, driving traffic and customers online has predominantly been the preserve of search engine optimisation (SEO), pay per click (PPC) advertising and banner advertising. However, now there's a new term to get to grips with - social media.
Social media is the umbrella term for media that is designed to be distributed through social interaction and can include blogs, social networks (eg, Twitter and Facebook), wikis, podcasts, video and social bookmarking.
If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, you might want to consider that in the USA, Facebook has already overtaken Google as the site with the most traffic. This represents a seismic shift in online habits, the repercussions of which are yet to be fully felt. However, it's safe to say that if your business isn't using social media, you are missing valuable marketing opportunities and even potentially leaving your online brand reputation open to criticism and exploitation.
There are a number of reasons why your business should be thinking about social media:
● First, it can drive traffic more effectively than SEO and search engine positioning alone. Many of the old methods of artificial search engine manipulation have been penalised and eradicated by the search engines in a drive to serve better and more relevant page results.
In tandem with this, search engines are moving rapidly towards serving results that have achieved profile among social networks and blogs. This is ultimately producing a fused discipline called social SEO, which uses the organic benefits of social media to produce higher positions in search engine page results.
So if you're worried about your positioning within search engines, you need to think about social media.
● Second, social media can enhance customer loyalty and communication. Online users increasingly want to track information, news, special deals and so on via the social media of their choice. Enabling them to do this keeps existing and potential customers connected to your brand.
In the same way that you might have a newsletter or special offer mailshot, social networks like Twitter and Facebook can provide excellent opportunities for communicating directly with customers, except in real time and without the cost of printing, packing and postage.
● Third, cost is a key benefit of using social media. Given the difficult economic conditions, it's important to keep marketing costs low, and social media represents an opportunity to grow targeted and self-perpetuating traffic via search engines or social networks. Compare this with PPC or banner advertising, which require significant regular investment merely to drive the same levels of traffic month on month.
Peter Brady is chief executive of Orbital Media and an expert in social media
CASE STUDY: WYNDHAM GRAND LONDON CHELSEA HARBOUR HOTEL
Looking to improve its website's Google rating (SEO) and drive traffic, the Wyndham Grand London Chelsea Harbour hotel took a proactive approach to marketing itself online.
Among other online initiatives, the hotel developed a branded blog (www.wyndhamgrandlondon.co.uk/blog/) to increase its exposure. Its social media strategy included cultivating relationships with blogs, targeting keywords for maximum impact on search engines and focusing on popular content topics.
It then set up branded social network pages on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, ensuring they were managed daily to maintain relevance and freshness.
As a result of its actions, the Wyndham Grand website and blog saw targeted traffic growth of approximately 20% per month, while the branded social network platforms have accumulated followers at a rate of approximately 30% growth per month. Business opportunities and enquiries have continued to rise in line with the growth in online exposure.
TOP 10 SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING TIPS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
1. Develop a social media strategy
Jumping headlong into social media marketing might be desirable, but a little foolhardy. You need to plan carefully what your social media objectives are, how you might achieve them and how they might dovetail with existing marketing and PR programmes
2. Set up a branded blog
If you want to improve the position of your website in search engines, drive targeted traffic and encourage your site's pages to be regularly indexed by search engines, there is no better tool than an integrated blog
3. Set up a branded Twitter page
By using a branded Twitter page you can retain a connection with existing and potential customers, promote special deals, generate inbound links and drive traffic to your website. Also, bear in mind that branded Twitter URLs - such as www.twitter.com/examplehotel - are rapidly being taken, so at the very least it's worth claiming these if you want to avoid the legal grey area of cyber squatting
4. Set up a branded Facebook fan page
Very much like Twitter, Facebook fan pages offer a different way for people to connect with and track businesses and brands. Similarly, branded Facebook URLs (or vanity URLs as they are known on Facebook) are becoming increasingly hard to secure, so it's best to get in early
5. Set up a branded YouTube channel
Video has become one of the most effective ways to generate exposure online. Viral videos are well known for their ability to generate a groundswell of online opinion. Tapping into a small fraction of this via a video platform like YouTube can unlock significant marketing returns
6. Set up social media tracking
It's crucial to have a firm grasp on what's being said about your brand, whether it's positive or negative. Modern social media tracking tools such as Radian6 allow online conversations to be monitored on multiple digital platforms. This enables real time honing and tweaking of online marketing strategy according to the data coming through
7. Analyse metrics
Understand which parts of social media are already driving traffic to your website. For instance, by analysing referral traffic in Google Analytics you might discover third party blogs driving traffic that you can develop relationships with and cultivate as brand advocates
8. Be original and interesting
It's all very well setting up blogs and social networking platforms, but ultimately you have to have something interesting to say. Serving up platitudes about how wonderful your business is simply won't cut it. You need to be able to offer original and interesting information with which you can weave in your marketing message
9. Join the mobile revolution
Social media has increasingly become mobile, like accessing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube on the move, or using geo-location applications for finding local businesses. Analyse carefully whether your business is appearing correctly on the right mobile applications or consider releasing your own simple mobile application
10. Keep an eye on the future
The major social media development currently taking place is the advance of geo-location capability - which could have significant implications for the retail, hotel and catering industries in particular. The hot social network of the moment is www.foursquare.com, which meshes mobile geo positioning, social media and the ability to explore your surroundings, whether it be finding a restaurant or hotel. Watch this space...