From blogs to Facebook, the communications applications of Web 2.0 keep increasing in availability and popularity. Forrester Research calls social media the biggest up-and-comer in the world of marketing — and says now is the time to get into it. “Last year, we said holding off on social media was OK,” says a recent Forrester report, “but rapid consumer adoption of these channels indicates that the time is now to enter this space.” Market-intelligence firm IDC predicts that the social-networking application market will grow by 815% by 2009, as its uses evolve out of basic networking into marketing, branding, customer service and lead generation.
Using social media “has been everything” for Mitch Joel, president of Montreal-based Twist Image, a digital marketing agency with 50 employees. Joel regularly blogs and has several bustling Facebook pages, and credits his use of social media with the success of his company. “The only way we’ve done any promotion has been the blog, and this has led to us being perceived as thought leaders; it has led to speaking opportunities and created business growth,” says Joel, who adds that RSS — Really Simple Syndication, which pushes new content to Joel’s subscribers as soon as it’s published — is an essential ingredient of any firm’s social media mix.
If you’re brand new to this stuff, blogging may be your best bet, says Maggie Fox, cofounder of Social Media Group, a Dundas, Ont.-based firm that helps companies connect with audiences by leveraging the power of emerging social media channels. “With the right content, you can position yourself as an industry leader and really build relationships with customers,” she says. “Formerly, there were no opportunities for companies to do that in an affordable way.”
“Blogging is an amazing type of advertising,” says Joel. “It shows our creativity, it’s incredible for public relations and it enables us to engage clients in a conversation.” Still, if you’re going to blog, you’d better have something valuable to say. Sharing your expertise and passion for your industry is the best way to secure a loyal — and possibly lucrative — following. You also need discipline, says Joel, who updates his blog daily; many blogs start in earnest but fade away after only a few weeks when the business owner gets too busy. Decent storytelling skills are another valuable asset. As a former journalist, Joel has experience expressing his thoughts in words. If writing isn’t your strong suit, get help.
Then, of course, there’s Facebook. Largely thought of as a place to reunite with your best friend from Grade 2, the social networking site is emerging as a powerful way for businesses to spread news and promote brand presence. Keep your eye out for business-specific applications on Facebook; you can now use the site for recruiting, selling and even financing through the new Lending Club application. Some large corporations, including PlayStation Canada and Molson, have created sponsored Facebook groups, paying a fee to create a branded page that boasts their firm’s look and feel.
No matter what your industry, don’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to social media. Businesses “really can’t ignore this stuff,” says Fox. Besides its effectiveness, she says, “It’s extremely cost effective to participate in this space.”