Power to the People!

Welcome to the new world of people power.

Your job as an owner, manager or professional will never be the same now that social media have changed the dynamics of marketing and managing your business.

When you think about it, however, social media aren’t really new. They’ve been around for generations. In generations past, it took the form of the telephone party line or talking over the back fence; they called it gossip. And in younger days, it was passing notes under the desk to classmates in school.

Information flowed; it just moved at a snail’s pace. With the advent of the Internet and its Web-based technologies, social media found a platform by which they could move at the speed of light and would become part of our mainstream culture. On this platform, they are changing your business communication from a monologue (one to many) to a multilogue (many to many)—and it is within this change that the power of social media lies, because it enables the democratization of information—transforming your customers from content consumers to content producers. Consider these facts:

In 2009 1 …

•   47 million – websites were added, reaching at least 234 million people in December

•   1.73 billion – Internet users worldwide, 252,908,000 of whom were in North America

•   126 million – The number of blogs on the Internet

•    84 percent – Social network sites with more women than men

• 27.3 million – Number of tweets on Twitter per day

• 57 percent – Twitter users located in the United States

• 350 million – People on Facebook, 50 percent of which log in daily

• 1 billion – The total number of videos YouTube serves in one day

•   12.2 billion – Videos viewed per month on YouTube in the United States

•   81.9 percent – Embedded videos on blogs that are YouTube videos

If these data don’t convince you that social media can and will transfigure your industry, nothing will.  All businesses are now able to reach customers and prospective customers in new and exciting ways. This means that anybody is now able to promote products, services and events beyond the traditional mainstream media (i.e., newspaper, billboard, radio ad, TV commercial, or direct mail).

At its core, however, social media are not about blogs, tweets or podcasts. Social media is about conversational marketing that is being led by those who author Paul Gillin calls the new influencers.  In general, these influencers are younger—i.e. Generations X and Y—or as I label them, Generation C for Generation Connected.

This group who is the future of your business and, as such, will greatly impact how you stay in touch with them. These consumers are “voracious in their desire for immediate information and have sophisticated behavioral approaches to filtering … information, no matter how many sources it comes from … [they] are creating extensive communities to exchange information. Even though nary a handshake occurs, the information swap is trusted—and thus is more powerful than any marketing pitch ever could be.” 2 Put another way, these folks—the future of your business—trust each other far more than they trust anything you send to them. And, they are more likely to engage with other folks online, too.

Scary? Sure. Baffling? Yep. Opportunistic? You bet.

No matter how you look at it, organizations will have to join the social media conversation.  How, when and to what extent will be up to each individual business, but join it they will. This being said, the return on investment cannot—and should not—be measured in how many customers become your “fans” on Facebook, or how many followers you have on Twitter, or how many video clips featuring your products or services get uploaded onto YouTube.

The effectiveness of any business foray into social media should be held to the same criteria as its other promotional efforts; that is, does it increase customer loyalty, customer value, and help maintain optimum revenue levels as well as an acceptable profit margin? Said another way, you cannot approach social media just as a marketing channel, but as a customer relationship-building channel. The ultimate goal, then, is to build a stronger community of your customers who enjoy sharing special experiences with other customers as well as their family and friends.

So you see, social media have several important benefits for your business. First, it can actively engage customers (In fact, 85.4 percent of marketing executives cite this as the top benefit in a 2010 survey by eMarketer.) Second, the sites are all interactive, allowing those one-to-many and many-to-many conversations between you and your customers, and among customers. Third, it is how Generation C communicates. And finally, most social media sites require little or no money. This is especially important in a down economy when every business is trying to be more creative in stretching its marketing dollars. Especially now, that’s not all bad.

Your bottom line will thank you.

Bonnie J. Knutson, PhD is a professor at The School of Hospitality Business and Broad College of Business at Michigan State University.








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