Once thought to be a passing fad, and although still relatively new, social media is now taking 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 being used. 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.
In this article I am going to explain what social media is, 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 consultant to do it for you.
Social Media can be time consuming, but when implemented correctly can add a level to your business that helps build brand loyalty, and awareness which in turn can boost 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 other words, it is a group of Internet-based applications that utilize new web concepts to promote user generated content.
Examples of some of the major social applications currently online are Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Twitter can be seen as a “micro blog” type service that enables you to post short messages of up to 140 characters that are fed 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 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 upon that below.
Simple Tricks to Make Your Site More Social Media Friendly
Whether or not you’re on social media platforms or not, odds are you’re customers are. They’re sharing your URL with their friends on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or MySpace.
If you want to engage in social media marketing, you’ll want to be sure to have that presence reflected on your e-commerce site.
There are dozens of sites you can visit that will provide embeddable code which can be used 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.
A couple of sites worth checking out are ShareThis. 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 lets your visitors easily spread the word via social networking sites about a page or website – yours – they like.
Add This is very similar to ShareThis. Both require site registration and a little publisher information, but both are also 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 e-commerce beginner. The more social media sites you’re a part of, the more web-knowledgeable you look and the greater brand awareness you can build.
You can display your social media links either in self-created sidebar module or by using sites like Lijit ( http://www.lijit.com ). Lijit is similar to ShareThis; however, rather than pushing people out 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 and brands 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 below.
Facebook Fan Page
Facebook Fan Pages are a great option for brands – including e-commerce sites – that plan on posting information at least once a week.
Facebook Fan Page Pro’s:
* 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 Con’s:
* 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. Because it is not a constantly fed profile-like page, posts do not need to be as often.
Facebook Group Pro’s
* 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 Con’s
* Visitors must visit your group page for updates
* Does not allow applications to be added to the group page
* Offers visibility
* 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 that people might want to create conversations about.
Should You Hire a Social Media Consultant for Your Site?
With the hundreds of social sites and applications available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. When you’re already trying to keep your e-commerce business afloat, social media can seem unnecessary and time-consuming.
Research has shown, however, that e-commerce retailers are reaping the benefits of this new media channel (i.e., offering better customer service and increased sales) so it pays to use it.
Not everyone is social media savvy nor do they have the time which is why a lot of companies hire consultants to help them with their campaigns.
Do you need a consultant or should you do your own work?
When to hire a social media consultant:
* If you really do not have the time to commit to a social marketing campaign.
* If you don’t have the time to learn the ins and outs of social applications.
* 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.