If you drove though Brooklyn with your CB radio in the mid-seventies you may have encountered a pre-teen techno-geek known as Sparkplug. Using this handle, I spent many hours in my dad’s car parked in front of our house, chatting with friends in the neighborhood.
The 1970s were an interesting era in American history. It was a time of change. Hendrix was out; Bee Gees were in. But looking past the bell-bottoms and platform shoes, there were some significant advances in technology. Entering the second decade of the transistor radio, communication was increasing rapidly. And by 1975, anybody with a hundred bucks and something to say had a citizen’s band radio. The ubiquity of cell phones was still two decades away. Texting, blogging and tweeting could not even be conceived. We needed a way to communicate and CB radio gave us that channel (no pun intended).
Like modern social media, CB gave us a way to passively communicate with friends in a non-intrusive way. Unlike a phone call—which holds two people captive for the duration of the call—CB was a “come and go as you please” form of public communication, much like modern day social media. And like texting and tweeting, we even had our own language. Everyone was your “good buddy” even if they weren’t your bff. Like blogging, you could say whatever you wanted to say to anyone who wanted to hear. You didn’t need to know the people you were talking to. Many of my conversations were with people I’d never met.
Fast forward a few decades. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are now far more popular than CB ever was in its time. The fact that these are free may have a lot to do with it. But even if they weren’t, people would gravitate toward these. We need a way to communicate and connect with others. Now, more than ever, our lives are too complicated and too busy to sit on the phone or go visit a friend in-person. Social media gives us a way to connect.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about today’s social media craze is that it’s not just individuals showing interest in it. Businesses are getting in on it too, and looking for ways to capitalize on it. For wherever people gather, there’s someone trying to sell something. The question is how effective is it? For a while now I have been trying to find conclusive evidence that businesses are actually profiting from it. The success rate varies by the type of media as well as the type of company. And the value is very often just brand awareness, which is nearly impossible to incorporate into ROI calculations. So let’s take a look at some of the more popular forms of social media and how they can be used by businesses.
This is probably the most effective form of social media a business can invest in. A good business blog can be viewed as an extension to the company’s main website, but will generally have a less formal feel. Like all social media, it needs to be updated frequently. If not, no one, including search engines, will be interested in visiting. Content should be timely, discussing the current state of affairs in your industry and any upcoming events. Readers should be allowed to respond to posts. Like them or not, you should not delete posts from disgruntled customers. This shows readers you are open to criticism and not hiding anything. In fact, a flaming post, followed by a well written response from you earnestly attempting to make things right can make readers trust you even more. Obvious spam and profane posts, however, can be edited or deleted, at your discretion. Because anyone can post a reply and you can’t control what people say, it is a good idea to keep a blog separate from your main website. You’ll usually want to link to your blog from your main site and vice versa. As people search and find useful content on your blog, they may follow links to your main site for more information about your company or products. It’s ok for your blog to be a little “salesy” since readers are coming to you through search or other links. You’re not forcing yourself in front of them as with other media. So banner ads for your company and affiliates are ok. I won’t go into SEO here (maybe at a later time), but one piece of advice: buy a domain name and hosting to host your blog. Free and cheap blogs (e.g., Blogger.com, WordPress.com, etc.) get ranked lower by search engines.
I’ve heard that if Facebook was a country, it would be the fourth largest in population. This is why businesses are trying to get in on the action. With that many people, even the tiniest fraction is a huge potential market. You can create a page for your business in Facebook. Like blogging, you must keep your content fresh, updating frequently. Unlike blogging, it is not ok to be salesy. People are there to mingle with their friends. Nobody likes a pushy salesperson at the party. Pages that are “liked” get better visibility. Many companies will solicit customers to like them by giving away something. I guess that’s one way to get people to like you. Since you can’t really sell anything on your Facebook page, the only thing you’re really hoping to achieve is greater brand awareness. That in itself is one of the best forms of marketing. Brand awareness is what makes a little green lizard as successful as it is at selling car insurance. But of course, that lizard’s marketing budget of more than half-billion dollars per year helps too. There is definitely some value in Facebook. How much exactly cannot easily be calculated. You just have to decide if your brand is important enough to make it worth the cost and effort. Don’t fool yourself. If you’re paying an employee to maintain your Facebook presence, there’s a cost and effort involved. The same goes for all social media.
The key to Twitter is getting people to follow you, and to keep them following. Tweet too often or about things they’re not interested in and they may leave you. Ask yourself these questions: What does you’re company have to say that can be put into 140 characters or less and that your followers would like to hear? How often can you deliver such interesting messages? And what’s so special about your company that people would want to follow you in the first place? Think long and hard on those questions to determine if Twitter can increase your sales. If your answer to those questions is “I don’t know” then you have your answer to the question about increasing sales.
Though CB radio has long gone the way of the dodo, the social media bandwagon is still filling quickly. There’s no telling how long this ride will last until the next new thing comes along. All that is certain is that it will be an interesting ride. So until then, put the pedal to the metal and I’ll catch you on the flip-flop. In other words, ttyl.