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In: Social Media

I am regularly being asked the same question by new clients. It goes something like this: “I know that social media is supposed to be a bit of fun, but can it really help my business grow and how can I show some type of return on investment?” My answer is always the same: “Yes, it can, but only if you use it and then measure it carefully.”

Social media is basically anything that uses the internet to facilitate conversation. From blogs to social networks, such as Twitter, Dopplr and Linked-in. It’s been making waves across the globe over the last three years and its implications have been trickling down into the business arena for some time. The premise is the principle of generating online conversation and creating word-of-mouth about your company.

So what are the business benefits:

1. Increased sales

2. Improved organic search engine results – more website traffic

3. Improved brand/company awareness

4. Better perceptions amongst potential customers

5. Greater loyalty amongst existing customers

6. Better referrals from existing customers

7. Extremely cost effective

It’s predicted that 600 million people will be using social networking sites by 2012. Today, Facebook has more than 65m users worldwide, with 231 members of the 4Networking Facebook group and these individuals are all sharing information and doing business.

One of the most prominent advantages of using social media within the workplace is the networking potential – just like at 4Networking. The latest research by Ofcom found that British adults spend more time social networking than any other European country. Traditional networking has always been critical to the success of any company, whether it is to meet potential clients and suppliers, or to raise the overall profile of the firm.

So how can I measure the success of social media?

Well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice and expecting a different result. The same is said for social media – in other words, everything can be measured and evaluated so you don’t make the same mistakes twice. Some things will work and others will not.

For instance, just this morning I followed someone on Twitter I was interested in and this person emailed me two hours later and asked me if we could meet up for a chat about some digital consultancy. We haven’t even started engaging online with each other yet but this person could easily see who I was, work I have done previously and get a feel for what I am like by reading my blog. What I am trying to say is the beauty of social media is relationships and developing these relationships.

The key to a successful social media campaign is identifying your success metric at the outset. These can include any of the following:

1. Inbound web traffic

2. Amount of blog posts

3. Number of tweets and RT’s

4. Online sales

5. FB fans / Twitter followers

6. Amount of links

7. Number of RSS (feed) subscribers

8. Search results

9. Clicks

10. Video views

11. Channel subscribers

12. Video embeds

13. Tags

14. Social bookmarks – Diggs, Stumbles

15. App downloads

16. Podcast subscribers

17. Reader comments

18. Alexa rankings

Once you have agreed the metrics, you can then begin scoping a campaign looking at which social platforms would work best for your business and what activity would work best on those platforms. This is because a business-to-consumer campaign will use very different platforms to a business-to-business campaign and vice versa. Linked-in and Xing have both been created entirely for a business-to-business networking purpose, allowing companies to source expertise and attract new clients.

My starting advice to any business today is YOU MUST get a blog asap because this is a great, cost effective way to get your business extra website traffic to your normally static website. In short, Google loves blogs.

My second piece of advice is why not have a dabble with Twitter but don’t talk about what you are eating for lunch, share some business insight about your sector or specialism – you will find your followers will grow quickly if you add value. Twitter is again a great way to get people clicking on your website to see who you are.

Blogs are still the most important part of social media.

I regularly compile online conversation analyis reports for my clients, spanning six and twelve month periods. I do this first so I can see what is being said about a client/brand and its competitors. The one strong theme that has come out of every report I have ever done is that blogs still contain the most influence online. Today, there are more than 150 million blogs, with 7,000 specific business blogs.

I will give you an example of the power of blogs, I recently ran a campaign for a well known footwear brand which decided it wanted to increase the online awareness of its new range of military boots and drive traffic to its website. We looked at these metrics and decided to run a global blogger relations campaign over a three month period. The campaign secured 16 blog posts from the world’s top 20 paramedic, police and military bloggers. They wrote reviews of the new boots and included a link back to my client’s website. The client didn’t do any other marketing activity than this campaign and in the four weeks after the campaign its website had received more than 10,000 new visitors. Not bad for a brand new website.

The trick to success in social media is set your metrics at the beginning of the campaign, so you can measure them carefully and then evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. If you do this and keep reviewing what you have done, I am sure you will find social media to be extremely useful for your business.