The debate over whether Twitter and Facebook are fads or sustainable businesses has yet to be resolved. Their popularity is indisputable but whether Twitter, in particular, can avoid erosion of its user base, let alone continue its impressive growth, has been questioned.
But for the ecommerce merchant, the Twitter/Facebook debate detracts from the central question: “Whether they’re fads or not, can they help my business?”
Application Dynamics CEO Lawrence Cramer has studied social media since the introduction of newsgroups. “Before it was called social media,” he says. He has also lectured extensively on the topic. When he speaks at business seminars about social media, Cramer says the vast majority of the room is of the opinion that “it’s completely irrelevant to my business.”
Why You Should Care
When Cramer speaks to skeptical business owners he conveys the following points about social media.
- It’s No Longer Just for Geeks
Social media has followed an evolutionary path from newsgroups to forums to Microsoft Web 2.0 to MySpace to Facebook and Twitter. The difference, says Cramer, between Facebook and Twitter and their predecessors is their broad acceptance. Social media started out as a “foggy vision of geeks” but spread to encompass teens and college students. Approximately two years ago, social media experienced “a tectonic shift which tipped into Baby Boomers.” Cramer says Baby Boomers, which are middle-aged adults born in the 20 or so years immediately after World War II, are now the biggest adopters of social media.
- You Can Play With the Big Boys
Social media offers small businesses the same opportunity as large businesses and at the same price: free. Cramer says that major companies are aware of the droves of customers they can reach via social media. “Small businesses can play in the same arena,” says Cramer.
- It Can Boost Sales
The opportunity to increase brand recognition is often heralded as one of the primary reasons a company should be active on Twitter and Facebook. But while branding is valuable, it is difficult to measure. And without a direct correlation between social media activity and sales, a business owner may remain skeptical about the practice.
Cramer says, however, that you can frequently draw a direct connection between Twitter and Facebook activity and increased sales—branding aside. He points to the wine industry (Cramer is a wine connoisseur), and two particular companies, as an example.
“They’ll post, ‘We’re releasing the 2007 Chardonnay.’ and the next weekend their showroom is full. They simply sell out events on Facebook, without [other] advertising. Direct to consumer.” The William Church Winery, says Cramer, has utilized its Twitter account in much the same way with similar results.
Four Keys to Social Media Success
Many small businesses use Twitter and Facebook to no advantage. That’s because Twitter and Facebook—like their newsgroup and forum predecessors—are communities in which etiquette must be followed. If a merchant breaches that unwritten code of conduct, the opportunity will be lost. If the proper conduct is followed, much can be gained.
With that in mind, here are four keys to social media success.
- Avoid Running Ads
A merchant that posts excessively promotional content, as opposed to legitimate comments, is “like an Amway salesman at a family reunion,” says Cramer. Not only will the merchant be likely shunned and mocked by self-appointed “list cleansers,” the “ads” will cost him or her business.
- Care About Others
Members of a community demonstrate an interest in each other. The best way to do that is by becoming involved in the conversations.
- Establish Your Expertise
As a merchant becomes involved in conversations, there will be opportunities to share insights and experiences. A business owner can point to his or her blog or website to expound on given points.
- Promote Your Brand
Promoting your brand, unlike outright selling, can be a relevant part of a conversation. If a fellow wine-lover (to use the above example) tweets “I love a good Chardonnay,” it’s an opportunity to share “We’re releasing the 2007 Chardonnay this weekend. You’re welcome to stop by.”
Regardless of whether Twitter and Facebook survive long-term, they currently represent a cost-efficient means to reach a merchant’s customers. If that merchant utilizes Twitter and Facebook properly, he or she can realize potentially significant benefits.