Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, a company’s online presence and brand is often enhanced through engagement and interaction on such social media sites. New social networks are born every day. Few achieve the massive success of Facebook, but some do take the internet by storm.
But the dozens of new social networks popping up each month leave many marketers and business owners in a state of analysis-paralysis. Trying to keep up with the latest social trends alone is overwhelming. Try to participate in every social network, and you’ll stretch yourself too thin and never see results. In this post, we’ll work through 8 questions you can use as a model to help you determine if a new social network will be effective in helping you drive leads and sales for your business. Let's get to it.
8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating Social Networks for Marketing
1. Who are the current users?
Identifying the target demographic of a social networking site isn’t much different of a task as it would be for any traditional form of advertising or business communication. You need to be able to answer 5 basic questions:
- Who is using it?
- What are they using it for?
- When are they using it?
- Where are they using it (mobile vs. desktop)?
- Why are they using it?
- How long are they using it for?
For example, Pinterest is dominated by the female demographic. Of its estimated 10.4 million users, 80 percent are female. Nearly 30% are between the ages of 25 and 34, with the average user spending nearly 98 minutes a day perusing the site. Ask yourself if this audience is a relevant target for your business. If your answer is no, can you find a way for your products to meet a need for this particular demographic? Maybe you can, and maybe you can't. Either way, don’t reinvent your entire business model just so you can say you use Pinterest for marketing. Please.
2. Who’s likely to use the network over time?
Early adopters of a social network are a good precursor to the demographic that will ultimately become that network's primary users. However, these initial, beta-phase adopters tend to be a little bit more tech savvy and cutting edge than the average user. So dust off your crystal ball, and take a glance into the future. Or at least use your marketing savvy to make an educated guess.
That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule, and some social networks have been known to take the world by storm. Who would have thought that Facebook would become the social media mecca that it is today? In its early days, it was strictly a social networking tool for college students. Today, the company boasts more than 800 million daily users, with nearly two-thirds of small businesses using Facebook for marketing purposes. Facebook has created a premier network for social engagement, allowing businesses to communicate directly with its customers, helping facilitate direct interactions and build brand loyalists. Considering this, it's important to keep an eye on the evolution of those popular social networks you initially decide aren't the best fit for your business. Someday, they may be!
3. Are these people potential customers, or do they have the ability to influence your potential customers?
It’s long been known that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective forms of marketing. When evaluating a new social networking site, investigate how users will be able to influence their networks by sharing their voice along with your content and products. Think Twitter follows and retweets, Facebook shares and likes, etc.
In fact, you'll find that nearly every social network provides some sort of digital word-of-mouth equivalent. For instance, Google is making word-of-mouth more relevant to its Google+ users. Google +1s are becoming more influential in the search giant’s algorithms, with notifications at the top of the results page showing content that has been +1’d by others in your Circles. It helps users to recognize when friends and colleagues have found useful content or noteworthy products. In the screenshot below, for example, you’ll notice that Google is separating out results from people within my Google+ Circles. I can elect to see all results, but many will find “advice” from people within their networks as helpful when making purchasing decisions.
Typically, the social networks that have worked these sorts of word-of-mouth, social sharing components into their ecosystems will provide you better marketing opportunities than others.
4. What types of content are those people passionate about and likely to share?
It’s also important to know what is popular among the site’s users. Is your content, products, and services aligned with those that are trending on this particular social networking site? Are there forums or groups with similar interests? Browse the site to gauge where -- and whether -- you will fit in.
Sites like Facebook and Twitter seem to run the gamut when it comes to content shared on their respective sites, which is why they're such a great choice for many marketers. But, for the niche business audiences, LinkedIn or other industry-specific social networks may be the best choice. Often used as a networking tool for industry insiders, information that is shared on these types of networks is usually more specific in scope as compared to the other social tools. Groups and Answers on LinkedIn, for example, are very niche and industry-specific, providing wonderful opportunities for networking with others in your industry. Understanding this differentiation will help you determine which site is best for the content you wish to share.
5. How does content get exposed to other people on the network?
When deciding whether to jump into a new social network, you should take into consideration the level of exposure your business and its content will gain. Joining a new network should help you expand your reach and help you stand out among competitors.
For instance, Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm is a huge factor in whether or not your business' content will reach the news feeds of your fans. Pinterest, on the other hand, is unique in the fact that photos are placed chronologically, making their way back to the top whenever someone repins it. This gives small businesses a unique opportunity to be next to major brands and well-known thought leaders. And thanks to Pinterest’s integration with Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for users to also share their latest finds across all three networks, exponentially expanding the potential reach of any given pin.
Additionally, most social networking-savvy marketers will include social sharing buttons on their blogs, web pages, and other content, making it easy for their audience to share their content to their favorite social networks. When establishing your web presence, be sure that users can easily share your content to any and all social networking sites that are within their interest.
6. Can you create new types of content for your business to leverage a popular new social network?
Knowing the limitations of your business is vital, but there are always opportunities to push the envelope and step into unchartered territories. Being creative and thinking outside the box can help surface new ideas and new uses for your products to you and your customers, reinvigorating your brand, and possibly even enabling you to expand to new target markets. When a new social network pops up that is spiking in popularity, think of ways you might be able to adapt your content creation to accommodate the types of content that tend to work in that particular environment.
For example, perhaps the most difficult site to readily create content for is YouTube, but remember, it doesn’t have to be a video production worthy of an Emmy Award. Transforming your content into a PowerPoint Presentation with a voice-over is a great way to take advantage of this video-centric network (and hey, you could even repurpose that same PowerPoint presentation for a slide-sharing social network like, well, SlideShare!). How-to videos are another great example of a quick and easy way to add to your video portfolio.
Furthermore, when Pinterest continued gaining traction, marketers everywhere started embracing the visual content revolution that seemed to be taking hold, investing more of their efforts into visual content creation. This emphasis on visual content was also a welcomed addition to marketers' presence on other visual-friendly social networks like Facebook and Google+. Bonus!
7. How much time and resources are required to participate in this social network?
Do you have the time to devote to embracing a new social network? Many business owners or marketing directors are already overworked and adding one more element to the daily grind may just be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. You also want to avoid spreading yourself too thin. The more networks you belong to, the greater your total investment and the more likely you are to post only sporadic content across each. You’ll achieve a better ROI by selecting a few key networks that are right for you and putting the necessary effort forth to really utilize the full power social media. Knowing your required investment in advance may make it a little more palatable.
The four main social network players -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ -- have all made sharing your content fairly easy. But the key to sharing is having a solid arsenal of quality content with which to share. Business blogging and creating other types of content such as ebooks, webinars, and other content offers all offer perfect opportunities for sharing. (As an added bonus, Google loves fresh, quality content!) And if content production is not your forte, there are a variety of marketing agencies that can help your business create quality, share-worthy content.
Another factor to consider with being involved in a new social network is the time you'll need to spend monitoring the conversation and engaging with your audience. Luckily, there are a variety of social media management tools like HootSuite (which now integrates directly with HubSpot!) that allow you to schedule posts throughout the day and monitor activity on multiple accounts. That being said, don't forget to factor this type of community maintenance into your decision-making process.
8. Can you foresee a promising ROI?
Given the time investment required to participate in and share content on this network, is it likely to help you increase awareness, establish your company’s thought leadership, drive inbound leads, and help your business grow? If you’re finding yourself brainstorming ways your business can utilize this new social media platform after reading the last 7 questions, then the answer is probably yes. And, for sites that don’t require an extensive amount of time or money, it makes sense to at least perform a test to see if it’s a worthwhile investment. Just be sure you have the right tools in place to track your results from each individual social network, and measure the traffic, leads, and customers you're successfully generating from your social presence.
Have you joined a new (or even new-to-you) social networking site recently? What were the results of your test?
This is a guest post written by Tom Demers. Tom is a co-founder and managing partner at Measured SEM, a search engine marketing firm specializing in pay-per click campaign management, search engine optimization services such as SEO audits, and content marketing services such as guest posting.
Image Credit: [F]oxymoron