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Social Media 101 – What? & Why?

As business owners it has become hard to ignore Social Media these days. Everyone from newsreaders to your neighbour seems to be tweeting and marketers are increasingly including social media as an important pillar of any online marketing campaign. But at first it can be hard to understand how something that you’ve only ever used to share pictures of your cat can be of real value to promote your business or engage in a meaningful way with your customers.

In the following series of posts we’ll take a look at the What?, Why? and How? of adopting social media for your business, explaining some of the benefits and potential pitfalls, providing plenty practical tips and examples of best-practice along the way.

What is Social Media?

Social Media can be loosely defined as a method of communication using web-based technologies. Most people recognise the big players in the space namely, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, but these are just the tip of the ice-berg. AddThis, a popular social bookmarking tool, lists over 340 different social media services, and counting.

The key to understanding what makes Social Media different from traditional media is that it’s interactive. Unlike print and TV advertising, it opens up the possibility of a two-way dialogue between the messenger and audience. This communication is often instant, public and unmediated – in the sense that you as a company are communicating directly with your customers without an ad agency or editor in between. These two aspects, immediacy and disintermediation, have become Social Media’s key strengths. Think of Twitter for breaking news or Facebook for connecting with friends.

Why Should My Business Use Social Media?

Perhaps the most obvious value of adopting Social Media is that it offers a new (and cost-effective) promotion channel for your business. Within seconds you can get your message about a new product launch or other announcement to a targeted audience who are then in the position to instantly spread that message. This can help drive traffic to your website, get people talking about your business and increase your chances of discovery by other people in your target market.

Once they have connected with you, Social Media also offers the opportunity to develop a deeper engagement with your customers than you could ever achieve through a print ad. This is partly because your audience are self-selecting, you’re not forcing your message on them, they are choosing to connect with you. By opening up a two-way dialogue you can start to involve your customers in your business and website development, by gathering information that can help make your products or services better. You could run polls, ask questions and look at the types of content that result in the most engagement.

Social Media also allows you to project a certain image of your brand. You can choose to re-enforce an existing identity or create an entirely new one. Friendly, fun, aspirational, how do you want your customers to see you?

The social side of SEO is still in its infancy, but it’s likely to become a more important ‘signal’ for the search engines to discover which pages people really find useful or interesting on the web. ‘Likes’ and ‘shares’ through social networks such as Facebook and social bookmarking tools like AddThis are a strong indication to Google and Bing that a site is worth ranking. So-called ‘Social Search’ where the results you see are dependent on your surfing habits and those you are connected to are also likely to figure even more prominently over the next few years.

In the early days of adopting something like Facebook or Twitter for your business it can seem like a lot of time is going in without much return and that you’re basically broadcasting to no-one. But stick at it, the returns will come. Your social ‘reach’, measured in terms of followers, mentions and re-shares will grow over time and there is often a ‘tipping point’. To begin with your website will likely be the primary driver in the growth of your social media following, but as that audience grows and begins to engage you’ll find that the people will begin to discover you directly through those social channels.

With the question of why you should be using social media out of the way we’ll look in our next post at the how, covering some simple tools and techniques you can adopt to make the most of your social media marketing efforts.

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Nick Barron

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Nick Barron

In his role as UX Director Nick ensures that everything we do reflects a clear understanding of our clients’ aims as well the expectations of their audiences.