By Jennifer Zuri
Who could have predicted just a few short years ago that the emergence of simple, online communication tools would explode into the social media phenomenon that we now know today? Certainly the daily impact of social media on the lives of billions of people across the globe is proof positive that every business should be tapping into this free networking resource to promote their brand, products, and services.
If you’re not convinced you should devote time and resources to a social media campaign, consider these recent statistics*:
Social media is the number one activity on the web.
Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the United States, with users spending twice as much time on Facebook than Google.
If Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third largest after China and India.
Facebook has more than500 million users collectively sharing more than 5 billion pieces of content per week.
Twitter has more than100 million users, and more than 600 million search queries per day.
YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world.
LinkedIn has more than 70 million members, with a new member joining every second.
There are more than 200,000,000 blogs on the web.
34 percent of bloggers post opinions about brands and products.
78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 14 percent trust advertisements.
A wide range of social networking platforms are available, including favorites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and LinkedIn. In addition to the millions of consumers finding their voice on social media, many business owners are finding ways to integrate social media with traditional marketing to enhance their brand and spread their reach to existing and potential customers.
David Weekley of WaterScapes Pro in Charlotte, N.C., is one such business owner. David has been installing ponds for several years and his creative handiwork can be seen by visiting any or all of his many public water feature displays that dot the Charlotte landscape. Despite these visual representations in the community, along with advertising in the Yellow Pages and having a good website, Weekley felt he might be missing the mark when it came to building consumer awareness of his business. He turned to a savvy marketing firm to help take his company’s positioning to the next level.
Focused on building a web presence, Weekley started blogging about water features almost two years ago. “I knew when I started the blog that consistency was key,” he said. Weekley blogs approximately once per week in order to keep content fresh and interesting. The marketing firm hired by Weekley employs website analytics to measure traffic to the WaterScapes Pro website ( www.waterscapespro.com ). Perhaps surprisingly to some, top traffic to his site originates from the blog. In any 30-day timeframe, the blog receives an average of 375 unique visitors per month. Blogging is just one part of Weekley’s overall marketing strategy for his business.
With the rising popularity in social media, Weekley decided to create accounts on a variety of social network sites in order to direct his fans and followers to the latest blog post. Since it can be difficult to determine each person’s social media lifestyle, David felt it was important to have a presence on several social media sites in order to weave a wide web across the Internet. “More people are open to the Internet now and are using social media,” said Weekley.
While Weekley focuses on blogging to increase web traffic and build his brand, Jim Price of Pondtastic Water Gardens in Orlando, Fla., enjoys Facebook and tells the story of how the social site recently helped him land a $35,000 project. A customer came into his store looking to have a small fountain added to his landscape. When Price sensed the customer’s apprehension, he scheduled an on-site consultation for a week later. This gave the customer time to visit Pondtastic’s website and Facebook page.
Unbeknownst to Price, his potential customer politely asked some of Pondtastic’s Facebook fans for feedback on their experience working with Price. After hearing nothing but positive accolades, the customer decided to forego the small fountain and have an even grander water feature installed. Since completion of the project, Jim has been called back to incorporate additional landscaping.
Although Facebook rides the top of the popularity wave in social networking, YouTube is running close behind, positioning itself as an imposing search engine, second only to Google. You can find just about any topic in video format on YouTube, from the latest Justin Bieber hit, to a professional chef’s instructions on how to peel and cut an avocado.
For example, if you’re interested in pond installation and maintenance, you can find just about everything you need to know at The Pond Hunter channel ( www.youtube.com/thePondHunter ) on YouTube. Mike Gannon of Full Service Aquatics in Summit, N.J., has been posting videos for almost three years now and has more than 600 YouTube subscribers. Every time Gannon posts a new video showcasing his work, an e-mail is sent to each subscriber notifying them of the latest clip.
Gannon started his foray with YouTube after watching a few videos online. He thought it looked fun and felt his landscape projects would provide an interesting storyline for viewers. Gannon invested in a relatively inexpensive flip camera, and uses Windows Movie Maker (which comes stock with most PCs) to edit his videos. The addition of a tiny tripod makes it possible for Gannon to film himself in his truck on the way to the next project.
Although Gannon claims that using Facebook and Twitter have helped give his business a personality, it’s often the YouTube videos that prompt customers to call him. In fact, one recent customer saw Gannon’s work via YouTube and the video became a critical factor in choosing Gannon’s proposal over six other quotes for the job.
In addition to the more popular social sites, Weekley advises looking into other, lesser known networking vehicles to gain exposure and build an Internet presence. Weekley tapped into Merchant Circle ( www.merchantcircle.com ), the largest online network of local business owners, dedicated to connecting neighbors and merchants to help build relationships with their customers. At Merchant Circle, Weekley uploaded photos and videos, linking them back to his blog. Use of the site is free, and the search engines love Merchant Circle, providing additional search engine optimization for the WaterScapes Pro website.
As a business owner looking to increase traffic to your website, or gain new customers and build existing relationships, it’s not only important to link from social media sites to your website, but the reverse is true as well. Be sure to include links from your website to your pages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. On your website, customers will learn what you have to say about your brand and services. But on social media sites, they can find out what their peers are saying about you. Although some business owners may view this as potentially harmful, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks, especially when you consider that 78 percent of consumers trust peer recommendations.
If you do encounter a customer that makes a negative comment about a problem they experienced from doing business with your company, you have the opportunity to rectify it and provide a solution in front of everyone. Social media provides insight into how your customers truly feel about you, and this can only help you improve your business in the long run.
Statistics prove that social networking is growing at a dizzying rate with an increasingly powerful impact on consumer choices. If you’re not quite sure where to begin or what your next steps should be, simply take advantage of the wealth of information now available on social media strategy. Take a trip to your library, ask a question on Google, search for a tutorial video on YouTube, or simply look at how other businesses are leveraging the power of social media to enhance their brand. The main thing you need to do…is get started.
Jennifer Zuri is marketing communications manager for Aquascape Inc. and directs the company’s social media campaign. For more information, visit www.aquascapeinc.com