Selling is now a 24-hour business and, with an ever-increasing array of social media tools out there, businesses are harder pressed than ever to reach their target market.
The average person today is a walking whirlwind of electronic signals. Whether it’s the BlackBerry buzzing in their pockets, the email flashing on their computer screen, the latest ‘tweet’ from one of their followers on Twitter, a status update on Facebook or an invitation to join a colleague’s network on LinkedIn. And this is just a single person.
The conundrum this presents for the average business trying to sell a product or service to a broader world where people’s attention spans are divided between messages on Hotmail, Gmail, wherever they decide to go on a Google search, what they’re posting on Bebo or what causes they support on Facebook is massive.
Selling in the 21st century is no longer a case of setting up a stall and waiting for potential buyers to drop by. It is about reaching out and being present on a vast array of social media streams. The business of today may find the art of selling and being influential may pivot on how many people they follow on Twitter, the success of a viral marketing campaign on YouTube or how clear their message is understood by core groups of influencers such as bloggers.
“Two-thirds of Fortune 500 organisations are using Facebook,” said Facebook Ireland general manager Colm Long, who previously worked at Google. “The engagement opportunities that social networking provides businesses means that customers are now interacting with brands. This provides businesses with vital feedback information, and it then influences the products and services they will offer in the future.
“Big brands such as Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks use this feedback in a very clever way.”
According to Long, traditional advertising agencies and businesses are still getting their heads around social media. “But we’re seeing local businesses in Ireland building multinational campaigns based on brand loyalty.”
A good example of this would be Bewleys, which recently launched its own Facebook and Twitter pages concentrating on the company’s Fairtrade coffee-buying activities in Nicaragua.
Other prominent Irish brands such as Bord Gáis took the decision to interact with bloggers and not just mainstream media when it launched its Big Switch campaign that saw 35,000 people sign up for its electricity product in just one week alone.
The head of marketing at Bord Gáis Nicky Doran explained that the blogosphere will be an influential media platform in the coming years, and interacting with bloggers is a pragmatic method of ensuring accuracy as people discuss products.
“They are, in effect, a grassroots media. The important thing from a marketing point of view is it is not about using the blogosphere to market goods. For us, the value is ensuring that the correct information is out there. Because we are a very consumer-focused business, all the time we are dealing with people putting the wrong information out there, so this approach has merit. It means that people are better informed with the correct facts. There are no ulterior motives.”
Touching on the Twitter campaign that sat alongside Bord Gáis’ tease campaign, Doran said the viral impact was enormous. “The tease campaign called for people to guess who was behind the billboard campaign and to take a photo of the billboard and publish it on a blog or on Twitter. The prize was a €100 voucher for every correct entry. The problem was that within one day we had €2,000 worth of vouchers gone.”
Social networking used to be seen as something teenagers used when they talked on Bebo. The reality has become somewhat different with sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn emerging as core platforms to influence a company’s standing in peer groups, as well as communicate with customers.
The chief executive of networking technology giant Mitel, Don Smith, confirmed this when he said that platforms like unified communications are beginning to merge with social networks.
“Social networking will spill over into the business world, without question. Instant messaging and ‘presence’ are being seen as vital to visibility in an organisation. There’s a big thrust in organisations to make sure that instant messaging and the user are secure. Facebook and sites such as MySpace will evolve into flavours that satisfy security and regulatory concerns in firms to unlock this value. Generation Y workers and customers will be wondering why some company’s don’t communicate this way.
“Contact centres across the world are using a combination of web chat, fax and voice alongside tools like Twitter.
“I have friends who I interact with who think that Twitter is too long for them. They can’t understand why a question can’t be answered in less than five words,” Smith added.
“Welcome to the new world of business.”
By John Kennedy
Pictured: Bord Gáis’ The Big Switch Twitter page