What is it?

Social media refers to sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Blogs, Google +, Tumblr and Pinterest. Each site is slightly different in how communication is channelled but has the ability to reach out to a potentially massive target audience on a daily basis. Social media has changed how marketing and sales operate forever. Never before have businesses been able to engage on such a personal level, on such a huge scale.

Social media sites can provide businesses with direct access to customers, potential customers, suppliers, partners and employees, simply and quickly.

According to the Social Media Marketing Industry Report 2014, social media can provide a multitude of benefits to you and your business. Used optimally, activity on social sites can increase traffic to your website, improve search engine ranking, increase your brand’s exposure, help to establish loyal customers and possible new partnerships and, as well as positively affecting your sales, it will can reduce your marketing spend.

Think of social media as a far-reaching consumer questionnaire, except that you haven’t had to coerce anyone into actually filling out the questionnaire. People are continuously posting their opinions on things on social sites; a television programme, what they thought of what Catherine Zeta-Jones wore at the Oscars, how badly someone else has aged at the school reunion last weekend, that they hate their husband, love their children, are thirsty, fancy a cheese burger… A lot can be learnt from how people behave on social media and this can be used to your advantage. Learn and influence consumers’ behaviour on social media and you could make a profoundly positive change to your sales figures.

Why do I need it?

The short answer is: Because your customers are using it.

According to a 2013 report published by Ofcom, 35.7 million Britons use the internet today, which is 73% of the entire British population. Of this 35.7 million, 53% are using social media. That’s almost 20 million people and means that by using social media you can potentially reach a huge amount of people and will increase the odds that your marketing message will get through to a significant proportion.

Even if your company is not yet connected to social media, your competitors most likely are and to avoid falling behind, it would be wise to dedicate a significant proportion of your marketing strategy to dealing with it as soon as possible. If your competition hasn’t ventured into social media, get ahead of them and make your mark now.

Traditional marketing methods are ‘one-way streets’. You send out a message and your consumer receives it. What happened after that is relatively unknown. However, with social media, you can actually have a two-way conversation with the consumer and create a community of customers who you can interact with. You can establish yourself as an authority in your market and gain trust in your business and in your products.

How do I start?

If you are starting out with a new business and do not yet have a following, you are unlikely to see the benefits of social media for a while. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter allow people to advertise though suggested posts and recommend followers from only a few pounds a month to increase your audience. You can choose the demographic information of the people you want to reach to make sure your followers are the best recipients of your marketing messages and with over 1.23 billion people in the world using Facebook alone, who spend an average of 20 minutes a day on the site, the potential to build a following is great.

Digital business expert Penny Power, who advises the government on digital marketing, says that social media channels should be approached as if they were a ‘new local pub’ you are walking into for the first time. You wouldn’t strut into a new pub in your area broadcasting that you’re an equine rug manufacturer or that you’ve got a new range of equestrian clothing. There might not be anyone in the pub who knows one end of a horse from the other, or who care, and you would likely annoy most of the pub regulars with these actions. Instead you would order a drink, sit down and join in with what people are talking about, get to know those people and let them get to know you. Then when they need a service which you can provide, they’ll come to you and recommend you to their friends. Social media isn’t that different. You don’t need to run in, guns blazing, broadcasting what you can do and how good you are at it. People are often put off by that. Look on Facebook pages, LinkedIn and Twitter communities for equestrian businesses who specialise in what you do and get involved in conversations to build up a following that way.

Don’t be too concerned that large brands may have millions of followers, when you only have a few. If you take some time to research the people who have influence in your sector and who are interested in what you are doing, one hundred of these followers are likely to be worth far more than a million followers who are only following a company because they entered a competition to win a big prize once upon a time. Don’t get too fixated on what your competition are doing – just listen to your customers and keep giving them what they want.

Make sure that your post, blog or tweet is informative, interesting or entertaining. If it isn’t at least one of these three things, then you should reconsider posting. Test your audience to see which posts receive the most feedback or likes – if you seem to engage with your customers considerably after you’ve posted something amusing or entertaining, try to incorporate a light-hearted tone in all of your posts. Consistent monitoring like this will help you get more from your posts and by always focusing on the techniques which are successful, your audience will grow and you will create noise about your brand. There are some useful monitoring tools which you can take advantage of, such as Hootsuite which monitors live streams of conversations on social media sites when people mention your company, products, or specific keywords and report the activity back to you. This is a good way of tracking what your customers are saying about you and your competition so you can effectively target your marketing messages.

Most people accept that no social media campaign can be truly effective without monitoring, but what also deserves attention is the question of who is responsible for your social media activities. It is not wise to leave dealings solely to a junior person because perhaps, you think they ‘get’ social media. Your potential reach through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google + is extremely far and content is easy to access, so your marketing messages and what is being said about your brand are extremely important. Marketing messages should be approved by senior staff members and any and all communication online must be dealt with in a totally professional manner.

At design4equine, we are digital communications professionals with several years of experience in social media campaign planning and implementation. In a field such as social media which is evolving at a tremendously fast rate and changes to the way sites are being used by businesses are constantly changing, starting out can be daunting for businesses. We, at design4equine stay abreast of updates to social media platforms and changes in consumer behaviour so we can be sure that we are giving you up-to-the-minute information on how best to use social media for your brand. We can plan your content strategy for all sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google +, LinkedIn and blogs, write and manage your content for you. Please contact us for more details.