OF ALL the changes business has faced over the past decade, arguably the most challenging has been the explosive rise of social media. It is sweeping all before it – except, it seems, a very large number of successful business people who regard it as a time-wasting bane and, at best, a distraction from the business of business.
It may be the all-conquering trend, the vital platform on which any aspiring business now needs to be seen. It can make all the difference, say its enthusiasts, between high-profile success and business obliteration. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
‘For the majority the very idea seemed about as welcome as a dose of strychnine’
I had the pleasure last week of addressing an open day in Edinburgh for Vistage. It’s an international organisation that helps CEOs, MDs and business leaders grow and improve their businesses and develop their leadership skills. I have never walked away from a Vistage day without a notebook full of useful ideas and advice.
All went well until the Q&A session, when a senior business figure asked me how they could best lift their profile and get their message across and I suggested that better use might be made of social media.
It was as if the temperature in the room suddenly dropped. Younger people seemed more enthusiastic. But for the majority of the audience the very idea of social media seemed about as welcome as a dose of strychnine. What serious person in business could possibly consider dribbling away their time on Facebook and, above all, Twitter, that noisome cacophony of millions that’s a deadly minefield which could blow up a business with one thoughtless remark?
For all the hostility to the idea I experienced, the tide is running massively in favour of social media communication for business. In America, more than 95 per cent of companies currently use social media marketing. And yet research by CIO.com found that, while social media is seen as an opportunity for company information officers to show business leadership, few companies – 15 per cent to 20 per cent – quantify its results.
Why bother with it? In the UK the growth of Facebook is thought to have peaked, with a base of just over 31 million users. Brands looking to target very young or fashion-conscious individuals will certainly be needing to look elsewhere, although there are still approximately 2.5 million 13 to 17-year-olds using the site. The largest demographic remains the 25 to 34-year-olds, with just under 26 per cent of all users falling into this age bracket. Regardless of what the teens are doing, this remains the single largest concentration of consumers on any social media platform, so businesses writing off Facebook do so at their peril.
Twitter in the UK claims 15 million users. Growth remains steady but not especially fast, as the previous confirmed UK figure was 10 million in May 2012.
Almost half of its users worldwide prefer to read, rather than send out tweets themselves: 40 per cent of users worldwide simply use Twitter as a “curated news feed of updates that reflect their passions”. This is well worth remembering when it comes to setting goals for a social media presence; a significant proportion of your audience are never going to respond to you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t absorbing your content.
LinkedIn has 10 million users in the UK. Page views are estimated at just over 60 million a month. Research from Econsultancy suggests that LinkedIn is responsible for 64 per cent of visits to corporate websites from any social media site, streets ahead of Twitter. LinkedIn is much more of a “big business” environment, but it is interesting evidence of success in connecting big corporates to the social media world.
More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are now reckoned to be on social media. Business analysts say that because social media can be used to improve worker productivity, and improve the outreach of businesses to customers by as much as 20 to 25 per cent, in time, social media could generate over $1 trillion of value to businesses.
However, measuring its value can be hard – one reason perhaps why so many business leaders are sceptical of its benefits. Less than 25 per cent of companies use social media to drive revenue. The top benefit, cited by between 80 and 90 per cent, is increased brand presence and awareness. That doesn’t much cut it in the boardroom, where it is revenue and profit that are the critical metrics.
None the less, some startling successes are cited. Computer giant Dell reckons it has achieved $3 million in sales for its Dell Outlet via Twitter, while Starwood made $2 million via one Facebook campaign.
Surveys show that the value of a Facebook “Like” can range from nothing to $215 , typically based on higher sales from a business’s Facebook fans compared with non-fans. But does “Liking” a company result in higher sales or do people who are already high spenders tend to “Like” companies that they buy from?
There is no substitute here for taking professional advice from a marketing specialist or firm and at the very least identifying what it is you want to achieve from a social media presence – business or brand awareness or real revenue and profit benefit.
There is no end to the range and complexity of activity to be measured – leads, engagement, reach, impressions, visits vs unique visits, bounce rate, exit rate, time on site, audience growth rate, response rates and above all, conversions – business, after all, is after action, not eyeballs.
Costs here on initial research and training can save a fortune in wasted time and effort – and the brand damage inflicted by a slapdash approach.
Facebook can be an invaluable tool to help business leaders share their achievements and concerns. It may be advisable for executives to have their own personal Facebook separate from the business – and make clear that it is separate! But there are powerful messages a business can get across on the company Facebook page to help raise its profile not only with customers but the wider world of business policy and public engagement.
Get a plan. Get a knowledge of how it works, its reach and potential. Take advice. But do at all costs avoid clicking on to Twitter late at night with a glass of malt. Your social media strategy could crash and burn in seconds. «