By Sabra Easterday
Founder and Managing Member of MatchB2B, LLC
To many in business, the rise of social media as an effective business tool might have been easily missed. A recent study showed that 54% of Fortune 100 companies now have a presence on Twitter and 30% are active on Facebook. Many of those businesses are extracting very real benefits from using social media. Like other businesses, E-marketplaces also cannot afford to have only one media (ie. its website) to engage with existing and potential users. Instead, E-marketplaces need to be where their users are – and right now, that is on social media sites. In this blog, I discuss (i) on which social media sites E-marketplaces need to have a presence and (ii) how E-marketplaces can use social media as an effective marketing and business tool to extract maximum value.
As first step, ‘stake your claim’ on the key social media sites. Simply register and create a simple profile for your E-marketplace. Most social media sites are free to register on. The important thing is to avoid what happened to many businesses that were not quick enough to register their domain name after the World Wide Web took off (i.e. they found their domain names were already in use or had to be purchased from domain squatters at high premiums).
For my E-marketplace, MatchB2B I created a basic Facebook Page, a company profile on Linkedin and a profile on Twitter – it was free to register on all and it took less than 1.5 hours to register and upload some basic information about my E-marketplace.
In addition to ‘staking your claim’, social media can help you build and maintain your E-marketplace’s reputation and brand. Having a presence on social media sites is similar to having a listing in the Yellow Pages. It increases visibility and brand awareness and helps strengthen credibility, particularly with younger persons.
Facebook is a perfect example. Although Facebook is a social networking site targeting mainly young individuals, businesses also can create a Facebook Page with information, links to their website, logo, photos and videos, customer reviews etc. Businesses can collect ‘fans’ on those pages (ie existing and potential customers). Starbucks has over 6 million ‘fans’ and regularly posts new information and updates. You can also create a Facebook Page for your E-marketplace and email your existing user-base to see if they want to be ‘fans’.
Social media sites , especially blogs and forums, also can help you monitor and manage your online reputation. A recent survey by the Opinion Research Corporation reported that 84% of Americans say online reviews influence purchasing decisions. Accordingly, it is almost critical for the first 10 or 20 search engine results to produce positive, not negative, reviews and feedback about your E-marketplace.
To help monitor your reputation, you can set up automatic alerts, such as Google Alert or Twitter alerts, to give you metrics and to notify you when your E-marketplace is mentioned in a review, blog, forum or online publication. If you find negative feedback on a public online forum, respond in a courteous and professional manner. Show others that you are a company that takes customer concerns seriously and actively addresses them.
For many E-marketplaces, your users are companies or organizations. It is essential to have a strong personal relationship with the individual persons within those companies or organizations who are responsible for choosing to use your E-marketplace.
Social media can be a very cost effective and efficient way of building those personal one-on-one relationships. Social media is about engagement and connections, and sites such as Facebook are ‘social’ sites intended for social interaction and discussion. By using social media sites to interact with others, you are not seen to be affiliated with the specific business transactions that take place on your E-marketplace. Accordingly, you can build a more personal, non-threatening long-term relationship with those individuals. Let your employees link with or become ‘friends’ with your users and start engaging in friendly, casual conversations.
Social media is not about hard selling techniques. However, the use of social media to help build your brand and reputation certainly will attract new members, albeit, in a more ‘subtle’ way. Post updates about your E-marketplace, new functions or tools on your site, user comments, industry events, trade shows and other matters of interest. Social media can be used as a ‘showcase’ for your E-marketplace.
One way to specifically attract new members is to ‘follow’ somebody on Twitter. On Twitter, best practice is that you ‘follow’ somebody who is following you. Therefore, become followers of those persons who would most likely be interested in using your E-marketplace. Those persons might start following you, in return. If they don’t, email them and ask them to. Social media allows you to spread the word about your E-marketplace and hopefully attract new users. The best situation is if your social media efforts becomes ‘viral’.
Besides attracting new users to your E-marketplace, social media can be a useful customer service channel for your existing users. Many of your existing users (or their employees) are undoubtedly using social media. Accordingly, make life easier for them and let them link to your social media profiles so they can interact with you and see your updates when they’re on those sites. They’ll also see you’re up-to-date and keeping up with the current times.
Interacting with your existing users on social media sites also can help you gain valuable customer insights, in a more friendly, non-transactional environment. Ask your users what is most important to them, what additional services they want, what functions they most need etc.
Although I have described social media as a ‘subtle’ sales or marketing tool, social media can still be a powerful tool for targeted promotion and marketing. Users on sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn fill out fairly detailed profiles about themselves which can then be used for demographic targeting of advertisements. You may be able to identify persons on those sites that have profiles matching with the target regions or industries services by your E-marketplace and send them individual emails. However, don’t spam, or the social media site will block your account. You also can pay for advertisements on those social media sites and add keywords and demographic criteria to target those persons who are most likely to be interested in using your E-marketplace.
Finally, social media can be a great catalyst for fresh thinking about new ideas. If you’re not sure about a new business idea or about a change to your site, post the idea on blogs or social media sites and solicit insight from others (provided you don’t want to keep it confidential before launch). Get some ideas or feedback from others.
Edwin Kuller, Austrade