Top 10 social media marketing opportunities

In recent months, the question of social media marketing keeps coming up. So much so that I’m tempted to say that social media is the new viral. I say this not to suggest that it’s a waste of time or a flash in the pan; just that we all need to be careful about what we really want to do with this medium. Rather than jumping in because everyone else is.

In recent months, the question of social media marketing keeps coming up. So much so that I'm tempted to say that social media is the new viral. I say this not to suggest that it's a waste of time or a flash in the pan; just that we all need to be careful about what we really want to do with this medium. Rather than jumping in because everyone else is.

The social media space is absolutely huge online. There are statistics upon statistics that prove this (Facebook's population famously overtook that of the USA at 350million active users) but the fact is that it's easy to underestimate the reach of these sites. After all they don't lookthat big.

So in a generous move, to help us avoid mis-using the opportunity these environments offer, I've put together what I think are the top 10 Social Media Marketing opportunities. Here goes...

1. Better brand engagement- By simply making sure you have a basic presence in appropriate social environments, you are inviting people to actively engage with your brand. Last month the Harvard Business Review did a quick experiment to discover whether simply having a presence on Facebook increases emotional connection with a brand by setting up a page for a local coffee shop. It turned out that Facebook did indeed change customer behaviour for the better. Facebook fans generated more positive word of mouth, they visited the outlet 20% more often, they gave the store the highest share of their dining out dollars and were most likely to recommend the shop to friends.

The lesson here is to make sure you have a presence, tell your loyal customers about it and make sure you have the resource to keep your content up to date and relevant.

2. Engaging one-to-one with customers- Social media is little more than a series of big conversations. By joining these conversations you are inviting others to share their views with you. Just being there is a brave thing for a business (which may be why brands who are present are positively perceived by their customers) as it's as likely to illicit criticism as it is praise.

Any business person knows, however, that both of these can be positive. Criticism, if dealt with effectively, can generate more positive opinion that a simple recommendation. This medium is ideal for handling criticism head-on - it's cheap, easy and immediate. You just need to make sure you're ready to respond positively. Not engaging in a conversation is as rude online as it is in real life.

3. Highly targeted media- For a quick hit, the profile based approach to most of the social media sites makes an ideal environment for highly targeted media opportunities.

As the Social Media universe grows we are starting to see more and more niche, interest-related environments. In places like these, the site's theme also creates a clear context for your advertising to allow you to relate better - e.g. the business focus of Linked In.

We recommend creating dedicated sub-campaigns to get the most out of the quite intimate experience users of social networks have. So, understand the context and the customer, create a campaign that talks directly to them, wherever possible, in a way that relates to why they are there in the first place.

4. Built-in seeding mechanisms - All successful social networking sites have built-in seeding mechanisms - ways to push updates to a wider network and keep them coming back. Clever businesses capitalise on these features to help seed their campaigns. Good examples include an Ikea campaign in Sweden that used Facebook's image tagging feature as the hub of a competition and Burger King's campaign that asked people to un-friend someone for a burger. Both were immensely successful due to Facebooks in-built features that automatically keep friends up to date with what you're doing.

5. Interconnectivity - As well as built-in viral goodies, social sites survive in a very competitive space; all vying for a share of your browsing hours. Part of the recipe for their success is to create connections to automatically share content amongst several sites.

Businesses can use this to seed content (news, events, updates etc) quickly, across several networks, thereby increasing their impact and reach.

6. Share-ability - Another characteristic of social networks is how easy they make it for people to share ideas. You can create campaigns and gadgets that encourage users to share them and talk about them. These can be provocative PR campaign creatives, or gadgets that are fun and useful.

Because the effect of this type of activity is organic, it can take a while to gain momentum. For this reason it works better as a long-term brand awareness campaign rather than a short product launch activity, for example.

7. Ambassadors - Engaging with fans of your brand on a social network is easily the quickest and cheapest way to recruit brand ambassadors. Where companies might previously have spent fortunes to find brand fans and give them the means and reasons to share their love, social networks allow this to happen seamlessly.

It doesn't mean that businesses can sit back and let it happen though; they may now have to work harder to garner customer love in the first place. For example, giving more away to loyal customers, even giving them unique benefits that they can boast about to others - remember the success of the Threshers Friends and Family email voucher?

8. It's still early days - You may feel that in a network like Facebook, your brand is swamped; your company name may have been taken by someone else leaving you to be "JoesPizza1234" or something.

Take heart and remember that this technology is still in its formative stages. There are new networks and similar online resources appearing every day. Some will be the next big thing, others won't. The trick is to keep your finger on the pulse and get involved early. You'll learn quickly whether it's going to be a big deal, either way, at least you're there. The message here is, don't wait to find out from someone else; get involved and find out for yourself.

9. Listening to your customers - We recommend that any social media marketing activity is preceded and accompanied by time spent listening to what people are talking about. This can help you identify who it's right to talk to as well as what they want you to talk about.

Obviously this activity can be immensely valuable. Beyond helping to shape your marketing campaign it allows you, like never before, to hear what people think of your brand, or what they expect from someone in your sector.

10. Transforming how you do business - The effect of listening to your customers, let alone engaging them in a conversation, can be profound. Having customer feedback so readily available means you can develop better products faster and identify issues in a heartbeat.

It's also profound because, increasingly, the ability for businesses to work like this is creating an expectation from consumers that this is how things should be. If you aren't asking for your customers' opinions you may ultimately lose them altogether.

So there you go - a partial and incomplete guide to the world of social media; its benefits and some of the potential pitfalls. The aim, really of all this is to show you that social media marketing is not one homogenous mass, it's a myriad of sites, services and opportunities that's so big, you have to pinpoint your activity carefully to capitalise on. When you get it right though, the wins can be really big.

If you have any thoughts on the subject, disagree or have something to add, please leave a comment.