Turning users into customers

Social media sites have spent the better part of the last year drastically focusing on how their users can turn fellow users into customers.

Using digital advertising platforms are critical. The Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed recently that U.S. online advertising grew by 13.9% in 2010, reaching a record US$25.8 billion, as Fox Business reports. Globally 10.2% of the US$79-billion invested in online advertising next year will be in the social media space. Perhaps the most interesting of all these developments is the advertising that is not recorded amongst: growing number of businesses using social media as a free tool.

Small businesses once faced prohibitive barriers such as the high costs of using media outlets like local television networks and radio, which had little guarantee of reaching a target audience. It’s no surprise there has been an estimated 35% growth in Facebook ads in a single year. When businesses are not spending money, they are likely investing time, energy and ideas in generating interest. So how to you ensure you are effective and not simply present for the sake of it? Saving on costs and actually generating profit don’t go hand in hand without a couple of basic fundamentals to one’s strategy.

Russell Rothstein, the Founder and CEO of Sales Spider warns that while social media can create the buzz you are looking for, that in itself may not necessarily always translate to a better bottom line for your business.

The key of translating social media interest into profit is easier said than done, but there are ways to turn fans into customers. For a start, a user’s thought process has to be understood to increase the chances of turning them into a paying client. Creating a buzz that allows for direct participation through functions like Facebook questions are crucial. They allow participation by active audiences who provide feedback that most companies have traditionally paid big money to acquire.

At a social level, in light of the opportunities and the hype, beware the threat of your company coming across as crass or annoying when using social networks for the purpose of profit. When introducing a product, concept or service to a wide circle of friends you met in non–business settings, how best do you keep your business and its credibility intact? There are perhaps few things worse than joining a social network and being solicited unexpectedly.

Research assistant Rohit Parulkar at the American Enterprise Institute believes that the value of a social network depends on the type of social network we join. Defining your network as a business for a start is wise.

Why? Your user knows what he or she is signing up for – and is thus a willing potential customer, not merely a rather random user you are trying to solicit. Social network sites or groups that don’t openly show their business nature run the risk of creating the hype Rothstein describes that does not come with the sales. To focus on attracting customers, let them know you are a business.

To do this, while keeping the social in social media, start by getting employees or members of your company team actively using Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. In that sense, external users see the nature of your business, while still having the all-important opportunity to engage in the social stuff like commenting, and tweeting. The effect: your company’s online presence remains social, without hiding the fact that it is a business.

Because most users don’t visit social media in order to shop, ensure your presence still offers valuable information and tips that would attract users anyway. Tweet valuable industry information, provide blog posts on trends and use Facebook and photo-sharing sights to add a social touch.

The results can be unexpected. I am aware of at least one restaurant which even has regular customers tweeting their favourite order before coming to collect it. The example reveals perhaps one of the most important principles social media presence: make sure whatever it is you are doing, you are making people lives easier. They are likely to tell others and when they do, you turn users into customers.



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