It is hard to imagine life without social media today, but it was just a decade ago when we had never even heard the term. The first social networking site was actually created back in 1997, and MySpace had some success among teenagers and pop stars during the early 2000s, but it was the rise of Facebook in 2006 that truly revolutionised how we use the internet forever.
Facebook opened the door for a range of other networks we know and love today, such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. The term ‘social media’ also covers business networking sites like LinkedIn, video sharing hubs YouTube and Daily Motion, and forum communities such as Reddit.
Social networks are designed to connect people with loved ones and with strangers, with celebrities and with brands. While Facebook started out with the intention of creating private networks, it quickly grew as people reached out beyond their own close connections. The concept caught on fast and now the key to success on these networks is to build as many followers and fans as possible, and to make sure you engage with them regularly to keep them interested in your content and posts.
Brands can reach the whole world at once
Facebook is by far the largest social network on the web, and it has a staggering 1 billion daily users across the globe. Studies show that almost half of those users follow at least one brand page, and 90% of those followers do so because they want to get exclusive deals and discounts. If a company wants to advertise a product, it doesn’t need to pay for expensive television adverts any more. Instead, that brand can reach millions of people for free – or for a relatively low cost, in the case of sponsored advertising.
Conversations with customers happen in real time
Discovering what customers thought of a business used to involve time-consuming surveys and focus groups. Today, you can get an instant look at how a product or service has been received through the visual ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ references. A recent VoucherBin study found that 72% of consumers have used social media to reach out to a company. 7% of those customers even signed up to a certain network, such as Twitter or Facebook, for the specific purpose of contacting a brand directly.
Complaints can go viral – with serious consequences
Even in the most efficient and well loved businesses, things do go wrong occasionally and customers may have reason to complain. It is not the fact that a problem has occurred, but how these complaints are handled which can greatly impact a brand’s reputation. Thanks to social media, customers’ complaints have a far bigger audience and if not dealt with effectively, they can spiral out of control. Every business owner’s worst nightmare is a complaint or bad review that goes viral – and the wrong response can make the problem even worse!
Customer service can be showcased to the world
Of course, the public setting has a positive flip side as well. If a problem has occurred and your brand can deal with it quickly, effectively and to the customer’s satisfaction, you get a chance to showcase your service skills in an extremely public setting. Sometimes all it takes is a little humour and fun to win over an upset customer, and in other cases a sincere gesture of goodwill goes a long way. Social media has created a two-way dialogue between customers and companies, and getting the conversation right can alter or reinforce the public’s perception of your brand.
Recruitment is easier with access to the global talent pool
When work always took place in physical locations and jobs were advertised in local newspapers, companies were faced with limits on talent acquisition. Now that social networking has allowed people to connect across every continent, there is a greater opportunity to advertise positions and to find jobs. In addition, technology means that people can work online, so that talent pool becomes even wider. Those looking for a dream position can reach out to businesses via social media and show off their skills – and this initiative is frequently rewarded. Access to training through business networks like LinkedIn gives candidates a chance to brush up their skills, and recruiters can target the right people with dedicated Facebook pages or through a search of relevant Twitter hashtags.
It is clear that social networking is going nowhere. The number of active Facebook users continues to rise by the hour, and over 80% of businesses now have at least one social media account. Those who are not yet connected should hurry to get on board, because these networks can only become more influential and important in the coming years.