Social Media is more than just "LIKES"
Social Media is more than just "LIKES" - for companies in particular it should be an online encounter where they can have valuable conversations with their customers. Social media can be such a valuable tool for business both big and small, for customer interaction and acquiring new customers as well.
I believe that companies can enjoy real benefits of social media without splashing their increasingly limited cash on relatively expensive ads such as those sold by Facebook as part of its much-touted advertising service. And whilst you might not get 3000 new "followers" in a month, you can still strengthen your brand’s profile among the people who actually matter: new and existing customers.
Already a hot topic in the social media / online marketing world, the heat was turned up recently after the BBC rather cheekily put Facebook advertising to the test. It's experiment raised some serious questions about whether those All-important likes are coming from real accounts or fake profiles (often set up en-masse in locations where demand for the high-value goods and services on offer should be quite low).
Very briefly, the Beeb set up a Facebook Page with no relevant content whatsoever and called it "VirtualBagel Ltd" and Facebook advertising was duly paid for. Within a month the page had collected over 3000 likes, with the majority of these being 13 - 17 year olds in Cairo (a city not generally noted for it's penchant for the roll-with-a-hole).
As we all know, Facebook’s largest revenue stream comes from advertising and conveniently for them / Mr Zuckerberg they still get paid whether the accounts and likes are real or not. Facebook requires that you give your real name when signing up. The social network admits that 5-6% of its accounts are fake - which might not sound like that much but in actual numbers, that’s 50 million. You have to wonder where they all came from and why they exist.
The BBC report comes hot on the heels of General Motors’ decision to pull it's advertising from Facebook in May, shortly before the social network's IPO: GM claimed at the time the ads weren’t working, although it has now said to be rethinking that stance. In my three years’ experience in social media (and yes - I work with start-ups and SMEs) I have never paid for ANYTHING on any social network. And even if you’re GM, you really should not be paying either.
When Facebook listed, I always thought they were always going to have trouble generating revenue. Google will always dominate the advertising market via its money-making AdWords technology. Right now, industry insiders are experiencing that familiar feeling of schadenfreude, just waiting for the Facebook bubble to burst.
And then let’s spare a thought for all those businesses that have created and developed their business model around Facebook: they really need to make sure their business plans are future-proof if the trend towards sponsored advertising is set to continue.
Let’s be clear: yes, Facebook has changed the world, and revolutionised not only the way we communicate with each other, but has also impacted mightily on businesses are run. But what goes up must come down - and we currently seem to be reaching that point of inertia experienced at the very top of a rollercoaster’s climb.
Despite its much-vaunted "population" of around 1 billion, Facebook is not the be-all-and-end-all of social media. There is a social networking "ecosystem" of other sites which are just as important for companies and brands to be active on and exposing the benefits of their products and services to consumers.
If you are using social media in the right way, it’s like the flip-side of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Instead of building in the right keywords to your inline content and hoping potential customers search on those keywords (and then click on the link to your website), you can be making noise on your social networks so that potential customers search for you directly. This not only reduces the level of dependence on random searching, but forges a stronger bond between brand and customer, a relationship which not only lasts longer but ultimately has more value.
The purpose of Facebook as far as companies are concerned should be to provide a unique, high-quality space in which to host content that is both significant and highly-personalised. The main advantage of its unrivalled membership is not to simply to attract high-volume but shallow attention, but rather to allow deeper relationships with genuine customers to bloom through the pollinating process of sharing the things that matter to you with your (real) friends.
While the problem of "Fakebook" accounts is real it shouldn't be allowed to contaminate / poison social media as a whole - and the very real power it these new and constantly-developing forms of communication have to help you grow your business. Social media is a highly-relevant resource for (real) and active fans of a company’s lovemark and also offers a way to flirt with and engage potential fans too. If people like what you’re doing they will find you and will genuinely like what you’re doing. Companies (and Facebook) cannot live by virtual bagels alone.
Photo (cc) Ezra Wolfe