According to current surveys one in three decision-makers keeps away from Linkdin, Xing and Facebook - the older, the more consequently. From a marketing point of view, mid term, this could be a fatal mistake.
Compared with other media, such as radio and television, social networks are growing at a breathtaking pace: After the invention of radio, it took 38 years until 50 million people were reached, television took 13 years. Facebook gained 200 million new users only in the last year. No other medium allows to attract potential customers in a cheaper and faster way. However, some rules should be followed.
What are social networks actually?
Social media are defined as media which provide digital chanels to support users in communication and interactive exchange of information, famous examples are Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. A characteristic of many platforms is, that people are not anonymous. Therefore verbal attacks and fraud are limited.
Compared to traditional mass media, access to these networks is easy and cheap. Xing and Linkedin put their main emphasis on business communication. The user profiles are similar to CVs. So before contacting other users you can check whether they are worthy of consideration from your specific professional point of view. In the opposite direction the contacted person can decide whether he wishes to get in contact with the requester or connect the requester to his network. When networking, contact information is exchanged, similar to the exchange of a business card, but with the advantage that profile changes - such as address data - are automatically updated.
Currently 10 million people are registered in Xing, mainly in Germany. In Linkedin there are 100 million worldwide. If Facebook with it’s 800 million people would be a country, it would be the third largest country in the world after China and India. In total, 40 million Germans are active in social networks. The younger the respondents, the more the use of social networks is increasing: 80% of 30 - to 49 year olds are regularly active in social networks. In the group of under 30 years old people the number of active users is 96%.
It is not easy to convince somewhat older people to use social networks. Therefore it is important to highlight the benefits of using this tool to all employees – always against the background of the company’s objectives. The younger emloyees are generally more supportive in implementing social networking.
Recommendation significant as advertising
In the consumer area almost every major company uses Facebook, for example with their own company websites. To keep the visitor’s interest, games and news are frequently offered. In the business-to-business (B2B) area, own business- or group homepages are rarely used. Many decision makers believe, that they know all potential customers already or can reach them by traditional means. The possibility of representing the company via own sides or within discussion forums - especially to younger people - is not being used.
When setting up a discussion group in Xing, Linkedin or a company page on Facebook, it is important to understand that these do not work if they are decoupled from the daily business of the company. They must be interesting, so that you want to join the group or even click on the “like”- button on Facebook. Most important are regular news, which are of general use to the target customer group, above pure corporate advertising. Questions regarding the company's products must be answered within a day.
There can be critical user comments as well. These do not have to be a damage to the company, but can be used as a chance to have a constructive, personal dialogue with customers. Another advantage of a corporate presence in social networks is the so-called viral marketing. This means, that users recommend products, companies or funny videos to their friends, which then might recommend these to their friends and contacts. Viral marketing is becoming increasingly important. This is due to the flood of information, the users - even in the B2B sector – are exposed to. Roughly speaking, in the past, the user has found the information, whereas today, the information finds the user.
. Meanwhile, a personal recommendation from a friend is more important than a ranking on Google: 78% trust the recommendation of a friend. Therefore, the "like" button on Facebook is an important indicator of the success of a corporate site. If the side is "liked", the company news will appear on the user’s page. A friend viewing these on the side of his friend, will possibly also “like” the companies page.
Just as employers get information about candidates on Facebook, the applicants as well look more closely at a company by using the internet. A thesis of the Bundesverband Digitale Wirtschaft predicts that social media will catch on in employer branding:
"The majority of large German companies do not use Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook effectively to process on-line recruiting and talent-scouting in social networks. In 2012, HR managers will need to provide a clear framework of how their businesses and their employees engage themselve in personnel marketing and what steps in the recruiting process can be supported through social media or completely taken over."
Overall, HR communications will get more lively, more colorful and richer, using social media.
You cannot reach every potential customer through social media. However, many decision makers are registered in Xing - along with their professional interests. Often you get into contact with an interesting person you would not have reached by telephone. The precondition is, that you yourself have a complete profile in XING including a picture and a reference to the interests of the person addressed. As in real life, when getting into contact, it is important, not to be intrusive, as well as expressing the request shortly and in a benefit-oriented way. But it is not enough to enter the profile and wait to see the first requests. You have to actively communicate to be kept in mind, e.g send birthday greetings and post interesting articles.
If a company decides to get active in working with social media, at first the goals should be defined, such as customer loyalty, new customer acquisition, improvement of the company’s image or employer branding. Then all actions are defined to support these goals. It is important to identify people who care about content and the questions on the corporate side or in discussion groups. Often, in medium sized companies, there is a lack of resources, therefore advertising agencies provide social media "managers" to the company to take over these tasks.
It is appropriate to define rules of conduct for business communication in social networks. Here, the Federal Association of the Digital Economy (www.bvdw.org) has published ten tips, including the following:
- Secret and confidential information, particularly criticism of colleagues, is not communicated
- Employees need to communicate authentically, but make it clear when they speak for the company and when private
- Who publishes, takes responsibility. Publications could be read by journalists and could be interpreted as official statements
- Customer requests are always answered kindly, even where the involved person does not work in customer service
- Errors should be handled openly, which means that in any case a reply is required
- The private use of social media will be restricted during working hours..
It is worthwhile to be professionally active in social networks. If in doubt you should get back to experienced consultants who assist in the development of social media business strategies and their implementation.
Claus Hasenkamp, Hasenkamp Technology Marketing