Social Media Marketing

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Social Media: Marketing Considerations for Small Business

Social media marketing, will it deliver results for my business?

It’s clear that social media has grown dramatically over the last few years and that with more than 800 million active users, the number of Facebook users is easily more than twice the size of the entire population of the United States!

Its growth has been astronomical and today, millions of people are posting more personal and business information online than ever before. It’s happening at lightning speed with thousands of posts, tweets and uploads occurring every hour.

Recent research conducted by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA) commissioned by Sensis Pty Ltd (May 2011, p. 10) indicates, that “62% of Australian Internet users use a variety of social media sites, with many visiting every day and most at least a few times a week.” It’s no surprise that with the millions of prospective customers from all over the world using these sites, every day, that so many businesses have decided to include social media marketing into their marketing mix. However it also important to get an understanding of how these sites are being used and what’s involved in maintaining or resourcing your business presence on these sites. Your online footprint can stick around for a long time so don’t underestimate how this can affect the perception of your brand in the market place. Spend some time upfront thinking about whether social media is right for your business.

1. Seek first to understand – It is very important that you understand the fundamentals of how is social media actually works and how it’s being used. What are people and businesses doing with social media? What gets them results? Some of you may be thinking, how do I do this? Perhaps you could consider trying it out for yourself by setting up a personal account, then testing some of the features, or get a trusted friend to show you their account and guide you through. Alternatively there are so many resources and ‘how to’ items online about social media, that you could run a search on Google or on YouTube on a particular topic of interest and watch the video tutorials to get informed.

2. Understand your purpose – What is your purpose is for using social media? What do you hope to achieve for your business by using it? It’s really important that you identify your purpose for getting involved in social media (or any other marketing activity for that matter). You need to work out why you are taking part. What do you expect to achieve? Do you simply want to build brand awareness, engage with your customers or identify new sales opportunities? Remember to be realistic about what you believe you will be able to achieve.

3. If you decide to engage in social media, which sites are best for you? – With the plethora of social media sites available, which ones are best for your business? Think about where your target audience would socialize online, and think about the amount of time and resources you would realistically be able to commit to maintaining and administering your site presence. Which ones are right for you? You might find that some are a better fit than others.

4. Quality Content – If you decide that social media is right for your business, carefully consider the amount and quality of information you want to share in the online sphere. Remember it will probably stay there for a long time, so you need to make sure it accurate and reliable information that is valuable to your target audience. It has to be relevant, otherwise people will not read it.

There are a host of reasons for engaging in the social media community including:

  • It’s cost-effective. Many accounts on various social media sites are free to set up.
  • Huge global audience.
  • Enables you to receive feedback in real-time and communicate with customers in real-time.
  • Provides your business with an additional marketing channel, to increase the awareness of your product, brand or organisation.

However social media does present some obstacles for businesses that need to be measured up:

Time and Resources – you must be willing to devote the time needed to come up with fresh new content. So it is important to consider whether you have the time and the resources to effectively manage your social media presence.

Handing over brand control – You hand over some of the control of your marketing efforts and effectively your brand to your target audience. They will have the ability to comment on posts or other content and you need to be prepared for both positive and negative comments. However even if you are not administering a company Facebook page, it’s important to keep in mind that there is nothing to stop customers from posting comments on their own blogs or other public forums about your products and services.

Measuring ROI – The introduction of web tracking and analytics tools also brought with it the ability to more easily measure the success of certain online marketing and advertising campaigns. However the nature of social media means that you might not always be able to see the results of your campaign right away. Your social media efforts might allow your consumers to ask more questions or further engage with your brand or product, but like most other relationship building activities, it takes time to build brand loyalty and repeat sales, it is likely that your social media activities will not have an immediate impact on sales that can be easily measured, there may be a lag.

Social media, how is it being used?

When it comes to consumer adoption, the growth of social networking sites has been exponential, however as more research is being done regarding site usage and consumer behaviour, we begin to gain greater insights into the types of tasks and transactions people engage in when visiting social media sites. Interestingly, the top three reasons identified in the Sensis Social Media Report, for using a social networking site were:

1. To catch up with friends and family.

2. To share photographs and videos.

3. To co-ordinate parties and other shared activities.

The results of the Sensis Social Media report, Sensis Pty Ltd (May 2011, p. 18) were based on the responses of 490 telephone respondents located in Australia who identified themselves as using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As we can see from these survey results, people are still predominately using many of these sites for the fundamental reason that they were created. I.e. To “socially” interact with their network of family, friends, or peer group. I am not suggesting that we ignore the fact that 15% of the respondents did indicate that they use social networking sites to find out about particular brands or businesses, or that there are some excellent case studies where successful social media campaigns have been launched using Facebook or Twitter, however I think it is important for us to keep things in perspective and understand that just like traditional types of marketing and advertising, social media marketing needs include the fundamental elements of any good campaign for it to be successful. We need to remember that many of the same rules apply online as they do offline.

Further research findings seem to suggest that it is still more typical for a consumer to look to a company website when making a purchasing decision, than on ‘fan pages’ and that a company website provides a more influential source of information. “It seems that only about a third of respondents admit that they are influenced in their purchasing decision by fan pages while almost half say they look to company websites instead.”

It seems social media is here to stay, and that the Web 2.0 revolution and the Internet will continue to evolve, shaping the way we communicate and do business. There are clear indicators that consumers are now much more empowered to use the online sphere to voice their concerns, preferences and needs. This makes it increasingly important for businesses to figure out ways to respond to these evolving customer relationships in order to capture these markets and opportunities.

10 Checklist Points Before Engaging In Social Media Marketing

Where to start?

Social media marketing has a phony reputation. For many an executive from the commercial department, this exercise sums up to a string of signups over several social networks randomly and from time to time, multimedia, article postings and advertising over Facebook and Twitter. This is definitely not the right shot!

SMM is more than just being present in the Social Media Sphere. It is a sharp commercial engagement that may just turn into total havoc if not handled properly. The goal of Social Marketing in cyberspace is the same as the real-world thing. It’s about delivering Unique Selling Points that will end up into concrete and sustained sales. It is about converting an anon into a brand advocate at best. Achieving this objective follows basically almost the same rules except for the fact that Social Media allows a closer, more personal and customizable, so to say Social approach of the targets. Same rules apply but with more or less variations. Assessing the prerogatives, context, environment and toolsets is the essential starting point of any Social Media Marketing campaign. It implies thorough setup and clinical precision in the way messages and attitudes are to be delivered through dedicated channels. Within such campaigns, posting on Facebook, on a fan page, group page or personal page is never the same process.

Here are 10 checklist points before engaging into Social Media Marketing:

  1. Define your base strategy. Setup a budgeted roadmap with intermediate white stones that will help at fine tuning the campaign all along the way.The roadmap should stay in tune with what is being done or what has been done in the real-world. Social Media Marketing is never an innocent act. It is time-consuming and will incur expenses. Being precise about the campaign will definitely decrease the burden. As said earlier assess the main objective and methodology. For example, you may need to totally revamp your actual website so as to allow SM integration and SMO. Make your campaign stay SMARRT – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Relevant and Time-bound. Either go for Awareness or Sales or Loyalty. One at a time! Don’t try to aim for all objectives in one go. Remember! Stick to your company’s marketing and communication policy.
  2. Assess and understand your campaign’s environment. RESEARCH and don’t stop til’ you get enough! One surely doesn’t want to jump into dark waters without basic precautions and headlamps. So do you with your Social Media Marketing Campaign. Diving recklessly into Social Media can spell TOTAL MESS especially when dealing with building awareness and product reputation. Building an effective Online Social Strategy implies thorough knowledge of the competitors’ doing’s on common platforms (of course)… but above all, take an humble preview of how others from different sectors have done or are doing. Get into both successful and failed case studies. Learn more about technical potentials of each and every Social Network and platform.
  3. Identify these platforms and toolsets that are relevant and positively responsive for your roadmap. Social Media Marketing is about delivering the same consistent message through the whole spectrum of interwoven Social Networks. The intertwined winning triumvirate is made of the Blog, Facebook and Twitter, to which you would add a YouTube account if you would have video clips uploaded on a regular basis. Choose strategically. For example, you might feel the need of Slideshare and LinkedIn accounts instead of a Foursquare one, if your product or service is more into pitch-intensive B2B. Your toolset should also be made up of listening and monitoring wares.
  4. Realistically budget and size your Online Advertising. Use the full potential of Google AdSense and Facebook’s advertising platforms, but make sure to target wisely. Goal-tied Marketing Campaigns mean nothing without proper advertising. Intuitive Online advertising is now accessible through a few clicks and will definitely unleash its power to communicate about your brand on a global basis. They can also enhance diffusion to limited zones. Think about identifying and assessing your targets on geographical grounds. This will help at optimizing your online advertisement budget. Choosing PPC or CPC is up to you accordingly to your basic roadmap requirements.
  5. Setup a Social Media taskforce from within your staff and look for an outsider to operate as a Community Manager. The web never sleeps. Social Media Marketing is a 24/7 perpetual roll-on. As such it is time and resource-consuming. One should never expect to be capable of handling a Social Media Marketing campaign alone, especially if other primary company duties are at stake. Instead, invite some of your staff to engage into social networking on your business’s behalf. Be choosy though! Those indulged in such a sensitive and interactive task must write well, be tactful, creative and loyal. Outsider Community Managers are seldom biased and are limited to the sole responsibility of consolidating your taskforce’s activities over relevant Social Networks. In any case you should build a team whose main goals and capabilities are to listen, learn and reply in tactful manner.
  6. Prefer influential relationships. Get your team to identify major Bloggers and mainstream Social Media activists who fringe with your zones of interest and industry. This task is one of the hinges of success for your campaign. Getting to talk to Social Media heavyweights is like hiring evangelists when relationships get entrusted. Getting Lady Gaga to like your pair of boots is like tapping straight into a sea of opportunities as wide as 9 million individuals who would just follow Gaga’s recommendations. Getting her to buy one would mean immediate success. CAREFUL however! The adverse effect is also proportionally as big as your contact’s notoriety. Be sure of what you sell to him or her. A successful Social Media Marketing campaign starts here.
  7. Identify relevant measuring and benchmarking tools. They are proof of your campaign’s success or need for fine tuning. For example, the increase in the number of likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter is an indicator of your campaign’s health. Getting to know how many times your brand is mentioned across the web and rating these comments help at fine tuning the campaign. You should also be able to keep track of your on-growing relationships and traffic that comes from Social Platforms. Identifying prospects for future opportunities helps at developing better strategies. Beware! At the actual state of affairs, Social Media Metrics can be tricky! In fact you will need a very wide array of results coupled to trending reports to be able to depict the exact snapshot of your on-going campaign.
  8. Identify offline components that will be needed to complement your Online Social Marketing. Offline events are powerful conversion tools when geared the proper and relevant way. Offline components may also mean socializing with people off the web, in the real world, offering real-world prizes and gifts, organizing rallies, bar camps, conferences and seminars… etc Determine how these components can enhance your target’s brand experience and how they will relevantly fit into your Online Marketing Scheme.
  9. Urge for quality relevant content when posting articles, multimedia and comments. Praising your 270hp 1974 red Corvette when you advocate for ecological products on your blog isn’t the best of strategies. Be sure to lay editorial rules that will define consistent cross-platform content production both in terms of easy-reading literature and technical specifics. Should an uploaded video be in HD both on YouTube and on Facebook? How long should be an article? Should an article contain a generic common byline for multiple authors or should it bear the actual author’s name and on what grounds? One should always define these lines accordingly to the targeted audience.
  10. Urge to stay HUMAN at every stage! Putting up a Social Media Marketing strategy is about building your brand’s Social Media presence where your quality accessible content will be delivering values of your organization. Social Media is about… Socializing first! People are touchy when it comes to attitudes and postures. They don’t like to bullied or taken as immature consumers. Being too techy, too commercial, demotes the social experience. Simple language and “real-worldlike” politeness are the bases for the best of approaches. It is sometimes more fruitful to start a discussion that may seem miles away from your product and its campaign objectives. With the will to listen and the power to communicate clearly, high conversion rates are never far ahead.

Conclusion

Whoever engages into Social Media Marketing is bound to find himself pulling on very many strings at the same time. Assessing, understanding the campaign’s environment through research and pre-dive learning is a must. Although the marketing process might seem similar to the real-world thing, the Online Social Experience entails mastering every stage with even more precision, because you can never see or analyze real-time behaviors, except for what the prospect writes from behind his monitor, should it be true or false. A Social Media Marketing Strategy is simply the result of the conjunction of human competences and webtools that allow social interaction, interchange and sharing to the profit of a brand. It is a two-way traffic by which the seller has an on-spot obligation of being a psychologist, sociologist or an ethnologist. Be reassured you do not need to be these actually because you’re a human being who is supposedly used to human social codes in general.

Reasons Why Social Media Marketing Didn’t Work for Your Business

An objection which I am given almost daily as I interact with prospects & talk to people about Social Media Marketing is “I have tried SM marketing before & it didn’t work”

In my opinion & experience there is huge value in social media but I am not deluded. I realise that not every business has found that it works very well for them or at least in the short term they didn’t see a decent return on their investment, whether that investment came in the form of expenditure of the their time, money or both. Therefore they conclude that SM marketing is a waste of time & money. But hold your horses!

SM Marketing may not be a good fit for your business, it’s true. However please don’t be too hasty either. Thousands of businesses are having fantastic success.
Before you toss SM Marketing on the scrap heap please consider these factors. Some of you may get validation that it really isn’t for your business but some of you may reconsider & give it a second shot, this time doing things a little differently.

Let’s look at some possible factors as to why to Social Media Marketing didn’t work…

1. All businesses are different & there are so many different variables when attempting to connect with your target market using SM marketing.

Social Media works best for companies that serve the whole of the country or even internationally. For those local businesses out there, it will be a little trickier. It’s just a fact unfortunately. There may only be a certain limited amount of people within your geographical location, interested in the topics you are talking about.

Does this mean local businesses shouldn’t bother with SM Marketing? No that’s not what I’m trying to say at all. I am just saying you need to have realistic expectations & also consider wisely how much you invest in Social Media.

I believe that every business big or small should have a Social Media presence, remember it’s about quality not quantity. A few loyal fans & followers can still be worth a lot to your businesses bottom line. Keep them engaged & strengthen the relationships you have with them. You know your business better than I do. So if you feel that your business is extremely micro-niche or geographically tight then I wouldn’t spend any money on social media at all but some carefully managed time instead. 15-20 minutes a day spent interacting with fans & followers is more than enough to give awesome value to them & keep an active Social Media presence without breaking the bank or wasting hours on SM that could be put towards something more productive.

Consider carefully how much you invest in SM marketing. Make sure it’s the right fit for your type of business & is likely to bring more rewards than expenses.

2. Some businesses are just a better natural fit than others when it comes to Social media marketing. Social Media is all about engagement. For some businesses this is easy & for others there may be a little more imagination required.

Some businesses & organisations will always have pockets of people who want to listen & talk about the things relevant to their business. Fashion, arts & crafts, authors, restaurants, speakers, coaches, cookery, sports, theme parks, news, religion, charities, health, music, film, TV shows, the list goes on and on. There are certainly way more interesting enterprises out there than bland ones.

But there are bland ones. And you know who you are. Accountants, precision engineers, adhesive manufacturers, plumbers, locksmiths, taxi drivers, again the list goes on. Should businesses like these like this still use Social Networking? In my opinion yes, although less exciting people still need these kinds of services.

Get your thinking cap on & think of ways to make your business interesting or at the very least informative. This will still help to get people talking & interacting with you. Just accept that you may never get as many people talking as businesses in other slightly more “fun” markets.

3. You were trying to do it yourself but you were doing it wrong. A lot of people mistakenly believe that their dabbling and fooling around a bit with social media themselves counts as a well thought out & executed Social Media Marketing Campaign. And then they are surprised when it doesn’t work.

This is very common especially amongst small business enterprises that may not be able to afford to have it outsourced to a professional or have a marketing employee do it in house.

If you can afford it out source it. If that doesn’t fit well with your marketing budget & you have to do it yourself then get educated. There are plenty of courses, seminars, mentors & workshops out there to help you learn. If you are really on a shoestring budget spend some time scouring the web looking for free information on social media blogs, websites & video channels. But make sure you do. There is no point spending time on something if you are doing it wrong. Social Media marketing isn’t difficult & shouldn’t take long to get up to speed but it doing it the right way or wrong way is the difference between it paying dividends or not.

4. You didn’t give it enough time. Social Networking takes time. Relationships take time.

Expecting to do the Social Media thing for two months & then giving up obviously isn’t going to work. Please be aware that Social Media is not an instant fix but a long term solution.

Kind of sucks right? No not really. Because once someone is a true fan or follower of your business, who knows how many years into the future you will be interacting? If your business is a flash in the pan business then sure it will disappointing not to see results straight away. But if you intend to be in a business a long time, think long term. If you deliver good value to your target market consistently over a sustained period of time, your target market will begin to sit up and take notice. And then your social media presence will build momentum & take up a life of its own thanks to the viral nature of the internet.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

5. A poor product or service will not be fixed by Social Media Marketing. Even if you are doing Social Media all correctly, there are factors outside Social Media which need to be in place first.

Market research, social proof, a website with good copy & a compelling call to action. Social Media is a good way to drive traffic to your website but if your landing page is poor & does not immediately provide what there are looking for then it’s all for nothing. If you have no testimonials or social proof then you will struggle to sell online. If there is no demand for your products or services then SM Marketing will not help you. Nor will telemarketing, PPC, SEO, Direct Mail, Yellow Pages, Radio or TV ads or any other type of marketing work for you.

I’m not saying that this is you, but trust me I have had people approach me with these problems, totally unaware that they had them. They wanted me to help them because nothing else was working & maybe SM Marketing would change it all around.

That’s not how it works.

If you are selling & business is going reasonably well, then yes jump on the Social Media bandwagon because you know your business works already. If you aren’t selling very well through any other mediums then go back to basics & don’t even consider Facebook, Twitter etc until that changes because it will prove fruitless.

Social Media Marketing, Truth and Lies

Social Media Marketing seems to be the latest buzz word for anyone looking to increase their online presence and sales, but is Social Media Marketing (SMM) all it is cracked up to be?

S.M.M companies are now springing up all over the place these days and they are telling anyone that will listen about how incredibly important social media like Facebook twitter and YouTube are to your business but, for the average small to medium sized business, does marketing to social networks really live up to all the hype? Is spending a small fortune on hiring a SMM company really worth it? And has anyone really done their research on this before they hired someone to set up there Facebook business page? Some SMM companies are setting up things like Facebook business pages (which are free) for $600 to $1,000 or more and telling their clients that they don’t need a website because Facebook is the biggest social network in the world and everybody has a Facebook account. Now while it may be true that Facebook is the largest social network in the world and yes, Facebook’s members are potential consumers, the real question is are they actually buying? Social media marketing companies are all too happy to point out the positives of social media like how many people use Facebook or how many tweets were sent out last year and how many people watch YouTube videos etc. but are you getting the full picture? I once sat next to a SMM “expert” at a business seminar who was spruiking to anyone who came within earshot about the amazing benefits of setting up a Facebook business page for small business (with him of course) and selling on Facebook. So, intrigued by the aforementioned “experts” advice I looked him up on Facebook only to find he had only 11 Facebook friends (not a good start). So being the research nut that I am, I decided to take a good look into SMM in regard to selling to see if it actually worked, who did it work for and if it did why did Social Media Marketing work for them? And should business rely so heavily on social networks for sales?

As a web developer I was constantly (and now increasingly) confronted with several social networking challenges when potential clients would say that having a website sounds good but they had a Facebook business page and had been told by various sources (the ever present yet anonymous “they”) that social networks were the thing to do, but after discussing their needs it became quite clear that those potential clients didn’t actually know why they needed social networks or SMM to generate online sales, They just wanted it. For small and medium sized business I always recommended building a quality website over any type of social network, why? Well it’s simple really because social media is Social Media, and social Networks are Social Networks they are not business media and business networks (that would be more like LinkedIn). I know that sounds simple but it’s true and the statistics back it up. The fact is that social media marketing fails to tell you that Facebook is a social network not a search engine and despite the number of Facebook users and Google users being around the same, people don’t use Facebook in the same way that they use a search engine like Google (which has around half the search engine market), Yahoo and Bing to search for business or products. They use it to keep in touch with family and friends or for news and entertainment. In a recent study done by the IBM Institute for Business Value around 55% of all social media users stated that they do not engage with brands over social media at all and only around 23% actually purposefully use social media to interact with brands. Now out of all the people who do use social media and who do interact with brands whether purposefully or not, the majority (66%) say they need to feel a company is communicating honestly before they will interact.

So how do you use social media marketing? And is it even worth doing?

Well first of all I would say that having a well optimized website is still going to bring you far more business that social media in most cases especially if you are a small to medium sized local business because far more people are going to type in “hairdresser Port Macquarie” into a search engine like Google, Yahoo and Bing than they ever will on any Social Media Site and if you don’t have a website you’re missing out on all of that potential business. However despite all the (not so good) statistics I still think it is still a good idea for business to use social media just not in the same way that a lot of SMM professionals are today, Why? Because it’s clearly not working in the way they claim it does. Basically SMM Companies and Business as a whole looked at social networks like Facebook as a fresh market ripe for the picking and when Facebook started getting users measured by the millions PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel invested US$500,000 for 7% of the company (in June 2004) and since them a few venture capital firms have made investments into Facebook and in October 2007, Microsoft announced that it had purchased a 1.6% share of Facebook for $240 million. However since Facebook’s humble beginnings up until now (2012) both SMM Companies and Business have failed to truly capitalise on the huge number of Facebook users online. The truth is numbers does not equal buyers. Is it in a Social Media Marketing company’s best interest to talk social networks up? Absolutely. Is it in a Social Network like Facebook’s best interests for people to believe that companies can sell en masse by advertising and marketing with them? Of course it is. In early 2012, Facebook disclosed that its profits had jumped 65% to $1 billion in the previous year as its revenue which is mainly from advertising had jumped almost 90% to $3.71 billion so clearly the concept of SMM is working out for them but it is working out for you? Well… statistically no, but that does not necessarily mean that it never will.

I believe the major difference between social networks and search engines is intent. People who use Google are deliberately searching for something so if they do a search for hairdressers that’s what they are looking for at that particular time. With something like Facebook the primary intent is usually to connect with friends and family. In October 2008, Mark Zuckerberg himself said “I don’t think social networks can be monetized in the same way that search (Search Engines) did… In three years from now we have to figure out what the optimum model is. But that is not our primary focus today”. One of the biggest problems business face with social networks and SMM is perception. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value study there were “significant gaps between what businesses think consumers care about and what consumers say they want from their social media interactions with companies.” For example in today’s society people are not just going to hand you over there recommendations, Facebook likes, comments or details without getting something back for it, so the old adage “what’s in it for me?” comes into play. So the primary reason most people give for interacting with brands or business on social media is to receive discounts, yet the brands and business themselves think the main reason people interact with them on social media is to learn about new products. For brands and business receiving discounts only ranks 12th on their list of reasons why people interact with them. Most businesses believe social media will increase advocacy, but only 38 % of consumers agree.

Companies need to find more innovative ways to connect with social media if they want to see some sort of result from it. There were some good initiatives shown in the IBM study of companies that had gotten some sort of a handle on how to use social media to their advantage, keeping in mind that when asked what they do when they interact with businesses or brands via social media, consumers list “getting discounts or coupons” and “purchasing products and services” as the top two activities, respectively a U.S ice cream company called Cold Stone Creamery offered discounts on their products on their Facebook page. Alternatively there is a great program launched by Best Buys in the U.S called Twelpforce where employees can respond to customer’s questions via Twitter. With both Cold Stone Creamery and Twelpforce the benefit is clearly in the favour of the potential customer & the great trick to social media marketing is to sell without trying to sell (or looking like your selling) unfortunately most social media marketing is focused the wrong way.

Building a tangible buyer to consumer relationship via social media is not easy and probably the most benefit to business’ using social media to boost their websites Google rankings. But business’ need to understand that you can’t just setup a Facebook business page and hope for the best. SMM requires effort and potential customers need to see value in what you have to offer via your social media efforts give them something worth their social interaction and time and then you may get better results.

Now just as a footnote Facebook shares have dropped to under $20 per share, that’s half their original price… and the lawsuits are flying

545 Web Designs are and internet marketing and web design company based in Port Macquarie Australia. 545 Web Designs have been servicing English speaking clients world wide since 2006. 545 Web Designs Port Macquarie create Affordable, Functional web designs that get noticed.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Social Media Marketing (But Were Afraid to Ask)

The live chats at the Vocus webinar a few weeks ago were fantastically lively and informative, with participants answering as well as asking questions that were posed to the scheduled speakers, Deidre Breakenridge, David Meerman Scott, Beth Harte, Lee Odden and Brian Solis. As time was tight, not all the questions were answered, so we thought we’d scoop some up from the logs and try to give some insights.

Q1: How do I increase my Twitter following?

This was a common question, but there’s no quick answer (unless you use a mass-following tool, which might boost your numbers but won’t necessarily give you a worthwhile audience that includes valuable influencers) – it can be a slow build, however, there are ways to make a difference:

• Write content that people want to read! Bit obvious, but just spieling out advertising isn’t the tastiest bait. Write interesting and useful articles and blog posts and link to them; create infographics, videos, slideshows and share them; make astute and witty observations; share content by others that you think your followers will find helpful. Give them a reason to follow you and retweet you.

• Search for your audience and follow them – if you’re doing the first point well enough, they’re likely to follow you back. Use any of the numerous Twitter applications and search engines to look for relevant people and influencers who would be interested in what you have to say.

• Get involved in Twitter chats to connect with your relevant audience – this is a great opportunity to offer advice, opinions and knowledge to key people who may become followers afterwards. Robert Swanwick (@swanwick) has compiled a Twitter Chat Master List where you can find the right subject for you.

• Find a way to link what you’re saying to topical themes and hashtagged subjects – this gives you a more targeted audience when people search for those terms and keywords.

• Finally, give an incentive now and again – run polls, competitions, promotions to engage and reward your loyal followers, and encourage more people to follow you.

Q2: How can I make my blog more effective?

It’s easy to feel that your blog is lost in the webiverse, but there are ways to increase its visibility and boost traffic.

• Just like in question 1, content is key – write posts that are informative, useful, interesting and engaging. See this post for a more in-depth guide on how to write a great blog.

• Optimise – just like your website, make sure that you are implementing keywords, links and other SEO tactics to ensure that your blog can be found and ranked by search engines. Register with blog directories such as Technorati or PostRank to add to the places you can be searched for, and to keep an eye on your blog metrics.

• Network your blog with other social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – link up your RSS feed, or manually link to posts you want to push out there.

• Comment on relevant sites and blogs – not with pointless spam directing people to your site, but with genuine, thoughtful comments. If people appreciate what you’re saying, they’ll click through to your blog to see what else you’ve come up with.

• Search for other bloggers in your field who you could invite to guest-blog (or blog swap), creating a backlink and an interesting new slant for your blog.

• Most importantly, write posts that generate conversation – your audience will be compelled to comment, share, and your traffic will grow.

• Distribute: get your posts bookmarked, upload them to relevant sites, copy them to article-sharing sites etc – the more places they can be found, the more they will be read.

Q3: What’s the proper Twitter etiquette on mutual following?

Well, it depends how powerful and influential you are – if you’re such a big shot you’re followed by 20K and only follow one back then good for you, but you won’t be getting much out of the social aspect of Twitter!

You don’t have to follow every person who follows you, but ignoring everyone who tries to interact with you defeats the purpose of Twitter and can be, well, a bit rude. Choose those whose tweets you actually want to read and find useful. If someone’s followed you that you don’t want to add to your following list, then at least send them a “thank you for following” personalised message to show your appreciation. It’s useful to note that you can also add people to lists without having to follow them.

Q4: How do I use YouTube for marketing?

YouTube serves as a standalone search engine that is becoming more and more powerful within social media and SEO. Using it as a marketing tool really depends on your business, your aims and your content, but there are several ways to make use of YouTube as a social media marketing tool:

• Set up your own channel, where you can host your videos, link to your website/blog/social media profiles, hold discussions and answer questions.
• Use slideshows or infographic videos to back up a blog post or key point.
• Give out some personal and local information – show a behind the scenes of your company or location, introduce your staff, give a presentation on something that is important to you and your business.
• Document case studies.
• Film interviews with key company members, customers, associates etc.
• Have some fun – don’t take yourself too seriously (but at the same time, don’t make a total arse of yourself!)
• Make instructional and ‘How-To’ videos – these make up a lot of the search content within YouTube, as it’s much easier to learn from watching a demonstration than from reading an explanation.

Once you’ve uploaded a video, share it and distribute it via other social media platforms – embed in your site, your blog, link to it from Twitter and Facebook, add it to Vimeo – the list goes on. Get your content out there!

Q5: How do I measure/monitor the ROI of social media?

This is the big one, and unfortunately, the answer is not particularly straightforward. The first thing to do is stop trying to fit social media into a traditional sized marketing box. The purpose and results of social media marketing are less tangible than a PPC campaign, or press release launch – social media affects the reach and influence of your company, which in turn will affect its popularity and your website’s traffic, or awareness of your brand, which in turn will affect sales, conversions and profit. So how do you measure engagement?

Firstly, put monitoring tools into place – there are a ton of free tools out there, though you may find that most only cover specific areas of the metrics you are after, so you will need to use several simultaneously, or different tools for different analytics.

To use these tools effectively, you need to have an aim or goal in mind – what are you trying to measure or track? The number of followers or fans is not the bottom line – you need to look at how those followers are interacting with you, whether they are spreading your message, whether they are driving traffic to your site and more. Focus on an objective and measure the appropriate metrics. Here are some examples of aspects you might want to keep tabs on:

• Influence
• Click-throughs
• Site hits
• Re-tweets/mentions
• Followers
• Fans/Likes
• Interactions
• Increased time on site
• Sharing of your content
• Comments
• Backlinks
• RSS subscribers
• Image/video views
• Number of bookmarks

For example, you’ve written a blog post on your business’ new product – you publish it, distribute it, linking to the relevant page on your site. Now you need to track its progress. In this case, you’d want to look at how many click-throughs you get to the product landing page, how much new site traffic you receive, whether people are sharing this information amongst their friends. Monitor these aspects through each of the social platforms you publish the information on – and from there you will be able to see how social media affects the number of conversions/sales from each area.

Q6: How do I show the value of social media to my boss/uncertain executives?

Another popular question, especially for companies just starting out with social media marketing. Often, businesses, or those working above marketers, don’t see the instant results of a social media presence (or, as in the point above, are not receiving targeted analytics to prove its value).

First, gather information on how competitors and other companies in your field are utilising social media – see what works, how they’re interacting, and if it’s having an impact on their brand. If you have no social media presence, chances are that someone out there is talking about you (or your line of business) anyway – go and research and see what questions people are asking, what problems they’re coming up against and what they want from you.

Second, find out where your customers are, and where you should be – in which social media community should you be making a presence for yourself? If your audience are big Twitter communicators, get talking to them; if they loiter around YouTube, upload some videos and get comments and views. Find your niche and get settled in it.

Third, take an example from question 5 above, and show your execs some hard facts and figures – and explain the power of resonance involved in social media, how it can strengthen your brand, make valuable connections with customers and act as a fantastic customer service platform.

Q7: What’s the best way to use social media for a Non-Profit organisation?

I think initial supposition is that it’s harder for a non-profit organisation to market themselves, because they are not providing a service or a product in retail terms. Contrary to this assumption, I believe that non-profits actually can do exceptionally well with social media. The very nature of social media interaction connects likeminded people for things they believe in. Social media is emotional, we participate because we want to, because we are moved or amused by something. Non-profit organisations can take this opportunity to promote their work, their aims and the issues they deal with and gain support, publicity and awareness.

A few places to start:

• Assuming your organisation already has a website, add a blog, on which you can post content in a more conversational style, on issues and subjects that encourage comment and discussion. For example, some non-profit blogs document the progress of individuals who are fundraising by participating in a sponsored event, or post pictures and videos of success stories and company events.

• Facebook accounts have the option of creating a page or a group for your organisation – for this, a page is generally more appropriate, because it enables you to add more structure to the profile, whereas a group might be more useful for a specific goal or issue you are trying to gain support for.

• Twitter is a fantastic place for conversation, and raising awareness. Hashtags can easily organise a subject, and recently have been used to attract attention to issues which require donations and assistance, for example many tweeters are adding the hashtag #Pakistan to tweets which include a link to one of the various donation site for the Pakistan flood victims.

• Make the most of multimedia and sites like YouTube, Flickr to broaden your message and distribute different types on content.

Q8: Where do I find the time to do all this?!

Well, apparently there’s this hot tub that’s also a time machine… Or, you could just make use of those ‘time management skills’ that are on your CV and get organised.

• Focus on one thing at a time – there’s a tendency and a temptation to try to stick your fingers in all the pies when it comes to social media, since there are so many options, so many offshoots and avenues to explore. Target an objective, plan your action and monitor carefully rather than running around madly trying to connect with everyone, everywhere, all at once.

• Set realistic goals. Choose a few things that have the highest priority for any particular day. Put the rest aside and concentrate on achieving your immediate goals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted by the fast-paced realtime world of social media.

• Schedule ahead of time. I’m a big fan of Hootsuite for pre-composing tweets and facebook posts, squirreling them away and schedule them to be posted later (there are other social media network options for multiple postings). Then you can concentrate on other distribution and interaction.

• Target the most active times for your particular community – look into a monitoring tool and find out when is the best time to post, to join a discussion, to comment and make yourself available at that time – it could be just one hour in a whole week that makes a big impact to your network.

• Form a routine. Everyone and every business is going to have different needs, but as you get more proficient within social media, you will start to find a groove, and see how best to organise your time. Having a routine makes things more manageable, makes you more efficient, and rather than making you stuck into a rigid schedule, it actually makes it easier to deviate if you need to, because you know where you left off and where you need to pick up to keep on track.

I hope these were helpful for those of you starting out in social media, or feeling a bit lost in the networking world! If you have any questions about social media marketing, SEO, PPC, web analytics or any other aspect of internet marketing, please let us know and we’ll try to keep posting Q&A articles like this regularly.

7 Steps to Sell Your Boss on Social Media Marketing

With words like “tweet,” “blog” and “unfriend” entering our standard lexicon, there’s no question that social networking has a significant place on our contemporary culture. And it’s no surprise that many companies have been using social media online to connect and communicate with their customers online.

But the benefits of social networking aren’t always immediately apparent to some. And that is especially true for businesses who are interested in having a lot of control over their brand name and brand image. Convincing some that every business has something to gain from online media marketing can be difficult. It can be hard to see how Web 2.0 marketing can result in a positive return on investment (ROI).

When it comes to convincing your boss or colleagues to invest in social networks, it helps to have a plan.

Here the 7 steps you can take when it comes to selling social media marketing to your boss or company.

1. Explain how social media is an unbeatable research tool. When a company is effectively tapped into the social media landscape, they get to hear a lot of chatter that they wouldn’t hear otherwise. Those engaged in social media marketing campaigns will be able to monitor channels for any mention of their company, competitors, industry, clients and potential clients. Setting up a social media marketing listening campaign lets a company know who is participating and what is happening.

Thanks to tools and services like Quantcast, Alexa and TweetMeme, it is now easier than ever to track and measure what people are talking about online. This information is invaluable for developing future marketing strategies, both online and offline.

2. Match the benefits of Web 2.0 marketing with your company’s goals. Whether your company or your client is a service provider, a business to business specialist or a business to consumer retailer, there’s a social media marketing strategy for them. But in order to convince others of online media marketing’s benefits, you have to be aware of the company’s goals. Do they want to enhance their customer service operations? To they want to reduce costs? Do they want to manage their reputation? Social networking can do a lot to help achieve all those goals. When you know what your boss or company wants, you can show how this will help them achieve it.

3. Start small. Even if they’re not bullish on social network marketing, your boss or others at your company are probably aware of the range of social applications and services that are out there. They may think that launching a social marketing campaign will be a huge undertaking, one that will require many work hours just to set everything up.

But that’s not necessarily true. A Web 2.0 marketing campaign doesn’t have to include a setting up a Facebook Fan Page, a Twitter account, a blog and a YouTube channel. In fact, it’s often easier to start small. Figure out which service will best match the stated goals of your boss or your company. It may be something as simple as registering a Twitter account and starting to engage people via tweets. Starting small requires little time and less cost. But the results can become apparent quickly. You can even begin to measure such results with a tracking service like Quantcast.

4. Set up a strategy and follow it. A social media campaign can appear strange and different, even to people who have plenty of marketing experience. If you don’t have a clear strategy for implementation and execution, reactions to your plan will be understandably skeptical to your social media marketing strategy. Take time to explain each step of the plan, describe why it’s being done and how it will benefit the company.

5. Look for examples of social media success. Lots of businesses, large and small, well-known and unknown, have been able to already achieve a lot with social media marketing. From Charles Schwab to FujiFilm to Goodwill, there are countless examples of companies who have been able to successfully use social networking to achieve their corporate goals. Find them and broadcast the results.

6. Anticipate Questions. It’s natural for people to be skeptical of new things and new ideas. While you may be well aware of the benefits of social media marketing, keep in mind that resistance may simply be the result of some people being overly cautions. That’s why it’s important to anticipate any and all questions or objections someone may raise. Find good case studies and other examples of social media marketing successes. Have these on hand to use as examples. Here are some common questions that skeptical bosses may have about social media marketing:

• Our customers aren’t online. This line of reasoning is being used less and less, but some companies may still think this is true. The truth is, at the cusp of the 2010s, nearly everyone is online. Online activity isn’t restricted to any gender, income level, education level, or location. There are countless surveys to prove this. One of the largest survey groups, the Pew Research Center, frequently provides data for online use, broken down by several categories.

• What if someone writes something bad? This is a common fear among those resistant to social media marketing. But studies show that when companies engage with customer complaints and criticisms, they end up looking better than before. Mention that people will likely complain whether you’re engaged in social media or not. It’s better for nearly every brand to appear involved with its customers. Even the angry ones.

• It’s too time-consuming. After setting up social media marketing accounts on networks like Facebook and Twitter, the actual maintenance doesn’t take that much time at all. You can spread social media marketing efforts among the staff, or you can task a single person to handle it. Either way, social media marketing doesn’t require countless work hours. Create a timeline showing the typical amount of time one will spend on social media every week to help prove this point.

7. Make your case. Prepare a short, punchy presentation that hits on all the above topics. Give your boss or colleagues plenty of time to ask questions. Think about your boss or colleagues’ personal preferences and consider how you can best sell your Web 2.0 marketing idea. And remember that there may be some things you don’t know. Social online marketing is still relatively new, and that means that there are still many unanswered questions out there. Be honest about what you don’t know, but make sure to point out all possible benefits to Web 2.0 marketing.

Social network marketing is an exciting new medium that companies can use to achieve just about any business goal. By convincing your colleagues or your boss of the effectiveness of this type of online marketing, you’ll be on your way to discovering the enthralling, challenging and rewarding new world of online business networking.

10 Social Media Marketing Tips to Help You Avoid Social Media Failure!

Used correctly social media marketing can give you a platform for brand awareness, exposure, networking, and a huge boost in traffic & sales. The problem is, most people don’t know how to use the social media properties correctly…

Social media marketing gives you an edge over larger competitors. Studies show that most companies are not yet adopting social media, leaving a sweet gap for the “little guy” to do big business in that space.

Follow these 10 simple tips to create your own strategy for Social Media Marketing success:

1. Map Out Your Social Media Strategy

What is it you most hope to accomplish with your social media marketing plan? What response do you expect from your target market? Ideas to consider in your overall objective might include:

-Branding
-Networking
-Exposure
-Inbound Links/SEO
-Relationship/Trust Building
-Customer Relations (think @comcastcares on Twitter)

2. Connect With Your Target Market

Get an image of your ideal customer or website visitor clearly in your mind. Who are they? What are they searching for? What do they want and need the most? What do you feel they expect from you through social media communications?

Consider what they experience on their end in everything you do. They are the person that you want to attract into your funnel, so you want to make a great impression – and also include a strong, specific call-to-action.

3. Offer Consistent, Quality Content

The content that you post to social media properties should be both consistent as in regular updates, and also consistent with your overall message or objective.

If you are an MLM recruiter for example, provide quality resources for recruits. If you own an ecommerce gardening site, offer gardening tips. Whatever your message, you want to make it consistent across the web.

This helps you achieve your branding objectives, and allows you to create the perception that you want people to have of you or your company. Anyone who follows you online should easily be able to fill in the blank: (You/Your Company) is known for ___ .

Being consistent with your message and your branding also lends toward your goal of relevance and theming when it comes to SEO, or Search Engine Optimization.

4. Focus on Content, Not Marketing

Most people get this backwards. If you focus on valuable, high-quality content then that content will do the marketing for you.

You shouldn’t have to digg or bookmark your own content, but rather focus on writing such great content that your readers give it an unsolicited digg or stumble for you.

Your job is to write, and provide easy access to social media services where your readers can share your content with their friends & groups.

When people like what you have to say, they will share it – period. And when they share it, the search engines will take notice. Write top quality content & updates, and let the rest happen naturally.

5. Caution! Do Not Over-Optimize

Social Media Marketing can help you achieve top search engine rankings for specific keyword phrases. But be careful… because there is such a thing as over-optimization.

Using the same anchor text everywhere that you link to (or request a link to) your site leaves a ‘digital footprint’, throwing up a red flag that you may be trying to manipulate the search results (or PageRank).

Avoid this by using natural variations in anchor text for the links that point back to your primary website. You need a certain number of “click here” or similar links to give balance to your optimization strategy.

6. Stop Linking To Your Home Page!

Social media is about micro-topical conversations, so consider how you can introduce internal offers or pages of your website into these conversations.

This will keep your groups and followers engaged in the topic at hand, and provide higher value to your readers.

These deep links, or links pointing to internal pages on your site or blog, help it gain authority in the search engines as well. All other things being equal between two identical websites, the one with more deep links will outrank the other. This also gives you more exposure in the search engine results, since your internal pages will begin ranking for specific relevant keyword phrases.

Tip: Your home page may not be the best link to share on your Profile while networking on social sites. Consider linking to your “about me” page instead for a more personable introduction to you and your site.

7. Provide a Valuable Resource

There’s a reason its called Social Media, and not Self-Promotional Media. Keep that in mind when you consider your social media marketing plan.

If all you post is self-promotional links and requests, you will eventually become a part of the “noise” and ultimately be filtered out by your target market. They may not unfollow or delete you, but they will begin to scan over your posts and tweets without even realizing it.

Avoid this by becoming a valuable resource in your niche. Share links to domains that you don’t own. And I don’t mean your own Squidoo pages or Facebook profiles – I mean domains you have ZERO association with. Provide value to your groups by sharing relevant links and resources.

You mean, you want me to *gasp* promote my competitors?! Yes – and become friends with them too. Interlinking and networking is powerful!

8. Social Networking

To truly achieve your social media marketing objectives, you need to do some social networking as well. Forget the word “competitor”. Other publishers or webmasters in your niche will be your best friends in the social media landscape!

Locate every competitor on your level (or within reasonable range) and create an “inner circle” of friends or business peers. These are people you can interview or be interviewed by, exchange links with, joint venture with, etc. Stop looking at them as competition, and start looking at how you can leverage each others’ position in the marketplace!

Tip: Don’t ask for favors. And don’t flaunt the favors you do. Simply follow, comment on, link to, or otherwise become “known” to select publishers in your niche. They will notice… and generally begin to reciprocate. Given a little time the relationship will form naturally and be incredibly beneficial on both sides.

9. Build Rapport

Get involved in discussions, reply to blog comments, ask for feedback (and then respond to it and act on it!). People want to know that you’re a real person, and not just “a company” – or worse: a bot spitting out links and sucking in cash.

Don’t be afraid to have an opinion or to express your thoughts on hot topics within your niche. Your unique voice in the market will attract your ideal visitors and customers.

Social media gives you an opportunity to be personable. An ecommerce site has its limits when it comes to establishing trust and building long-term customer relationships, so use social media as an opportunity to make a real connection with your target market.

10. Link Freely – And Don’t Apologize For It!

This is somewhat of a combination of tips #3 and #7. One thing that really makes me cringe is the 2 words “shameless plug” – promise me you wont ever use that phrase!

The people that follow you, subscribe to your updates, or ‘friend you’ on social media sites… want to hear your latest news and tips. If they don’t, they’ll quickly unfollow you – which is fine. This is not a numbers game or a vanity contest – it is a means of syndicating and socializing in a professional yet personable way.

There is a right and a wrong way to link to resources and content on social media sites. The wrong way is to say “read my blog post” or “visit my website”. The right way is to share a cool link (whether its yours, or something of interest to your readers from another website) and to open a discussion on that topic.

Have a clear objective, be a valuable resource, and use social media properties in the way they were intended to be used. Anything else will get you filtered out, unfollowed, banned or blacklisted… and ultimately be a complete waste of your time.

Done right, following these 10 simple tips, social media marketing can currently grow your online business faster than any other means.

Why Social Media Marketing Is Important to Your Business

SMM, the new tool in the business arena has shown a promising rise, the recent years. The web world is going gaga over it & Social media has shown a 100% higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing. Today nearly 84% of B2B marketers use social media in some form or the other. No matter what you sell and who your target audience is,, using social media as a marketing tool is a sure shot way to you grow your brand!

Not having an active social media presence is kind of like living in the ancient times. People may ask what is social media marketing going to do for me? Do I really need it? Yes. Yes you do just check out the reasons why:

Increased Web Traffic

Social media posts can drive targeted traffic. Creating a new page on your site, landing pages, well-placed social media posts can make all the difference. A single link on Reddit or links submitted to StumbleUpon can transform a page from a handful of visitors a day to hundreds. Who wouldn’t want to capitalize on that?

Boost SEO

Social media can boost your site’s SEO. Search engine crawlers know which pages are consistently earning traffic and which are just floating out there, forgotten and ignored. Driving traffic to your optimized pages with social media posts will cause them to climb much faster in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

Connect with Consumers & Industry Leaders

Social media leads to real relationship building. Twitter and Instagram marketing can get you free interaction with your customer base – you can read their tweets and status updates to get insights into their daily lives like what products they prefer and why etc. & maybe you can fine tune your strategy.

You can also use social media as a tool to connect with thought leaders and tastemakers in your space, as well as journalists who cover your industry.

Get your message across

As people view Twitter and Facebook as social networks, not marketing machines they’re less likely to see what you post as marketing and will be more likely to hear what you have to say. This translates to serious web traffic when you link to your site and posts that market themselves as your friends and followers share what you’ve posted.

Targeting and retargeting with Ads.

The highly customizable nature of social media ads. like Facebook ads, is one of the reasons social media is important. These ads even allow you to target users by things like location, education level, industry and even purchase history and the pages they’ve liked. You also have to the option to retarget the users who visit you & even convert them into solid leads and sales.

Get noticed at events

It’s easier to get noticed at events and even generate earned media coverage with social media posts. At any event there’s no better way to leverage your presence than with the help of social media.

Immediate response

The feedback you get in the process of SMM, you’ll be the first to know when there are issues – and you can take immediate steps to resolve them right away and consumers appreciate companies that respond to customer complaints.

Builds Brand Loyalty

Brand loyalty can be built on a strong social media presence. It has been found that brands with active social media profiles have more loyal customers. Being active on social media helps you become less like a business and more like what you truly are – a unified group of people who share a vision.

Are you ready to jump ahead of your competitors with social media? Want to see your rankings climb fast? Pull out that phone and give us call. We’ll help your dreams come true.

Introduction

Lebanon’s area is ranked 170th in the world (CIA, 2014). It is smaller than the size of Connecticut, one of the smallest states in in America. Moreover, Lebanon is one of the few democratic countries in the Middle East region. Regarding its economy, Lebanon is a free market economy and has a very long tradition of laissez-faire economics. In addition to its coastal location on the Eastern Mediterranean coast, Lebanon is considered as the central ‘window’ of the Middle East to Europe, North Africa, and the rest of the world. Because of this, its economy has gone through some very prosperous times and was even once called the ‘Paris’ of the Middle East before the nation’s 15 year-long bloody civil war which ended in 1990.

Also, although Lebanon is tiny, it is also one of the most diverse nations in the world. Christians, Muslims, Druze, and other minority sects are spread all over the small nation and even Lebanon’s political system is based on sectarian power sharing.

However, this diversity had played a pivotal role in the nation’s problems. This diversity was a necessary condition of the country’s sectarian civil war and currently plays an important role in its political paralysis, although other factors (mainly foreign) are to blame as well. There is currently no acting President and the country’s rival political parties keep bickering and preventing rather than facilitating the country’s development.

Furthermore, Lebanon’s proximity to Israel has made it a foreign policy/proxy battleground for foreign nations, each using Lebanon for its own selfish ends.

The sad political realities of the country have significantly hurt the country’s economy. Also, since Lebanon is a service-based economy, this particular sector has taken the largest hit.

Tourism plays a significant role in the nation’s economy. According to the Lebanese Ministry of Economy & Trade (MOET), “Tourism has long been one of Lebanon’s leading economic sectors” (Economic Research Unit, 2010).

Furthermore, The World Travel & Tourism Council estimated that the travel & tourism sector in Lebanon contributed over $4 billion dollars in 2013 (World Travel & Tourism Council, 2014).

The travel & tourism sector made up about 10% of the economy in 2012 but that share dropped to 9% in 2013 (ibid, p. 14). This is due to the political situation in the country as well as some other factors. Moreover, the number of tourist arrivals in the country kept decreasing from 2011 to 2013.

Since the tourism industry has been somewhat floundering in the past few years, the room for error becomes very small for businesses in this industry. The political & economic situations are squeezing tourist-related (TR) businesses in Lebanon. This means that these businesses are forced to do more to make up for increasing losses (or decreasing profits) and with fewer resources. There is no telling when the political & economic situation in Lebanon will improve especially since the civil war in neighboring Syria shows no signs of abating.

There are many ways that Lebanese TR businesses can adapt during these times such as implementing downsizing policies and cutting back on marketing & advertising budgets. When economic recessions and tough times affect businesses, the first things to get eliminated are usually marketing budgets. But especially since TR businesses need to do more marketing to make up for lost businesses, this may not be a good idea.

One solution to this problem is to take advantage of Social Media Marketing strategies since they cost little to no resources, perfect for the current economic situation in Lebanon. Social media marketing allows TR businesses to overcome obstacles of limited budgets and decreased business.

Problem Statement

During the past few years, the positive effect of social media on business has been extremely high (Kaplan et al., 2010; Stelzner, 2010; Treem & Leonardi, 2012, p. 143; Baker & Green, 2014).

Moreover, Facebook and Twitter fans of a specific brand are much more likely to recommend and buy from these brands than non-fans (Cruz & Mendelsohn, 2011). But, we don’t need to make sure of social media’s impact on business through research studies. For social media users, which include over 30% of the world, this fact is known. More and more businesses are inserting Social Media marketing tools into their marketing strategies and, in some cases, have even become an integral part of their overall business strategy.

Naturally, one would expect that Lebanese businesses would quickly adopt Social Media Marketing as a key role in their overall marketing strategies but this is not the case. When it comes to the Middle East and especially Lebanon, the region is far behind the West in social media usage. Not only that, when it comes to businesses involved in the tourism industry, there is much room for growth. Little investment in technology is keeping tourist businesses away from maximizing marketing opportunities given by social media.

The Lebanese tourism industry is not taking advantage of social media marketing tactics even though the advantages of doing so are apparent. This presents a great problem especially since the economy is going through a very rough time.

Moreover, Lebanese TR businesses and businesses in Lebanon in general are not adopting social media tools as they should. This presents a huge problem in the waste of resources as well as significant missed opportunities as a larger target audience can be reached via social media enabling businesses that adopt social media marketing tools gain a better chance of success and prosperity.

Purpose of the study

The fruits and advantages of social media marketing tools may take significant time to come about in Lebanon if we are ignorant of the factors that have led to the prevention of widespread social media marketing adoption.

Also, as long as no study goes into the issue of effectively implementing a social media marketing campaign in the Lebanese context, many TR businesses may be lost even if they decide to adopt social media marketing tools.

Additionally, even though there have been numerous studies in the West about effectively implementing social media marketing campaigns, the results of these studies may or may not apply to the Lebanese context. Therefore, it is also the purpose of this study to find out those factors related to effectively implementing social media marketing among Lebanese TR businesses.

At the end, there is no doubt that social media marketing plays an extremely important role in the marketing campaigns and even in the overall success of tourism-related businesses.

Lebanese Tourist-Related (TR) businesses fall far behind the developed world in investing and using SMM. Since there are many benefits of SMM, why is this so? Also, to catch up to the rest of the world, what is the most effective way for Lebanese TR businesses to deploy an SMM campaign? So, it was the study’s purpose to find reasons linked to such low investment & use of SMM by Lebanese TR businesses and to help guide these businesses in effectively using SMM.

Methodology

The purpose of this study is twofold. This study aims to find out exactly what those factors are that are preventing the widespread adoption of social media marketing tools among Lebanese TR businesses. The philosophy used is interpretative, for an inductive approach to go from specific to general research, the strategy is ethnographic, and the methodology is qualitative. In-depth interviews are used with ten participants from ten different companies. Five companies had high social media ‘visibility’ and the other five didn’t. So, the participants’ answers provided very useful information and solutions for the research problem.

Findings

The results found that among the most relevant factors of little SMM investment & use by Lebanese TR businesses are that many don’t see benefits to using SMM and so don’t support it.

The results also provided useful information on factors for effectively implementing SMM by Lebanese TR businesses including the acceptance of SMM by ownership/decision-makers and the importance of these people in seeing the benefits of SMM. Also, problems with implementing SMM include negative customer feedback and inter-departmental power struggles.

Recommendations include communicating the benefits of SMM to Lebanese TR businesses which is of such high importance to get them to use SMM. There should also be an SMM plan with a consistent schedule outlining the days to add content to social media sites as well as comprehensive monitoring of SM user comments about the business.

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