“Can social media directly convert sales online, or is it more of an awareness tool? I’m unsure what sort of strategy to implement.” This is a question I get asked ever more frequently these days, as small business owners try to work out what social media can do for them.
First things first: Social media is not a sales tool and certainly should not be used as one. It is, however, an important part of any smart company’s overall marketing program.
Social Media is a great tool to build brand awareness, build trust in your brand, engage with your customers and fans, share your company’s passions and build loyal communities. In other words, let your customers know who you are and what you do.
If done successfully, social media may assist sales. However, this should not be the sole objective of investing in social media. For example, a well-run social media program, one that educates and informs its customer base, provides great (and free) content, will create great brand awareness and keep your brand in customer’s minds, so that eventually when they are ready to make a purchase, they will think of your brand.
Marketers refer to this as the ‘Marketing Funnel’, which shows that to end up with a sale first you need to lead your customers through the initial stages of ‘awareness’ and ‘interest’.
At Milan Direct, we invest a lot of time in building our social media communities, and enjoy engaging daily with our loyal customer and fan base on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube. We spend hours on the creation of blogs, images, DIY tips, etc, because we wish to share our passion for design, furniture and homewares.
Our social media communities give us a chance to share our passions and expertise, as well as to engage with our customers and fans directly on a daily basis. Any customer service issues can be promptly rectified, plus we receive constant feedback from our customers as to exactly what they like or don’t like about certain aspects of our business or product range. Social media really is a great market research tool available for any business that aims to innovate – and that is what businesses should always be aiming to do.
Many start-ups, however, do not understand the true benefits of social media, which at the end of the day is to build trust in your brand and to learn from your customers. If done properly, the page will be ‘liked’ by legitimate fans and customers, and the number of ‘Likes’ a page has is a useful measure of a brand’s wider acceptance and popularity in the market.
Unfortunately, all too often you see start-ups purchase in bulk ‘Facebook fans’ to mislead customers into believing they are a more popular company than they actually are. Such deception is no way to become a successful and trusted brand – and in time, such conduct will likely be deemed illegal, as it is misleading and deceptive.
Consumers today are too smart and educated to fall for such dishonest tactics, and online retailers should respect consumers by assisting them in making informed purchasing decisions, and thereby creating a legitimate, loyal and interactive fan base.
There is no substitute for honesty, innovation, passion and authenticity in today’s online and transparent world!
Dean Ramler is the co-founder and CEO of Milan Direct, Australia’s largest online furniture retailer with operations in Australia, UK and Europe.