You can score major points for your business by being active in social media.
Remember the good old days when social media was primarily useful for contacting your old high school buddies and stalking your ex-girlfriends? An innocent yet entertaining tool, social media was a platform for anyone who owned a computer to instantly connect with old acquaintances, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. With the advent of Friendster in 2002, the avenues of social media have evolved from the Wild West of MySpace to the more secure, confined neighborhood community of Facebook. Considering how quickly the popularity of Facebook came of age, it's now hard to imagine a world without social media.
But first you have to learn how to play the game.
Since social media is now such a fundamental part of everyone's daily activity, it no longer matters if you like it or if you believe it is a sign of the end times--your business has to incorporate an online social media presence. Before you do, however, you need to figure out why you are doing it, and what you want to accomplish. Also, you need to know how social media has changed recently, and how to adapt your strategy to those changes.
Just in case anyone who's been living under a rock is reading this (that includes you, Mom), social media is, in layman's terms, the interaction among virtual communities in which the participants exchange views, ideas and personal property such as photos, videos and links.
A Brave New World
After Facebook's trailblazing success came countless others, like Instagram, Linkedin, SnapChat and Google+ to expand the playing field. Twitter currently ranks as Facebook's most formidable opponent, where everyone from celebrities to brands can reach their audience immediately and without restriction (except for the 140 character limit, of course). Believe it or not, Facebook at one point was by invitation-only and advertisement-free. But soon you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who is NOT on social media, so advertisers and marketers were chomping at the bit to figure out a way to capitalize on a voluntary audience of millions every day.
Facebook struggled at first to figure out a way to advertise without compromising the integrity of the experience. After all, there was a reason "pop-up" ads were popular at one time--they were effective.
Now most, if not all, computers come equipped with "pop-up" blockers.
Eventually, Facebook offered companies and individuals two ways to advertise: one by paying, and one by being slightly clever. Facebook offered a "pay-per-click" campaign where you set a daily budget (let's say, for example, $100) and when you hit that amount, it stopped featuring your ads in the right side panel. Facebook used an expensive algorithm that curated targeted ads specifically designed for you.
The second and more creative way to advertise on Facebook was (and still is, with a few notable changes I will touch on later) is to share engaging content geared towards generating interaction between your brand and your audience. By perusing the various news outlets and industry-related travel and ground transportation blogs, your company should act as its own news feed and offer interesting articles to your viewers. To sprinkle in your own articles from the blog section of your website would be ideal as well, so you're still driving your own traffic while building brand value and a quality social media presence at the same time. The various social media platforms offer the ability to simultaneously post the same article, hitting other streams such as Twitter and Google+ at the same time.
By offering the second option, the majority of smaller companies were able to skirt allocating funds for their Facebook advertising. By showing up in their followers' news feeds, companies could hit an untapped population and reinforce their brand. It was an advertising no-brainer. But don't get too excited. With the climax of Facebook's popularity, some changes were made in the news feed algorithm just a few months back. This change has had a huge impact on the amount of people that see your posts.
Facebook Pulls A "Bait and Switch"
Last December, Facebook once again tweaked its algorithms, claiming that they wanted to get rid of trendy memes and offer the viewer more "high-quality" content in the news feed. It was spun that the change was made to improve the Facebook experience by eliminating "low-quality" content from your news feed. The formula behind whether content is determined to be either high or low quality is the real source of controversy surrounding these changes.
But, it was also about reducing the visibility of free ads on Facebook. Now, if a brand wants more exposure on Facebook, it's going to have to pay for it. Facebook has coined them "Sponsored Posts," but make no mistake: they are paid advertisements. Essentially, now you have to pay for what you used to get for free--a classic "bait and switch." Competition is fierce in the realm of social media, and now you must pay to play. Only loyal fans will take the extra time and frequent your Facebook business page. Most of your posts will end up in the "Pages Feed"—a button on the left hiding in plain sight and only checked by loyalists.
Is A Sponsored Post A Good Option?
It may be in your company's best interest to consider using Facebook's Sponsored Post. As it stands today, only roughly 15% of your audience will see any given Facebook post. According to an article from Lauren Drell's Mashable blog, a Facebook fan or follower is worth $174. However, there are a few things to consider before you make this type of financial commitment. Only businesses with over 400 "likes" qualify for a Sponsored Post. If your audience is smaller than that, you will have to wait until your audience grows. To grow your audience on Facebook, start by offering additional savings and promotions by "liking" your company on Facebook. Put it on your business cards or promotional ads or postcards, as examples. Give people an incentive to make the effort to find and "like" your company. Keep in mind that you will have to offer other promotions down the road to keep your audience engaged.
Many small limo companies have turned their attention to Twitter, Linkedin and Google+ to promote their businesses. The advantages of these aforementioned platforms are obvious but worth stating. Linkedin and Google+ are more streamlined and professional. Twitter is immediate. And all of them are free (for now). Linkedin recently changed its appearance by making the news feed comparable to Facebook. The benefit of using Google+ (Google's answer to Facebook) is that by posting valuable content in your news feed, it helps with your search ranking on Google, the biggest search engine in the world. Obviously, there are still other search engines like Yahoo or Bing where all are treated equally, but Google is the heavyweight when it comes to traffic and related searches.
A great by-product of any type of social media campaign is boosting your ranking in search results no matter what search engine is used. So your hard work is not for nothing; any presence is valuable when it comes to being in the social media game. If you think that what you are promoting will bring a good ROI by purchasing a Sponsored Post, allocate a small budget per day and test the results. There really is no simple formula. It involves checking your results daily and making alterations to your budget to make the campaign cost-effective.
Because we are only in the first generation of social media in terms of marketing, there simply isn't enough data to know for sure what works and what doesn't work across the board. A good analogy would be the birth of television in the 1950s, and how commercials evolved over the decades to appeal to the emotions of audiences. Brands like Coca-Cola or Lay's Potato Chips are, inherently, an interactive brand. They can post questions to their consumers via Facebook and get immediate feedback because the end user has an investment in that particular product.
Ground transportation companies? Not so much. It's even more challenging for a limousine operator to get great results because there is not that immediate emotional connection built in to the feedback. The posts have to resonate within your brand, so asking, "Hey, what's everyone doing for the weekend?" as a limo operator just won't normally yield great results.
Make your posts count and be on point to your brand. What is your company known for? Is it great service or is it affordability? Are you branded as a local company that knows its particular city or are you an expansive, worldwide transportation service? Whatever it is, stick to your message. Post relevant content related to your specific brand.
Lastly, do not use your company account to post your own personal opinions. There is nothing wrong with making the brand about the established, connected founder of the company. But don't use your company profile to post irrelevant or controversial content. Even if 15 people agree with you and "like" your post, there may be hundreds you just alienated from future business.
As you can see, navigating through social media is not an easy exercise. With the right approach, however, a social media presence can not only generate business, but make your brand recognizable to the unfamiliar and garner great leads on down the road. But be patient... it takes practice.
Written by John Crawford