As the digital age offers burgeoning choices for people to network online, businesses are increasingly turning to social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to do their advertising and marketing.
Combined with or as an alternative to traditional print, radio, and television, social media marketing is “a market that’s in huge growth right now,” said Dan Martell, an award-winning entrepreneur in the field of social networking innovations.
“We call it ‘digital word of mouth,’ because with social media, if you have a compelling message, with the new tools it allows people to share and essentially create a ‘word of quick marketing’ using digital online as a platform.”
Mr. Martell’s expertise has helped his brother’s company in “an industry that’s very old and archaic” thrive in leaps and bounds.
Pierre Martell owns Martell Home Builders, a construction company in Moncton, New Brunswick, that specializes in the promise that it can build a new home in 99 days.
The company is on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube; runs a blog; and lets buyers follow their home construction progress online, get pictures, and post comments.
“Not only has [Pierre] seen amazing results in his ability to engage with his customers in the market, he’s also seen that translate into real dollars and cents where he’s one of the fastest growing homebuilders in Canada right now,” said Mr. Martell.
Social media is changing the way business is done, he said.
Beyond providing one-way information to the public, “it’s created an opportunity for companies that have the right culture and right brand to build a culture of transparency, and communicate at a frequency that’s never been seen before.”
Companies can have personal dialogues with contacts, resolve problems in real time, and improve their services all around.
“It allows people to know, like, and trust them at a faster pace," he said.
Find the Best Fit and Plan It Out
Chris Burdge agrees. The president of BWEST, a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm that helps companies market their business using social media, email, and emerging web technology, Mr. Burdge said that for best results, companies must plan their entry into social media carefully, build a strategy, and then dedicate the resources.
“It’s like any other marketing vehicle. You want to figure out ‘who are we talking to,’ ‘where we are best going to reach them,’ ‘how it’s going to be most effective,’ and plan it out.”
While social media is free, an investment of time—and lots of it—is necessary if it’s going to be used as a marketing channel, Mr. Burdge said.
With the vast range of social networking tools and sites available, which one is the most effective?
“You really need to figure out what social platform is best for the characteristic of that person or that business owner,” said Mr. Martell.
He suggests Facebook for people who like to share information about themselves and things that interest them. For example, customers can follow a company’s fan page as it provides daily updates about its business and ways that people can save time and money in that industry.
YouTube would be a good option for those who like to be in front of a camera, he said. Companies can post corporate videos, everything from executive presentations and event highlights to segments for marketing, training, and customer self-help.
Those who like to write may consider setting up a blog or going on Twitter, which allows people to write short messages of up to 140 characters.
Companies can also post audio and video podcasts on their blogs and have updates instantly delivered to subscribers, Mr. Burdge said.
Among the numerous social media networks out there, LinkedIn has been around the longest, he noted. Over 45 million people worldwide use LinkedIn to make business contacts, according to its website.
And with a service called Ning.com, people can create their own Facebook-like social networks for their own business, hobby, or other interests, said Mr. Burdge.
Businesses of All Sizes On Board
While Canadians are the heaviest users of Facebook per capita, “there’s no more time investment for [someone] to communicate with one customer who is following him on Facebook, or 10,000,” Mr. Martell said.
To incorporate all this information into a company’s or an individual’s knowledge base, Flowtown, a firm that Mr. Martell co-founded, has built a tool for analyzing the emails of contacts so that connections can be automated and relationships further developed.
Last year, at age 28, he was among 12 winners of the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Young Entrepreneur Awards during its annual Small Business Week. This year’s Small Business Week takes place October 18 to 24.
But social media marketing is not only flourishing among small and medium-sized businesses. Big brands and established companies are also using it, such as Dell, General Mills, Ford, Cirque du Soleil, UPS, Home Depot, Coca Cola, Virgin America, and others, offering special deals as well as forums and other channels to interact with their communities.
U.K.-based comScore did a study in May 2009 on the 1.1 billion people age 15 and older in 40 countries who accessed the Internet from a home or work location.
It found that two-thirds visited at least one social networking site that month, and ranked Canada as the third most engaged social networking audience, following Russia and Brazil, with visitors each spending an average of 5.6 hours and viewing 649 pages per month.