The New Media: Social Networking is now a Business Strategy

From Southern Business Journal, March 2010

There was a time when promoting a business meant hanging a shingle above a store’s entrance or posting handbills around town. Today, business leaders and owners face an overwhelming number of choices and options ranging from tried-and-true techniques including newspapers and broadcast advertisements to new platforms with unusual names such as Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Businesses are trying to find a balance, discover what works and, in many cases, embrace new media.

What exactly is new media? Some call these new promotional and advertising areas social media, referring to the personal nature and social interaction inherent in the tools. Regardless of the name, these platforms and outlets are changing the way businesses of all sizes present themselves.

Suzanne Nasco, associate professor of marketing at Southern Illinois University Carbondale says companies looking to interact with customers in locations outside of service calls or the sales floor often turn to technology—to social media—to accomplish the task.

“Social media, from a marketing perspective, is a way for organizations to open up two-way dialogue with their customers,” Nasco explains. “What it really does is reduce the space between a company and its customers.”

She says that businesses need to use the new media outlets if their customers are using the technology.

“If you customers are using social media and internet devices, then as a business you need to be on those platforms and devices. You need to be part of their conversations and attract their eyeballs,” she says.

The uniqueness of social media comes from the ability to target specific audiences, according to an assistant professor of journalism at SIUC. Narayanan Iyer,  who teaches courses in advertising and new media, says new media is not that different from more traditional communications.

“Remember that even traditional media such as newspapers and magazines have specialized sections for health or business because they understand that there are different kinds of audiences out there, all with different needs,” Iyer says.

He says that understanding your business’ customer base is key, regardless of which advertising tool is used.

“It is extremely important that you understand your audience,” he explains. “With social media, the one-to-many model of advertising changes to a many-to-many model. What you must do is get an understanding your niche market and what your customers read and what sites they visit.”

Iyer says avenues for this “narrowcasting” include social media, but advertisers should not ignore long-standing outlets including print advertising and radio and television commercials.

“Traditional media is still the mass media,” he says. “You still have to use it or you may miss out on new members of your target audience.”

There are many options for businesses in the way of new media including the World Wide Web, Facebook, Twiter and blogs. Some companies use just one of the new media, others utilize several or all. Regardless, an understanding of each platform is beneficial.

Dot Coms

For many businesses, the entry point to new media is through a website, either for their own company or as an advertiser on another website. While many firms use a web presence as an advertising and promotional tool, a growing number are seeing the benefits of using other company’s web sites as a vehicle for their own businesses.

Director of Marketing for Banterra Bank Mel Bower says that advertising on websites such as The Southern Illinoisan’s site (http://www.thesouthern.com) is a major and vital part of outreach for his company.

“I think for us it is increasingly more important as consumers are going online. We believe that it is a way we can get in front of a lot of consumers on a daily basis with our logo and our services,” he says.

One thing that Bower says he especially likes about online advertising is that results can be directly measured.

“Online advertising provides accountability,” he says. “You can measure it. You can know how many are seeing the impression and how many are actually clicking. The measurability is a huge advantage.”

Other companies are taking advantage of the specialization and the measurability of online advertising, says Bill Robbins, Interactive Marketing Specialist for The Southern.

“We’ve had some really inspiring success stories where ads on our products have really seen an impact,” he says. “It isn’t just the daily print edition or the daily web site or the e-edition, there are a number of outlets that we build that channel traffic for our advertisers.”

Robbins says websites including those of Southern Business Journal (http://www.sbj.biz) and SI Autodeals (http://www.siautodeals.com) have been effective vehicles for advertisers, and web traffic reports prove it.

“We’ve found that for one of the dealers that participates in SI Autodeals, visitors that go to their site from SI Autodeals have a longer ‘hang time’ on their site—even longer than those that go directly to their site or that find them on Google,” he says.

He says that this advertising allows for targeted messages to find just the right audience.

Traditional Media

Even newspapers and broadcast stations are adapting to the new media. Most area television stations offer views the opportunity to interact with news anchors and reports through internet-based chat applications from their websites. The Southern recently unveiled “Southernville,” an online community where members and visitors can get the latest on their neighborhoods, communicate with others and have the opportunity to share photos, opinions and more. The newspaper even offers an online edition, frequently sends out breaking news via Twitter and offers video to accompany some articles on the web. Robbins says that future plans call for continued growth of the Southernville platform.

Facebook

Originally, a online means for college students to make friends with friends’ friends, Facebook has exploded into one of the most popular sites on the World Wide Web. Business leaders, including Steve Payne, owner of Quatro’s Pizza in Carbondale, quickly took notice. Today, Quatro’s business page on Facebook has more than 3,000 fans, who regularly have access to information and promotions from the restaurant. It’s been a successful venture, according to Payne.

“As we have tried to market to younger age groups, the probability of making a hit with Facebook has been reasonably good. It’s not cost free, but it has been very cost effective,” he says.

Nasco explains that time is a cost of most social media advertising.

“It takes time and it takes energy,” she says. “It’s not about putting up a fan page on Facebook and waiting for people to talk about your product or service; instead it’s an active process. Don’t do it if you can’t devote time to it, because if you don’t give it the time it needs, it makes people who are social media-oriented very resentful.”

For that reason, Payne says Quatro’s tries to keep its presence fresh.

“We try to typically post a couple or three times a day,” he says. “Most of those will be general information. Most of our time is ‘touching’ people, not necessarily trying to sell people. It is a relationship builder.”

Payne says businesses should not look for immediate response, but rather use the platform to build a brand.

“It’s a complimentary product to our other marketing,” he says.

Twitter

Unveiled in 2006, Twitter allows users to send out brief announcements, questions and messages—never more than 140 characters—to other individuals who choose to receive them, called following. Users receive regular updates from all of the individuals and entities they follow, while other users may choose to “follow” them or to forward their messages—known as tweets—to other Twitter users. It can lead to an extensive network of people and fans with common interests. It also can be beneficial for businesses.

“We use Twitter messages to establish our personality and branding,” outlines Amy Mills-Tunnicliffe, director of marketing for 17th Street Bar and Grill restaurants in Marion and Murphysboro. “We use it to connect with people who are our fans and with others in our industry as well as anyone interested in barbecue.”

She recently gave a seminar at a National Barbecue Association gathering about the benefits of social media where she told attendess that Twitter is a good fit for her company.

“I love it. I’ve connected with people that I never would have connected with otherwise. People love to have a personal connection like this with companies. It has been very successful for us. It’s helped us make new friends and given us more exposure,” she says.

Blogs

Blogs are a type of online diary written by a particular person or covering a specific subject. A contraction of the words “web log”, a blog can be effective for businesses in terms of self-promotion and exposure. It’s worked for financial planner Jeff Rose of Alliance Investment Planning Group in Carbondale.

“Two years ago, I didn’t even know what a blog was beyond an online diary,” Rose says. “My blog has become a way for me to showcase my knowledge and my expertise to current clients and potential clients or prospects.”

Rose says his blog has evolved into regular postings of information or insights which work to encourage users to other social media sites, including Rose’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

“Right now, they all just work together—I write a blog post, I automatically have it where it feeds into Twitter and then from there it automatically posts on Facebook. All of my followers on twitter and all my friends on Facebook are seeing my content. It’s just amazing,” he says.

He says while results were not immediate, he has seen benefits for his business.

‘Six months into it, I got my biggest client yet who came to me through my blog,” Rose explains. “Now we’re friends on Facebook, too. I’ve gotten several clients just from my blog, twitter and Facebook. People come across my content and see what I do. It has proven vital and I’m thankful that I got into it when I did.”

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