How to use social media to win new business

Social Media, Facebook, Twitter

With 800 million users on Facebook, 200 million on Twitter and other networks also booming, the potential to find new customers via social media has never been greater. Whether you’re already up and running or a novice, the experts say the crucial thing is to prepare carefully and do it right

Don’t know your Twitter from your Tumblr, or your Facebook from your Flickr? Then a huge well of potential new customers for your business is lying untapped right now. A recent survey by Research In Motion, the makers of BlackBerry, found that 69 per cent of small firms using social networks felt it helped them to compete more effectively with larger competitors.

The research found that 53 per cent of business leaders who utilise social networking were pursuing a growth strategy while among those who don’t use it, 70 per cent were focused purely on cash management.

It’s understandable that many companies are yet to take full advantage of social media – so say the experts at research consultancy TNS, who recently completed a survey of more than 72,000 consumers in 60 countries and concluded that brands are losing time and money online with ineffective social media strategies.

“Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon in terms of its mass-market adoption,” says chief development officer Matthew Froggatt. “So companies not having their stuff together in this area is excusable.

“There will be people who will pile in with both feet and waste lots of money, and those who stand on the sidelines and miss out on an opportunity. It is only through deploying precisely tailored marketing strategies that they will be able to realise this potential.”

Here, then, are 10 Dos and Don’ts for businesses to consider when seeking new customers via social networks…

Channel your efforts

“Choosing the wrong channel, or simply adding to the cacophony of online noise, risks alienating potential customers and impacting business growth,” says Froggatt. So, first, it’s crucial to think about which of the main networks you choose to use and how you approach them. According to, the online social media hub, Twitter should be seen as conversational and quickfire – the place to give bites of the latest company news, personal insights from you, the business leader, and responses to customer queries. Facebook is about sharing and involvement – so use it to post links to presentations, photos of new products, invitations to events and to ask customers questions useful for research. LinkedIn is the place to showcase the complete professional credentials of you and your business to a potential customer and should always be up to date. Google+, meanwhile, segments people into groups by their interests and targets them with relevant information.

Open too many accounts

A new report from Altimeter Group found that the average enterprise-class company has 178 corporate-owned social media accounts – many of which lie dormant. “It’s just a poor customer experience, because it’s been abandoned,” says Jeremiah Owyang, author of the report.

Lead from the front

An interesting, regularly updated social media presence from the leader of a business can really impress potential customers. Many chief executives are deterred by the perceived time commitment, but Twitter, Facebook and Google+ user Sir Richard Branson says it’s not such a chore. “It’s not that hard to do,” he says. “It’s fun to share what I’m doing and who I’m with – be it at a Carbon War Room meeting with climate wealth entrepreneurs, the Grand Prix with Rihanna, checking out Virgin Galactic space vehicles with future astronauts or raising money for the London Marathon.”

Let it become a distraction

Neil Patel, founder of customer analytics company KISSmetrics, says a chief executive’s social media account is less sustainable if attended to on an ad-hoc basis. “The funny thing is most people get in trouble with social media because they don’t schedule times of engagement,” he says. “Because of this they end up on it all day, being distracted from important work and then feeling frustrated and throwing in the towel. You are the master of social media. Set aside an hour each day to check on all your social media sites.”

Be sure to respond

Once you open up a channel of social media interaction, consistently responding to any correspondence received is essential, and can impress existing and potential customers. A survey by Mr Youth, a New York-based marketing agency specialising in social media, found that brands using social networking are responding to only 61 per cent of inquiries made on their Twitter accounts, and 55 per cent of inquiries on Facebook – and yet conversions to purchase have reached as high as 80 per cent when potential customers received a response.

Only answer when you have to

“On the one hand there’s the chance to respond quickly when an answer is demanded, to demonstrate you’re listening and you care,” says Froggatt. “But then there’s also the opportunity, when there’s less expectation of a rapid response, to surprise and delight with a message which demonstrates that the brand is out there, alive and being sociable.”

Keep it real

While demonstrating to people that you’re there and you care can enhance their perception of your brand, businesses should resist the temptation to over-exploit this direct line to customers. Remaining true to the spirit of personal social media interactions is key, says Patel: “Chasing followers makes you look desperate. You should provide great content and discussions on your social networks that makes people want to join.” Froggatt agrees: “Social media space is not brand space – it’s owned by consumers. People’s Facebook page is their space and their world. Brands were not invited to this party, so they need to think carefully about how they pitch up.”

Fall into the spam trap

“In 2009, when Twitter was all the rage, it was easy to follow someone and get them to follow you back,” says Patel. “That doesn’t work so well now because so many businesses abused those followers with spam.” Research by, the tracking site, notes that auto-posting messages to Facebook decreases likes and comments by 70 per cent.

Use existing followers as advocates

Users can be cynical about cold contact from brands via social networks, but that caution appears to ease if this type of contact is passed on via a friend. Research by KISSmetrics claims that 38 per cent of Facebook users would be more likely to become a fan of a brand on the network if they saw that a family member or friend had done so. Encouraging your existing followers to recommend you by giving you a ‘like’ or sharing a link is a useful tactic of reaching more potential new customers.

Expect them to do this for nothing

“We asked people why they engage with brands online,” says Zoe Lawrence, head of influencer marketing at TNS. “And the answer in the UK was ‘we want something from it – we will advocate for a discount’. People are conscious of their potential to influence what a brand is doing.” Offering incentives like entry into a prize draw or making people eligible for a discount by giving you a ‘like’, or sharing a particular product link, is a way to gain followers.

Use social media to test new products

With a growing base of followers in place, brands should generate interest in new products ahead of launch by making social media an integral part of a broader development and marketing process, says Justin Cooke, founder of digital agency Fortune Cookie: “These things can be blended to good effect, as Philips did with their Wake Up The Town experiment to test its natural daylight lamp in Svalbard, Norway – a powerful campaign [which included the use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs] seen and engaged with by more than 2.5 million people.”

Overlook opinions you didn’t seek

Making time to read what your followers are talking about among themselves can also pay off. “If there’s a discussion going on about your biscuit brand and someone says ‘I wish they made an orange flavour’, and everyone else is agreeing, that’s a little piece of insight you would have never otherwise received that’s coming naturally from the consumers,” says Lawrence. “If that’s the case, I’d suggest trialling an orange one.”

Allocate enough staff to social media

“Once you’re in properly, you can’t have a good social media quarter and then run away,” says Froggatt. Cooke agrees, and believes staffing properly is crucial. “A key consideration is the resources you invest to listen, moderate and respond in social spaces,” he says. “Dedicated internal editorial resource is a key investment priority to maximise the value of operating social media and provides feedback to the business about how your customers want to interact.”

Fail to provide guidelines

“It’s imperative you provide clear guidance on what they can and can’t say about their employer and their work publically in social spaces,” says Cooke. “As we have seen in the media recently, Twitter comments need to be treated as if you are speaking to a journalist holding a microphone.”

Include apps, widgets and tools

London’s City Airport has launched a Twitter tool allowing followers to check real-time details on flights by tweeting their flight number to @lcyflightinfo. The result has been a Twitter and Facebook following three times more likely to engage with and recommend the airport via social networking than any other European airport. “Social media has transformed the way the airport communicates and interacts with customers over the past two years,” says chief commercial officer Matthew Hall.

Simple Google searches can locate an endless array of free, quickly downloadable interactive elements to add to your sites – from voting polls to shopping baskets.

Lose consistency

The more sophisticated your cross-social media platform activities become, the more important it is to keep a consistent brand message emerging from all of them. “You need to think holistically about how you package and integrate material across brand website, blog, LinkedIn page, Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter feed, Flickr account and so on,” says Cooke.

Get the measure of everything

“Your social media engagement needs to be underpinned by clear objectives and measurable KPIs just as you would have in any other aspect of your business,” continues Cooke. “Integrating social media analytics is critical to understanding the role of social media in your customer engagement. Over time you’ll be able to show the impact of social media on customer activity.” With user friendly social media dashboards such as HootSuite able to track the activity of all your social media sites at once, this kind of information is easily accessible and, most importantly, not hugely time-consuming.

Stop there

Keep an eye out for emerging players in the social media sphere who could prove a useful path to new customers. For example, Tumblr, the well-established blogging site, surprised even itself with a sudden six-fold growth last year – “all of a sudden, we started to get a lot of international traffic,” says chief executive David Karp of the uplift that saw three billion extra hits in 2011.

Be patient

An effective social media strategy requires time and, if available, extra resources – but business leaders should resist their natural instinct to see rapid returns and look at the longer-term picture, says Patel. “When you start using social media to drive business to your company, set aside the desire to see immediate results. Build relationships.”

Take negativity to heart

When you open up to opinions from your customer base, it’s inevitable that there will be negative comments – research by TOA Technologies claims that 80 per cent of customer service tweets are negative. But people’s tendency to use social media for gripes isn’t deterring Branson. “Social media allows me to hear what people are saying on a daily level about each business and the brand, too – the good, the bad and everything in between,” he says.

About author

Chris Maxwell

Chris Maxwell

Director’s editor spent nine years interviewing TV and film stars for Sky before joining the IoD in 2011 and turning the microphone on Britain’s business leaders. Since then he’s grilled everyone from Boris to Branson and, away from work, maintains an unhealthy obsession with lower league football.

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