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HomemibusinessAn Integrated Online Approach

An Integrated Online Approach

In today’s global economy your customer base can be as big as you like… it’s simply a matter of supporting your practice presence with an integrated online approach that takes advantage of a traditional website combined with social networking.

Recent research published by the US based company Webtrends indicates that companies that rely on their websites to maintain their online presence are experiencing a drop off in visitor numbers – especially companies without e-commerce functionality. The study, which analysed unique visits to the Fortune 100 websites, revealed that 68 per cent of the top 100 companies surveyed had experienced negative growth in unique visits over the past year, with an average drop of 23 per cent.1

Interestingly, the majority of companies that had Facebook pages as well as websites, experienced growth in members on their Facebook pages at the same time as they experienced a decline in visits to their website. In a sample of 44 companies, 40 per cent exhibited higher traffic to their Facebook page compared to their website. A small research group yes, but when you consider that it included the likes of J&J, Coca-Cola and General Motors, you have to take it seriously.

In their report, Webtrends noted that companies with e-commerce functionality sustained higher traffic levels to their websites and those that have adapted commerce functionality on their acebook sites are also experiencing a higher number of visitors. Additionally, the company says that mobile web services are growing in size and popularity. “It is time for brands and retailers to understand that surviving online is no longer about all-in-one websites, but measuring and improving performance in all the social, mobile and web entities.”

In our fast paced desensitised world… people are craving meaningful, informative encounters, even if it has to happen online

Websites Just the Beginning

There’s no doubt that the web opened up unprecedented opportunities for businesses to greatly expand their markets. Smaller businesses in particular, with limited resources for marketing or expansion, were able to tap into international markets they’d only
ever dreamed of.

The problem is that the success experienced by the leaders in online business encouraged others to follow suit – some would argue too many others. As a result, the web quickly became a chaotic clutter of retailers and businesses vying for attention. Search engine optimisation became an essential tool for online survival. Now, even that is not enough.

The More the Merrier

These days it is not adequate to publish static online content. People want to see, read, watch and hear about new products with images, video, voice over, animation – you name it, they want it.

Then they want to share the information they collect, ask questions, post feedback and receive a response. In our fast paced desensitised world, where retailers can be too busy – or too scantily trained – to provide in-depth product information, people are craving meaningful, informative encounters, even if it has to happen online.

To achieve this, traditional websites must be integrated with social networking layers like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. E-commerce functionality is also essential to expand into new markets and strengthen existing revenue streams.

While the Webtrends study focused on Facebook, there are plenty of other social networking layers providing exceptional opportunities for retailers to effectively and inexpensively build intimate relationships with their audience. When well set up, networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, will do much of your marketing for you – with the click of a Share button, they can send your product or business idea on to all of the other people in their world with similar interests.

Additionally, social networking sites are valuable for conducting market research – ask your audience whether they approve of a new product you’re showing on line and you’ll immediately get a show of ‘like’s – or not. Ask them what they think of an idea and your guaranteed to get an immediate response, especially if you offer an incentive.

The Sites to Consider

Twitter, which restricts participants to blogs that are just 140 characters in total, is the perfect way for businesses to post regular and relevant news updates or notifications. Users can tweet for free via Twitter’s webpage or, by using a Smartphone pay the cost of an SMS. With over 200 million users generating over 200 million tweets and handling over 1.6 billion searches a day, this form of social media has been described as the “SMS of the internet”.2 These days, Twitter enables users to upload photos, links to YouTube videos and links back to other information sources.

LinkedIn has been described as “the largest business networking site in the world”3 which differs from other networking layers as it is purely business, focused on business conversations, building partnerships, and securing transactions. LinkedIn gives users the power to create and participate in niche groups with as many as 10,000 members, to upload product and business information, include pop up video recommendations and, of course links to other sites. It also enables users to upload product or service video presentations to YouTube. And with today’s appetite for short, sharp and witty video presentations, here you have the potential for your story to go viral within minutes!

New social networking sites are constantly being introduced so it’s essential to keep a constant eye on this space.

Google+ is the latest kid on the social media block. Although still only for personal, rather than business use, this new social networking layer, which has been pounced on by early adopters (predominantly males) with 25 million users being attracted to the site in its first month of operation, is one day expected to offer Facebook a ‘run for its money’. 4

The site enables users to create circles of friends from within their greater network so they can selectively share information. Additionally, Google+ features ‘hangouts’ – impromptu video conferences; and ‘sparks’ which enables users to select certain areas, hobbies, or interests that they particularly like and then share them with circles of friends.

Integration Is Key

While traditional websites may be losing relevance among consumers, its important that businesses don’t throw them out with the bath water in favour of switching to social networking.

Despite the initial expense of establishing a website, it remains the one piece of marketing that will present your brand to the world in the way you want to have it presented (most social networking layers limit customisation and therefore your ability to communicate your business brand). Once you’re over the initial outlay, it’s a highly cost effective way to keep your market up to date and aware.

The trick is to use as many social networking mediums as you can possibly manage to pull your customers in to your official website.

To do this, you need to make sure that all of your social networking layers include obvious links to information resources, promotions and specials on your website. You can also include competitions and surveys on your social networking sites and in your emails that lead back to that one integrated site.

When you have winner’s announcements to make, post a link on your social networking sites that again, lead back to your website for the winners’ details. Establish a Facebook store that takes purchasers back to the e-commerce page on your website. Other ideas to bring users ‘home’ include posting emails from satisfied customers and the first few lines of relevant news articles on your Facebook page… with links back to your website.

Optimise Your Presence

Social networking sites are beginning to latch on to the concept of optimisation in an effort to rank the value of information posted. The aim is to alleviate the junk postings users receive and increase
the relevance.

That means, as a business engaging in social networking, it is more important than ever before to ensure that whatever you post is interesting, and to encourage your friends of followers to provide feedback… For example, a recently introduced algorithm called Edgerank analyses the content you post on Facebook to determine its relevance to your audience before it displays.

If your audience writes frequently on your wall, interacts with questions, updates and shares, your ‘affinity’ score will most likely be high. The quality or ‘weight’ of the information must also be important – so an article that someone comments on will hold more weight than one that someone simply liked.

One thing is clear about social media, it is here to stay. It is not just for students or Gen Y. Social media is being used by every type of business and every
age group.

It is fair to say that if you are not integrating social media into your online mix, you’re making it easier for your customers to connect with your competitors who are.

References:

1. Webtrends Whitepaper March 17, 2011

2. http://.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter

3. www.lewishowes.com/linkedin/linkedin-business-marketing-tips

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google%2B