Even if you’re not sure exactly what social media is, you’ve no doubt heard that it’s important for your business, that everybody else is using it, and that if you’re not already in the social media swim, you’d better start doing something about it soon. These warnings may have you rolling your eyes, shrugging your shoulders, and shaking your head. After all, as a broker, you’re in the relationship business, not the Internet technology business. And in today’s world, social media is how many relationships are created and nurtured. It’s an increasingly important marketing tool.
It’s no longer enough to set up your website and believe that you’ve done enough “Internet stuff.” Your business really does need to start paying attention to it – if only because Google factors in social media in its searches. If you want new customers to discover that you exist, your business really does need to start paying attention to social media.
So just what is social media?
Simply put, social media is a set of independent, online channels of communication where people interact by sharing content – factual information, articles of interest, creative work, and opinion. The content being shared can take many forms – the written word, a video, a picture. But whatever form it takes, it’s shared online, and its focus is on user interaction – commenting and sharing.
Social media is where your customers are, the individuals and businesses with whom you have existing relationships that you want to nourish, and the individuals and businesses with whom you want to establish new relationships. As of 2016, it’s estimated that 78% of the U.S. population had a social media profile.
When the next estimates are released, that number is bound to have grown. And whatever the new number is, it’s quite an increase from the 24% that used some form of social media in 2008. (Source: Statista). By the way, those social media users aren’t just friends and families keeping in touch via Facebook, politicians tweeting to their constituents, or jobseekers on LinkedIn. As of January 2016, 93% of businesses were using Facebook for marketing; 76% were using Twitter; and 67% were active on LinkedIn. (Source: Statista)
The most well-known (and business-relevant) social media channels include:
Facebook: When Facebook started out more than a decade ago, it was for college students only, a place online where they could share pictures and commentary (often on the pictures). As it grew over time, it became the platform where friends and family connected, where communities of interest came together, and where businesses communicated with and marketed to their customers. Today, Facebook reports that, as of September 2016, it has more than 1.79 billion active users.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn (which predates Facebook) may have fewer users – as of September 2016, the company reports that it has 467 million accounts, of which over 106 million are active – but their focus is specific to creating and maintaining professional connections. Individuals on LinkedIn network with others, often looking for employment opportunities. Businesses use LinkedIn when they’re looking for new employees and, increasingly, as a forum for connecting with their clients and prospects by sharing content about their products and services, as well as providing their viewpoint on business and industry issues.
Twitter: On any given day, more than 500 million tweets – brief (140 character) messages – are sent out over Twitter. As with Facebook, Twitter originally was used by individuals. These individuals were sharing snippets of information and observations – whatever popped into their heads, in real-time – with their followers. Today, while Twitter continues to be used by “civilians”, it’s also widely used by journalists, political figures, government entities, entertainers, writers, pundits, athletes, and businesses. Businesses use Twitter to communicate with prospects and clients, and to monitor (and respond to) what’s being said on them on social media.
Blogging: While not a specific “branded” platform like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, blogging is also part of social media. A blog is composed of posts (and comments from readers). From a business perspective, a blog can be used to provide information on products and services, industry observations and trends, and any other content a company feels will be relevant to its clients and prospects. Unlike a website, blogs are updated frequently (and, ideally, regularly). There are a number of blogging platforms that enable users to quickly set up a blog, the most familiar of which is WordPress (this blog is a WordPress blog).
Other: There are numerous other social media platforms. Instagram (owned by Facebook), Snapchat, and Pinterest are used to share photos and videos. YouTube is for video-sharing.
The above explains what social media is. In our next post, we’ll discuss the benefits that you’ll experience by engaging in social media. After that, we’ll drill down on how to take advantage of the most business-relevant forms of social media.