Television journalist Andrew Marr reckons that bloggers are “bald young men sitting in their mother’s basements ranting”. In a speech to the Cheltenham Literature Festival, he enraged many bloggers; after all not all of them are bald. It is a rather naïve view, suggesting that blogging is something that is only done by strange individuals.
But, he is not alone in his thoughts. You can find plenty of articles saying things like “Twitter is a complete waste of time”. And that’s to say nothing of the long line of articles telling us that Facebook is responsible for all sorts of things, including cancer and sexually transmitted disease..! In fact, almost everywhere you look you will find people saying that any kind of online social activity is the path to nowhere.
Yet, you can also find people saying they earn millions from online social networking. So who is right? Is social networking going to bring you a return, or is it going to waste your time? Luckily, there has been some quite intensive research on this topic. A significant study was completed by EngagementDB in 2009 which showed that, rather like the opinions on social networking, the business world is similarly divided. The study looked at the extent to which each of the world’s Top 100 brands used social networking and social media. It then plotted the amount of use against the financial performance of the company, as revealed in their annual accounts.
There were two, clear, positions. Some companies in the Top 100 did almost nothing social online, maybe the occasional blog which was updated every once in a while was as far as they went. A second group of companies were fully engaged online – they had multiple pages on Facebook, several blogs, a number of Twitter accounts. And, importantly, these active companies used this multiplicity of channels constantly. They were really busy online.
Now the crunch. The companies with the highest rise in turnover and the biggest increase in profits were the highly active ones. Indeed, the companies that largely failed to use any kind of social media saw their turnover fall and most of them go into the red during 2009. There was a clear relationship between the extent of the use of social media and income and profits.
Earlier this year, a different kind of study was conducted by HubSpot. They confirmed that this relationship did indeed exist – profitability in 2010 is clearly linked to the extent of the social networking and social media activity undertaken by a business. But their study went into specific detail over the use of blogging. The research found that companies who blogged every day were almost certain to generate new business leads each week as a result. The study also showed that companies that blogged more than once a day ALWAYS got new business as a result of their online activity, yet firms which blogged only once a month rarely got any business from their online activity. The HubSpot research found a clear link between income and the frequency of blogging.
The study from HubSpot and the earlier work from EngagementDB confirm one thing – blogging and other online social activity adds to the bottom line. If you don’t do it, you are missing sales.
But therein lays the problem for most businesses. If they concentrate on loads of blogging, tweeting and poking about on Facebook, they feel as though it isn’t “proper business”. They start to “play about” with such social media, then give up – often before it has a chance to work. The difference between the brands in the EngagementDB study which made money and those which did not is stark. The successful companies allow considerable staff freedoms; the ones that are not doing so well in the modern social web are the companies that have controlling cultures.
With freedom comes the opportunity for staff to blog, tweet and write on walls as often as they like. It becomes part of their daily routine and activity, rather than an “add on”. This is crucial if businesses are to succeed with online sales. Rather than perceiving the social web as an extra channel, the successful firms see social media as the central point from which all other channels emanate.
Step One in ensuring you get an ROI from social media is to put it at the centre of your sales operation.
Step Two, as the HubSpot research shows, is to undertake extensive amounts of online activity. That means allowing staff the freedom to do this, but also means you need a strategic approach. Simply doing “bits” of social media will not work. All of the successful brands which are making millions from the likes of Twitter treat these channels in the same way they would operate a sales force – they have plans, targets and so on. Dabbling does not work.
However, none of it works unless it becomes “everyday&rdquo$$ online social activity needs to become a normal part of your business culture – a habit. Unfortunately, new psychological research shows that it takes at least 66 days of any kind of activity to become a habit, assuming it is done every day. If it is only completed “most days”, it takes 82 days for a habit to form. This means that Step Three in your online social plan is doing it daily and being prepared to wait for almost three months before you start to see any results. Most bloggers give up just at that “tipping point” when they were about to move from being an unknown scribbler to a popular writer. You have to be prepared to keep going.
Once you have established a regular amount of social activity online – blogging, tweeting and so on – you will start to see results. But there are still some things you need to be sure of to get a return on the time in you invest in all this social activity.
You need, for instance, to have items which will engage your audience – this may be video, audio or downloadable items. You need to be using social media to spread your additional content. Make sure you have that content first; otherwise your investment in social media will be wasted.
You also need to spend some time in analysing the social media world you engage in – looking for new contacts, finding relevant links, sharing new ideas and information with your audience. Merely treating social media as a way to promote your stuff is the sure-fire way to losses.
Remember it is “SOCIAL” so treat your online social activity in the same way as you would offline. Rushing up to people and saying “buy this” doesn’t work in the real world, so do not expect it to do so in the virtual one.
Ultimately, though, you will get the biggest return from our investment in your social media time when it becomes central to your business and is so familiar you can’t imagine life without it. When that happens you will be profiting from your investment.
Step One: Put social activity as central to your online business
Step Two: Blog, Tweet, connect online every day – more than once a day if possible.
Step Three: Be patient – it could take three months to see the results
Step Four: Create content you can share socially
Step Five: Take an analytical and strategic approach – don’t just dabble
About Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps companies understand how their customers behave online. He runs masterclasses, webinars, mastermind groups and speaks at conferences to ensure companies engage in more appropriate ways with their online customers.