KINGSTON — Social media, two little words that encompass the ability to connect with more than a billion people worldwide for free. What entrepreneur would not want his or her business to be linked on a network like that?
None, that is why social media has grown into a marketing tool used by businesses from large global corporations, such as MasterCard, Oreo and Wal-Mart, to regional and local companies.
According to SCORE.org, a nonprofit organization supported by the Small Business Administration, 50 percent of purchases are made due to posts on social media; 64 percent of Twitter users and 51 percent of Facebook users are likely to be loyal to brands they follow.
But to use this far-reaching marketing tool takes some forethought to determine how to develop an image for a business or a product, how to build a relationship with the consumer, and which social network to use to reach the desired demographic group, said Kathleen Houlihan, assistant professor with the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership at Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre.
“The whole point of social media is getting your business and brand out there,” said Michael Dickinson, president of MWDPR, an Internet marketing agency in Pittston.
To create a strong online business identity, Jim O’Connell, owner of Resource Media, Kingston, recommends businesses should combine their social media outlets with a website. He noted many small or new businesses may start with social networking first because it is faster to put together than a website.
“Developing a ‘Fan page’ is the quickest thing to do,” O’Connell said.
To get your business ‘Fan page’ to capture the eyes of the targeted reader, Dickinson said some research is needed because each social networking outlet, such as Snapshot, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Tumblr, have a specific demographic audience.
Dickinson said Facebook’s highest age demographic ranges from 35 to 54 years old, and Pinterest has a high volume of female users.
“Pinterest is very visual,” said O’Connell. “It is like window shopping.”
Out of 150 million users of Instagram, another visual-heavy social media outlet, 90 percent are under the age of 35.
To maximize their social networking, many business choose to use multiple sites. This leads to ways to manage them all quickly. Some business owners will hire a business to do that, but for new startups or smaller businesses, Houlihan recommends using hootsuite.com.
“Hootsuite allows you to manage all social media at once,” Houlihan said.
Once a platform is chosen, the next choice is determining how to effectively handle a two-way conversation with consumers and how to keep content fresh and engaging.
Jane Alperin, owner of Jane Leslie & Company, Kingston, and Bill Corcoran, owner of Corcoran Printing, Wilkes-Barre, use their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to showcase projects and products and drive people to their websites.
“I have had people see things on LinkedIn and place an order,” Corcoran said. “It is very important for a business to have an online presence.”
Keeping consumers engaged means addressing the negative comments. Dickinson said negative comments are rare but businesses should have a procedure to handle them.
O’Connell said Facebook offers an option to delete the comment, but “the best way is to address the negative comment.”
“It gives a certain authenticity to the pages,” O’Connell said. “The key is to respond.”
Inviting them in
Houlihan also advises business owners can keep their pages inviting by offering coupons or special deals for consumers.
“The world of retail is changing,” said Alperin.
Alperin views her website and Facebook page as complementary marketing tools.
Social media and a website allow businesses to “pull people into your style of business and not push selling onto them,” Alperin said.
With 74 years of offering printing services, Corcoran Printing has embraced an online identity through its website, Facebook, LinkedIn and soon to-be-found on Instagram later this month.
Whether it is his website or social networking, Corcoran said his business has pulled customers in from Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New York and New Jersey.
To keep his website content fresh, Corcoran said he will be rolling out a blog on the website with helpful tips, such as how to save money on postage with direct mail.
Today’s consumers, Alperin said, “like to look online and educate themselves before buying.” Corcoran agreed, stating about 70 percent of buyers will go online first.