Any organization that boasts 500 million users and counting is more than a mere fad; it’s a phenomenon. If Facebook – which is expected to surpass 600 million accounts this year – were a country, it would be the third most populous in the world, so when it comes to communications, one need not be a marketing wizard to see the business opportunity.
However, while social media has revolutionized the way businesses communicate, its use is not limited merely to marketing and advertising practices. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even emerging networks such as foursquare can all be used as a method of communicating with customers and prospects, engaging with them and learning about their personal preferences and spending habits.
In that sense, social media can be an effective market research tool. But like any opportunity, it’s all about execution.
To begin, businesses should realize that consumers – for the most part – want to connect with businesses. They want to learn about new products, and they are interested in what the leaders have to say about them.
“(Social media users) want to make a connection,” writes Gail Goodman in Entrepreneur magazine. “The challenge to grow a business goes beyond finding new prospects. It’s about how to engage them. As marketers and business people, everything we do – online and offline – comes down to making these meaningful connections with our customers.”
But it’s important to recognize that they do not want to hear a sales pitch. Online marketing, social media in particular, places the consumer in control, as they decide who to let in to their social network. Accordingly, businesses need to start interesting conversations and offer unique content that will provoke responses and, hopefully, provide some insight as to what their interests are.
But as revolutionary as social media is, it is not the only way to learn about your customers and targeted demographics – not by a long shot.