Does your business need a social media marketing strategy? Whether you are a multinational corporation, a small family-owned business or a one-man operation, this question must have crossed your mind each time you went on Facebook to reconnect with old friends or read a blog post. You may be a traditional business based largely on extensive relationship-building over time. If your business has done well without social media, your hesitation is well-founded: why rock the boat?
It’s because the customers have changed – they have become increasingly more sophisticated and their needs more complex. According to recent marketing figures, 61% of Internet users research their products online before purchasing and 71% of consumers are more likely to buy when referred by social media. “The hardest thing about B2B selling is that the customers don’t need you the way they used to,” says the Harvard Business Review. No longer do customers wait for sales reps to find them solutions, they do so on their own. In fact, a study by Corporate Executive Board finds that nearly 60% of a purchase decision is made before customers even talk to suppliers.
Social media has transformed the traditional business world based on strong ties in 2 key ways. First, it has shifted the focus of sales to the Internet where most consumers now reside. The Internet and social media have now become the primary, or sometimes the only, source of information for consumers and businesses. Since electronic communications have largely displaced face-to-face communications, it has become increasingly more difficult and time- consuming to sustain strong ties with business contacts. “A willingness to share information and knowledge has become fundamental to success in a world in which firms need to collaborate or work with others,” argues a management consulting company.
Second, and more importantly, technological advancement has changed the nature of trust – the most valuable business commodity. Traditionally, trust is formed and built over time as the main means of information and knowledge transfer between the parties. Today, however, most people are overloaded with information drawn from the Internet and seek to find “trusted experts” to help them make their decision. This inverse relationship between trust and information means businesses need to either establish themselves as the “trusted source” or elicit good reviews from “online influencers.”
Almost 80% of respondents in a recent survey by Zavisic & Zavisic said they place greater trust in other people’s recommendation for products and services than in other sources. The significance of this finding is reflected in a massive popularity of review-based websites like TripAdvisor, Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes. “Within social networks, there are usually key individuals or “trusted experts” who have established a strong reputation in their field. Making positive connections with a few key influencers who will transmit positive information about the brand is likely to be much more effective a strategy, and much less resource-intensive, than direct relationship-building with large numbers of people in the target market,” says Ivey Business Journal.
It is the power of weak ties – relationships with acquaintances and strangers online – that have gained greater significance as the economy has migrated to the digital world. Because people go online first when seeking information and acquiring new knowledge, trust is being formed online. Key influences are viewed as the experts in particular sectors providing advice and guidance to help consumers make decisions. Businesses that can establish themselves as the experts in their fields online will have a significant advantage over their competitors.