Social media is mainly a combination of internet tools that combine information technology with social interaction (Lake, 2009). In business to business marketing, it offers marketers a forum to communicate with each other, their customers, and their potential consumers. By personalizing the business brand, social media allows the marketer to convey the message and converse with their customers. The social networking sites present an opportunity for marketers to access diverse segments of the population which include the youth, women, affluent consumers, and even the older generation (Corporate Executive Board, 2008).
The media makes better your accessibility to your clients while boosting your visibility to those who don’t know your product line. In addition it helps incorporate a personality into a product besides creating valuable relationships between the marketer and the consumer. This has helped forge customer loyalty and build a formidable group of repeat buyers. In the modern times, consumers seem to respond less to the traditional media and are increasingly showing high responses to social media. Research reveals that 80% of those polled easily trust their online friend’s advice better than the traditional media which is a great departure from the past trends. The research further indicates that one-third of the internet users rely on the user-generated information in making their purchasing decisions (Corporate Executive Board, 2008).
Types of social media
Facebook: This has grown to be the second-largest social networking site in the world only behind MySpace (Yadav, 2006). Founded by Mark Zuckerberg then a Harvard student in February 2004, it was mainly targeted at high school and college students. Since then it has grown in bounds to secure a sizeable market share. By 2005, it had emerged as the 7th most visited website in the United States. Riding on its popularity it soon caught the eyes of advertisers who were keen to pull their ads on it e.g. Microsoft and facebook signed an advertisement deal in 2006 to split the accrued revenue. Another lucrative one followed later with Apple where they would offer 10 million free iTunes samplers to Facebook subscribers. Facebook since its inception has mainly targeted the youthful group an idea that has had huge prospects for marketers targeting the youthful population with their products.
Twitter: The site was launched in March 2006 by Williams, Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone (Work, 2009). Since then it has registered tremendous growth in micro-blogging which allows a maximum of 140 characters in messaging. The site allows sharing of a message simultaneously to many people at the same time. Marketers can use the Big Tweet and tweet later facility to convey information and ads. This then presents an opportunity for marketers to exploit the avenue to network with their clients and potential customers.
MySpace: My space is currently the largest social networking website. It was launched in 2003 to enhance personal and professional interaction (Cottrell, 2006). Its subscriber base had hit 80 million by 2006 becoming a phenomenon cultural success since it was co-founded by Tom Anderson and his associates. It has since become a favorite marketing tool for musicians and filmmakers some of who have built their popularity almost entirely from the site. Paid advertisements have characterized the site since the buyout by Rupert Murdoch in 2005.
LinkedIn: It was founded in 2002 and officially launched in 2003. By May 2009 it was clocking 40 million subscribers. To contact all users and post job opportunities on the site, corporate part with between $10,000 and $ 250,000 annually. It has several features that particularly favor professionals as opposed to other social networks sites. It has thus provided a very good forum to create valuable social networks.
Wikipedia: This is an online encyclopedia that allows users to freely edit information on it. It was aimed at providing encyclopedic information to its users. Founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in January 2001, it has grown sporadically to include about 14 million articles in various languages contributed by millions of people worldwide. The site can be useful to marketers especially when customers want to learn about any of the products in the market. The greatest risk is that any user can edit the content of the site hence dealing a severe blow to your company and the brand image.
Blogs: Blogs started taking shape in early 1990s. The earliest forms were records of list of websites visited (Riley, 2005). They however assumed their current form in 1999 with the launch of a free blogging service. Since then they have been used to share information between individuals and institutions. This can also be utilized to convey business-related information as part of marketing due to their increasing usage and emerging popularity.
RSS Feeds: This was first developed by Netscape as a format to provide a platform for various usages such as web blogging. They are designed to retrieve new information from regularly visited sites without having to connect to the sites individually all the time. This is a valuable tool to marketers who have used the news feeds to convey information concerning their products since the users are notified of any news feeds.
Case Study: Wayside Technology Group
It is an integrated technology company that was founded in 1982. The company provides computing products and solutions to entities, government institutions and various educational organizations. It posted sales worth $174 million in 2008. The company was ranked 40 out of the top 100 the fastest-growing small businesses in United States by the Fortune Small Business in 2007 (Fortune small Business, 2007). The Forbes magazine placed it number six among the best small companies in 2008 in terms of growth owing to its robust growth (About Wayside Technology Group, n.d.). It has a relatively small workforce of ninety-seven employees. The company has other subsidiaries which include Lifeboat distribution, programmer’s paradise, and TechXtend. The company specializes in provision of products and solutions for corporate resellers, program developers; value-added resellers, and Information technology professionals besides serving businesses, government and education institutions (About wayside technology group, n.d.). Besides the sale of software’s, the company’s sale of hardware and peripherals accounted for 4%, 3% and 2% respectively of the company’s total sales revenue in 2006 onwards.
The company has largely succeeded in instilling brand loyalty among its customers to its products. This was made possible through effective customer care service which has enabled it to enhance the growth of sales and revenue as evident from the strong performance exhibited by the firm. The customer service division is designed to assist the customers in making purchases, processing orders and attending to customer inquiries, pricing if products and checking, and availing products to customers. The staff explains and demonstrates the features and functionality of the products to the customers (United States Securities and Exchange Commission, 2008). The company also has an in-house technical support unit that handles technical aspects relating to the products. These have enabled the company to achieve high levels of retention rates and repeat buyers across its chains.
Benefits of using the social media in Wayside Technology Group
Increased usage and popularity by Internet users
There has been a rapid increase in usage of social networking sites globally which increases the chances of capturing an ad posted on the sites. The social networking websites reported a 47% growth in traffic between 2005 and 2006 according to Nielsen/NetRatings survey carried out in 2006. For example Myspace one of the most popular networking sites with business professionals recorded 367% phenomenon growth in visitors in the same period. Interactive websites have continued to experience massive growth over the last five years. This demonstrates the great potential it presents to Wayside Technology Group as marketing tool.
Global coverage of social websites
A global marketing survey carried out in 2006 revealed that twenty percent of the adult population across the world accessed the social networking websites. The emerging economies had greater social networking users than those in developing countries. The survey further indicated that about a third of those polled visited a social networking network at least once a month. This disparity was attributable to different levels of accessibility of internet services and infrastructure in these countries. The trend has been facilitated by mobile internet through mobile phones which have increased accessibility to social networking sites. This then presents an opportunity for the company to target their marketing to the middle class and more affluent consumers located in these developing economies who are the main users of the product line offered by the company.
Improved customer understanding by the marketers
Use of social networking sites along with interaction with customers in the social network sites enables marketers to understand more effectively the buying habits and behavior of potential customers. This helps the companies to tailor the product features to meet the needs and preferences of customers. All this is made possible by the interactive nature of the sites which enables the two parties to communicate with each other regularly as situations allow. For example, Unilever Company has been using discussion forums to foster direct interaction with its target market. Xerox on their part has integrated the 3D concept to examine the expectations of their customers. Proctor & Gamble has not been left behind by the new wave of marketing where they resulted in creation of their own social, networking sites to determine buying habits of their women customers. Wayside Technology also ought to join the bandwagon considering the kind of products they offer which consists mainly of information technology-based products as most of their customers are regular visitors of the sites.
Great potential in promotion of new products and services
Social networking sites are very effective in promotion of usage and creation of loyalty for new products and services in the market. As a result of the wide usage and popularity of the sites, it is easier to capture the attention of potential customers across the globe (Corporate Executive Board, 2008). This helps the company to reach its widest possible market. For example, JP Morgan has been able to forge strong customer loyalty using social networking sites. Cisco on their part has also used the virtual business to interact with their target market. This could also work positively for Wayside Technology by providing a forum for advertisement of new products thereby increasing the penetration ability of their new products.
Facilitation of sharing of internal knowledge
The websites also have the advantage of facilitation of employee communication within the organizational network and also enhance the sharing and transfer of best management practices across the units of the organization. Since the traditional media has been ineffective in disseminating the above tasks efficiently, the social networking sites provide a suitable forum for achieving these objectives since they are widely used all over. Wayside technology with its wide network of branches and affiliates may find this particularly useful in sharing such benefits. IBM has used this avenue for a long time to communicate with its business-to-business customers.
Strengthening the brand awareness
The marketing forum also provides an avenue for companies to achieve a wider penetration of the market. It also creates an opportunity for a company to position its products strategically, increase its brand awareness and increase the customer perception towards the product (Corporate Executive Board, 2008). Burger King has made a foray into these avenues by incorporating entertainment content on social networking sites aimed at promoting the brand reception among consumers. Honda has developed a more creative way of exploiting the channel by empowering the consumer to participate in development of the company’s marketing slogans. This could achieve marked gains if utilized by wayside technology.
Demographic and psychographic attributes of B2B clients
To cement my support for social networking sites in marketing, it is predicted that 50% of all internet uses will be using social networking sites by 2011 monthly (Corporate Executive Board, 2008). The trend in use is quickly shifting towards women, mothers, and older internet users. However, the youthful users continue to dominate the usage of social networking sites which presents a ripe opportunity for Wayside Technology to expand its business presence in US and also globally. The prevailing demographics also create an opportunity for the company to target niche customer segments such as affluent consumers.
According to Pew internet and American life project research carried out in 2007, 96% of the teens make use of social networking tools. Another research revealed that of the affluent group, 40% visited social networking sites between the months of August to October 2007. More women at 56% were observed to use the social sites in comparison to men at 46%. The American marketing survey of 2007 found out that women relied heavily on the networking sites to make their buying decisions, a trend that is increasing. The consumer demographics showed that mothers accounted for 13% of the 48 million visitors of Myspace while the older adults represented 11% of my space visitors in 2006. This further emphasizes the important role of social networking sites in business-to-business marketing.
Demerits of social networking media
Inability to control flow of information
Negative information about a firm can flow alarmingly fast causing serious damage to the brand image of a company. Damage control is very difficult to undertake due to sporadic flow of information across the continent within seconds (Wanjiku, 2009). Negative or malicious publicity can be hard to control once in the realm of social media which makes the media potentially harmful to any business. Misinformation about your products can reverse the gains of your global marketing efforts.
Increased demand for labor
Serving a huge fan base of your products in the social media is time-consuming and may call for additional labor to attend to their needs. This is because the nature of the media requires constant updates and prompt response to customers’ inquiries which requires a bigger workforce to handle them for the use to be effective. This if not done well might lead to loss of faith by your customers which might be catastrophic to your business.
Rapid change of social media environment
The social media is constantly changing hence calling for constant updates of the content and related systems to keep in touch with the changes. A delay in doing so may lead your strategy to be irrelevant to the times hence losing effectiveness. This means being adaptive to the rapidly changing environment which might be too involving and expensive to the business venture. Social networking site visitors are very quick to notice redundancy in usage making this avenue particularly vulnerable.
Exposure to scams and harassments
The usage of this mode of advertisement tends to expose the media space to misuse and potential breach of company security. Malicious users can exploit this avenue to cause harm to your business. For example, cyberstalking, scams, phishing, hacking, and other cyber crimes are becoming increasingly prevalent by the day. These might have serious harm to your business if exploited by your rivals.
Social networking strategy for high-end market
As evident from my discussion earlier, social networking websites can be useful tools for reaching the high-end market. This emanates from the high accessibility rates and prevalence of usage in the segment. This implies that any marketing information can be accessed easily and very fast in this segment of the market. LinkedIn and My space for instance are very popular with business professionals. Their features have endeared them better to the corporate in comparison to other types of social media.
Recommended social media tactics
Internet marketers using social networking sites must create an interactive interface where they can be able to communicate and interact effectively with the consumers. This will facilitate faster achievement of their objectives in marketing. For example, you can try it to interact with your customers using bookmarks and sharing information by posting blogs to your sites. This gives the bloggers some autonomy in use of the cyberspace which encourages use and interaction. This can thus create important avenue for marketers. Incorporating an RSS button tool can greatly increase reception of live feeds to your customers hence increasing reception of your web content.
Having your information published on the front page of a social networking site can lead to a massive increase in traffic and links. This then means that your server must be capable of handling enormous traffic to avoid downtime and slow response which might discourage visitors to the sites. This calls for considerable investment in technology to stay up with the challenges presented by the form of marketing.
However site that allow editing of your content is not ideal for use in advertisement. This is because any malicious alteration of the media content might be very harmful to your brand image. This has the potential of reversing the gains in advertisements. Some sites like wikipedia and other blog spots that can be edited should thus be used with care. Information should not be too dull to capture the users’ attention. Those advertisements lacking entertainment value easily escape the notice of potential customer who visits the social networking sites. In addition, use of lexically dense vocabulary and technical terms will invite ignorance of the information by the users.
Social networking websites are emerging as important tools of business-to-business marketing. Marketers ought to embrace them to push up their sales volumes and penetrating the global market due to its large potential to reach wide coverage across the globe. The growing popularity presents an opportunity for marketers to exploit the available channels to push their brand image in the market. Integration of this form of marketing should be approached with careful planning to achieve the intended objectives. However, marketers ought to be wary of the challenges and risks that come along with this mode of advertisement.
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