Social Media Today – Listen and Succeed
The Social Media Handbook
likeable social media
Writers: Lotta Lehtikevari and Salla Nieminen
Online meetings. Remote work. Teams, Zoom, Hangouts and so on… Social media has never been a more active part of our lives. In the current global situation with coronavirus, social media helps us communicate with our friends and family, no matter how far they are. We have had this possibility for a while now, but the worldwide situation has only now taught us how to truly make use of the tools and skills that we already have.
Jeremy Hunsinger and Theresa Senft discuss social media and different questions around the topic in The Social Media Handbook and make a remark about how the boundaries between online and offline life continue to blur (Hunsinger & Senft 2014, 2). We all see this quite clearly now when we have been forced to work and study remotely, but if we think about it, this has been the case for a while now. It is not necessary to have a specific room for a meeting anymore. The meeting can be held online, and people can participate wherever they are.
The impact, that the rice of social media has had in our lives is huge. The concept of community has changed, although we humans as social animals still have an enormous need for groups and communities (Johnston 2014, 21). We have a need to belong and be a part of something, that has not changed, but the way we build communities is something completely different than what it was before social media. Whereas a traditional community used to be a small village, it is now a complex structure not restricted to time or place:
[…] humans, as social animals embedded in complex webs of relationships, exist simultaneously within multiple communities whose boundaries are ill defined, shifting, and flexible. (Jonhston 2014, 21.)
Because of the growth of social media, we are also forced to see the concept of work in a whole new light. Hunsinger and Senft (2014, 2) remind us that social media makes us reconsider older notions of work in a networked world. A youtuber or Youtube content creator is now a profession like anything else and we don’t even have to go so far back in time to understand that this used to be something completely new and unthinkable.
Social media is not just a tool for marketing professionals. It has changed our lives in so many ways that it is almost a bit frightening. Some might think that we are living a golden age for marketing professionals, because social media is, of course, used in marketing all the time. That might be true, but that is only because we people are there all the time! Social media is one of the most effective ways to reach us (MarkkinointiAkatemia MAK Oy 2020). Marketing professionals have always found a way to reach their target group and right now social media is one of the most important channels for that.
Whereas before we would have to travel around to reach those people in their tiny villages, it can now be done in social media. It might be comfortable, but it sure is not easy. Or at least not easier than it was before. Using social media is not enough, just like using television or radio or however far we want to go. We might be living a golden age for social media, but the skills that it takes to reach your target group have not gone anywhere. Of all the marketing professionals out there, only those will succeed in this ever–changing world, who have the skills and knowledge to locate and reach their target group and that way harness the true power of social media.
We, the writers of this essay, both have our own views about entrepreneurship and building a company of our own, although the fields we are interested in are quite different. Lotta and her teammates are working with a project called Grafu and its graphic design services. Salla, on the other hand, has been pondering about building her own accounting company in the future. We both have a lot of experience in marketing and we have been discussing the topic a lot, because we have spent the past year working together in Proakatemia’s team of marketing and communications. By working together, we have not only become friends but also noticed that we should write about our thoughts concerning social media and share the things we have learned for others as well.
In this essay we will discuss the different aspects of social media and how they can be utilized in marketing today. We will first dive into the world of listening (see chapter 2), which is not only one of the most crucial points in building your own company but in marketing as well. We will then continue by mapping out what we believe to be the most important phases in creating a marketing strategy for your company in today’s world (see chapter 3). Finally, we will end by drawing conclusions (see chapter 4) about what we have learned while writing this essay and what the future might hold for us interested in the world of marketing and social media.
So, are you ready? Let’s get going!
2 THE ART OF LISTENING
Though social media has changed both the way we individuals communicate with each other and on the other hand the way marketing people reach out for us, it is not a completely strange world. Social media is actually as simple as a new pan in the kitchen; you make the same food but just with a new tool. That’s the reason why the skill of knowing how to listen and communicate with your audiences is just as important as it is in the offline world. These magical new platforms under the concept of social media actually lean on to one very familiar thing; communication.
Dave Kerpen (2019) addresses in his book Likeable Social Media, that social media was not born for the sake of marketing. It simply reflects the same old human need for connection and community, just in the form of something new (Kerpen 2019, 11). Any marketer should keep this in mind. Social media might be an easy way to find and connect with the right audiences nowadays, but it does not guarantee, that those people will be at all interested in hearing what you have to say to them. Even though you move to a new platform and that way to another level, it does not mean you can forget about the basics. Those things are valid in both online and offline world. Though social media represents a new tool for communication and that way for marketing, it is important to realise that all the same principles of communication are as valid there as in the real world.
Many companies fail to understand this. They do a huge amount of talking and shouting in social media and completely forget about what good communication always needs to include. Social media, you see, is about communication, and communication is 50 % listening and 50 % talking (Kerpen 2019, 14). Just like in a regular conversation with someone on a regular Monday morning, you need to listen in social media too. All the time. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are not broadcast medias, like television is known to be (Kerpen 2019, 14). If you don’t want to be as blindingly annoying as an ad interrupting your favourite tv-show, you need to stop monitoring in social media. It is called social for a reason. There needs to be interaction between humans for it to work. And the more you listen while interacting, the better the results of your social media marketing are going to be.
So how do you listen in social media? That is an important question. There are actually several ways to listen online and some people even use paid enterprise systems for it (Kerpen 2019, 16). But for someone, who is new to this whole listening game, there are also easy (and free) ways to practice. The basic idea of listening in social media is to find conversations around the topic that your company’s services stand for. In any social network you can simply type a phrase or a keyword into the search function. You will then see, what people are saying using that keyword in real time. (Kerpen 2019, 17). There are also a lot of great systems to try for listening as part of your marketing in social media, for example Meltwater, Tagboard and Cision. Many of these are used to reach larger volumes of conversations. (Kerpen 2019, 17). However, whatever you do or use, the most important thing is to know what kind of conversations you are looking for and then just listen and appreciate the information you get.
Listening is an important human process and if it is taken into consideration while doing social media marketing, so many benefits are on the way (Kerpen 2019, 16). It does not only make you less annoying. It also makes you immediately strengthen your relationship with your customers (Kerpen 2019, 15). Everybody loves to feel heard! And on top of that, if you listen closely, you may find out crucial information that affects your company’s future (Kerpen 2019, 15). Hearing for example what is important to your customers can truly help you improve your products or services. There has never been an easier way to get to know your customers, talk to them straightforwardly and figure out what they really want. How useful is that?
Listening is the most fundamental thing to understand about social media marketing. It’s also a skill to gain and something that needs to be trained continuously (Karpen 2019, 23). There sure are more sexier things to do in social media, but they won’t work unless you listen first. And even when you start talking, it doesn’t mean you stop listening (Kerpen 2019, 23). Consider listening to be the most effective marketing tool from now on!
3 BUILDING YOUR STRATEGY
Have you ever laid your eyes on something in social media that just does not feel right or like it was not meant for you? Or have you ever come across with a post that feels like it was important for the publisher but not really for anyone else? We have. And to be honest, we have most likely done that ourselves as well. It is not that uncommon that a company decides to write a post about something that feels important for the owners, although it might have nothing whatsoever to do with the customers. It is an honest mistake to start working with your posts based on your own interests. This, however, is not how to succeed in social media.
If your company wants to succeed in social media, you need to plan and have goals (Komulainen 2018). Entrepreneurs do usually put their minds on creating an inclusive marketing strategy, but it is easy to forget that that is not enough. You should also create a separate strategy for your activities in social media. According to Komulainen (2018), only a persistent and long-term planning gives you results in social media. It is important to map out, why and how should your company be active in social media (Komulainen 2018). You should start with your goals: what is it that you want to achieve by marketing in social media (Komulainen 2018).
Although we had spent a great deal of time thinking about our own projects and hypothetical future companies, we noticed that it is not that easy to put your thoughts into words. Salla believes that in the case of her future accounting company, the most important goals in social media would be to slowly start creating the company brand and to increase the sales revenue but also to spread the knowledge about accounting and that way lower the threshold for learning about finance.
Lotta believes, that when it comes to Grafu, its social media goals are quite similar. There are so many design and branding professionals out there in social network and it is noticeable that many of them use a lot of professional language, don’t tell too much details about their services and even maintain a somewhat artistic ego. That can push many potential clients away, because it can make them feel like graphic design services are hard to understand and not approachable. For Grafu, the goal is to build a social media presence that tackles those features and rather genuinely offers help and support with problems concerning graphic design. Like in Salla’s case, Grafu’s services are also a part of a field, where there are many preconceptions to break. Social media is a great place to concentrate on that!
3.1 Know your audience
If you want to offer your products and services for young adults, there is no reason to talk to them like children or the elderly. We have already made clear, that it is important to listen to your target group and what they have to say, but it is impossible to do that, if you do not know them. Komulainen (2018) states that before you even start marketing, you should get to know your potential customers. It might be useful to create a customer profile for the ideal customer. Komulainen (2018) suggests, that while doing that you should at least define the following information concerning your typical or ideal customer:
- The main problem (something he or she is looking to solve by buying your services)
When we thought about the customer profiles for Grafu and Salla’s potential accounting company, we realised, that it actually is a bit harder than we thought. In Grafu’s case the ideal customer is probably between 20-35 years old. Lotta believes, that Grafu is going to target new companies and startups in the beginning, and their team also wants to support young entrepreneurs. Younger audience can be more willing to invest in graphic design services, because they know the value of great visual work. Otherwise defining Grafu’s ideal customer is a bit tricky, because Grafu offers such a wide range of services and those services can really be purchased by almost anyone.
Also, it is hard to define interests for perfect customer of Grafu, because needing help in graphic design or branding does not mean that the person would be for example interested in visuality in any form. It probably isn’t the best idea to look for people who are interested in branding, because some of them are professionals themselves. However, because some lines need to be drawn, Lotta believes that the ideal customer’s interests would be more general in their case, like entrepreneurial matters or certain companies that work in a specific field. An ideal customer group for Grafu could also be people who work as marketing managers.
The need to help and support young entrepreneurs is a common feature in both our business ideas. Salla would like to help small companies in the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey, and because her goal is to lower the threshold for learning about finance (see chapter 3 above), she would also offer her customers with counselling about financial matters. A potential customer would therefore be a beginner entrepreneur, who needs an accountant but who also needs (and wants) help in understanding the financial figures of his or her company. In the beginning, Salla believes that her target group would include small companies in Pirkanmaa area. Counselling and meeting with the client would be a lot easier this way. In the very beginning, Salla would consider cooperatives in Proakatemia to be the most important target group for her business. This target group on the other hand, could be analysed even further, and this way we could get into a more specific customer profile. This, however, is a broader topic for another essay.
As you can see, figuring out the perfect customers can be a piece of work! Usually it might even take many years. It is good to define ideal customers right from the beginning, but it is just as important to realise that things change with time. We are both pretty sure, that after a couple of years our companies are in a totally different place and that way the ideal customer has also changed along the way. And that’s okay! It is the fundamental work that we do now that helps us also be fluent with those changes. They are only for good.
3.2 Find your audience
Social media has a lot of specialities, those sexy things, we mentioned before (see chapter 2 above). Knowing your audience may seem like a very basic thing as well as listening to that audience, but like we said, it is the base work that actually lets you to move on to those cool and fun parts of social media marketing. Even though defining your audience is important in any case, it plays an even bigger role when moving to the world of targeting in social media. It can mean both targeting ads or to some extents even organic posts.
By targeting ads or posts to your audience (however big or small it is) you can engage them in a way that was virtually impossible several years ago (Kerpen 2019, 26). Targeting in social media makes sure that your work of defining your audience and then listening to them is not a waste of time. It helps you to use that information about customer profiles and all those conversations in social network to deliver relevant and impactful marketing messages to that exact audience.
According to a website called Media update (2018) and their article Targeting in social media: The why and how, social media targeting means the ability to display adverts and posts to specific audiences chosen by the advertiser or poster (Media Update 2018). The same article addresses that it is important, because if a wide audience sees your ad, it is often immeasurable, and a large amount of those who have seen the ad, are not in your target group. That’s why knowing your audience and then targeting to them specifically is crucial.
There are various criteria on where to base your targeting and many of those we have already defined for Grafu and Salla’s accounting company when figuring out our customer profiles (see chapter 3.1 above). Basic information used in many social networks in targeting are gender, age and location. These were also mentioned in the list above. These are good basics, but there are other categories that let you to dig deeper (Kerpen 2019, 29). According to Kerpen (2019, 29) the most important ones, when talking about social media ads or posts, are interests and demographics. Those two will let you do magic in all social media platforms.
The potential client for Salla’s accounting business is a beginner entrepreneur, who wants to learn how to make his or her company grow and how to use the financial knowledge in planning one’s business actions. This means, that the customer does not have to be interested in accounting – that is Salla’s job – but he or she needs to be interested in developing his or her own business. Most likely, Salla’s clients are also interested in services of Finnish Patent and Registration Office, Tax Administration or Suomen Yrittäjät. As we already mentioned (see chapter 3.1 above), Salla would focus on small companies in Pirkanmaa area especially in the beginning, so this is the most essential demographic matter to be taken into consideration. When targeting the cooperatives in Proakatemia, age and other interests could also be relevant to use in targeting in social media.
Grafu also aims to target beginner entrepreneurs and starting companies. People in those situations may want to leave visual work for someone else, because there are also so many other things to handle in the beginning. Like we said before (see chapter 3.1 above), there is no guarantee then again that a person needing help with branding or graphic design is also interested in the subject too. Interests to consider for targeting in Grafu’s case would be concentrating more to things like “entrepreneurial mindset” or “marketing”. Those two fields combine people, who perhaps are just starting as entrepreneurs and those, who might be working as marketing professionals. Demographics are harder to define, because Grafu’s services are not bound to any specific location. It could however be easiest to target the same area that Salla already mentioned, Pirkanmaa. It is simpler to meet customers when they are easily approachable.
It is a lot of work to find out the best ways to target the customers for our projects, we noticed. However, it is comforting to know that you can try as many times as you want. Also, according to Kerpen (2019, 31) your perfect target audience will be found on social platforms no matter what. You just need to work for it to be found. It also depends a lot on the channel of your choice. All platforms have great possibilities to targeting, but there are some minor differences in them. Figuring out the perfect platforms for your project or company is very important.
3.3 Choose your channels
“This is going to be so great! Can you feel it? We are going to be a success! No one has ever done this before! We can do this! Let’s go!” If you are a Proakatemia student, you know how this feels. You have just gotten a huge idea, and everyone is telling you that this is going to be great. You have so much trust in people around you that you are ready to do everything it takes. You want to tell everybody about your idea, and you want to do it now! And still, this is where you usually go wrong…
Excitement is a good thing, but it should not get in the way of planning. When you focus on doing, like you do in Proakatemia, it is not that unusual, that you end up doing something, only because your gut tells you to do it. You might create an account for your business in Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat. And then, when you have been running your business for several months, you might notice, that you do not have time for all that. You might also notice that you do not even have a need for Youtube account. This does not necessarily do you any harm, but it might save you some time and raise the quality of your content if you decide right in the beginning, which are the right channels for your company (Komulainen 2018).
When you know your audience and the right ways to find them, it is time to choose those right channels for your marketing. The right way to do this, is to analyse your goals (see chapter 3 above) and your target group (see 3.1 above). You should think about, where to find your potential customers but also what is the most suitable form of publishing for your company (Komulainen 2018). Although the most popular channels are usually the ones where there are more potential customers, the channel itself is not necessarily in line with the image that the company wants to preserve. You should also remember, that if you choose the most popular channels, you are more likely to face with some competition as well (Komulainen 2018).
We had so much fun discussing these matters while writing this essay, because Lotta for example is an expert in Instagram and for Salla, Instagram is still a brand–new world. Salla believes, that in the beginning the most important social media channels for her accounting company would be Facebook and LinkedIn. She does believe, however, that Instagram should also be taken into consideration, because the goal is to make finance and accounting easily approachable (see chapter 3 above), and Instagram offers several possibilities for this, if you know how to use quality photos and pictures in creating this kind of image.
Also, if the cooperatives in Proakatemia are considered to form one of the most important target groups for Salla’s business idea (see chapter 3.1), Instagram might be worth considering, because it might be the place to find these young teampreneurs. This, however, would require more research, because we cannot just assume that all Proakatemia students can be reached in Instagram. Before we make these assumptions, we should do some research and ask them.
Grafu has already created an Instagram profile. Lotta believes, that Instagram fits perfectly for Grafu, who’s field is concentrated on visual matters, because Instagram is the most picture-oriented of all regular social media platforms. Grafu’s content is therefore suited well in there and the platform also works as a portfolio of some form. How convenient! Lotta thinks, that the next platform they will consider for Grafu, is LinkedIn. It is a platform full of professionals and one of Grafu’s audience groups is marketing professionals. LinkedIn is a great platform for targeting them.
3.4 Content is king
That is what Bill Gates said in 1996. He could have not been more right. In the golden age of social media, that phrase alone gives you probably the most important lesson about social media. Whatever you do, whoever you try to reach and whatever platform you decide to use, it requires content. And while you can easily create content about almost anything, the content truly determines the end result, whether you thought it through or not. To win the game of social media, you need to put yourself in the position of your ideal customers and understand, what would they actually want to see.
We talked about the importance of planning and creating a strategy for social media earlier (see chapter 3). However, Laura Fitton of Hubspot has a saying: “Your entire social media strategy can be summed up in two words: Be useful” (Kerpen 2019, 58). From that probably anyone can understand, how important part content really is of the whole planning process. That piece of advice can sound a bit simple but being useful is not that easy. You need to listen to your customers closely and figure out, how can you be useful specifically to them with your content. What do they even find useful?
Kerpen (2019, 59) has a great tip about how to make sure, you are being useful with your content. He advices always to ask yourself two questions before sending out any message, posting any picture in Instagram or writing any tweet:
- Will the recipients of this message truly find it of value, or will they find it annoying and disruptive?
- Would I want to receive this message as a consumer?
If you cannot see any true value of your post or message to the consumer, it’s not worth sending (Kerpen 2019, 59). You should not spend your time or especially money on something that your consumers do not need or want in the first place.
In social media platforms, there are also many tricky things which decide, whether your post will be up in the news feed, when someone logs in or not. For example, Facebook algorithm is something you need to consider while planning your content. In 2013, Facebook algorithm went through a change and nowadays the goal of the news feed algorithm is “meaningful social interactions” (Kerpen 2019, 60). To put it shortly it means that Facebook appreciates posts that inspire back and forth discussions in comments and posts, that people want to share and react to. This is something to keep in mind while creating those posts. Even though that tip was for Facebook, almost all social platforms favour content that creates conversation. That is the idea of social media; talking and sharing. That is a great base for any post.
After you are able to put yourself into the position of your customer content wise and you understand even a bit of algorithms, you still need to generally understand, who are you competing with in all social media platforms. People usually use social media in their free time. Even though social media is a great place to advertise, and many use it professionally, it is still fundamentally a place, that people use to relax, enjoy themselves and connect with others (Kerpen 2019, 57). You are not competing with your competitors in social media, you are competing with pictures of someone’s best friend’s baby! Think about it.
We both still truly have some work to do. Figuring out ideal customer was already hard and now we need to move on and think about what kind of material could be useful content for that customer. It is funny, how simple something looks like, but how much is hidden behind. That is probably one of the reasons why we are both so interested in social media.
Wow! In the beginning of this essay, we did wonder, if we would have enough to say about social media to write an essay about it. Of course, we do discuss the matter all the time as we work together with Proakatemia’s marketing and we find the subject extremely interesting, but it is a whole another thing to write an essay, that really offers something useful for the reader as well. In the end, it was the wrapping up, not finding something to say that was the challenge for us. It became quite clear to us, that writing essays requires a lot of the same things that it requires to succeed in social media! You need to think about who are you writing to and why, and whether the content really is useful for the people it is meant to.
We decided to take our own business ideas into consideration while writing this essay, and it turned out to be a great idea! We noticed that we both still have a lot to think about, when it comes to our target groups and how to reach them. However, this is of course a good thing, because writing this essay really made us think about these things on another level. We also noticed that our target groups have several similar features, so it would be useful to continue talking about these matters further in the future. In addition to this, we laid our eyes on a possible form of cooperation! We could combine our strengths in the future, if Salla would help Grafu with accounting and Grafu would help Salla’s company with graphic design! How fun would that be!
Social media truly is a huge part of our lives and a successful marketing channel when it is used with skill and careful planning. Of course, it is important to remember that the world around us is still changing rapidly and especially with the current coronavirus situation, we do not really know what tomorrow will bring. Different trends come and go, and we must be ready for change all the time and keep a close eye on our surroundings. As with all marketing, we must not forget the meaning of active monitoring, so that we know when it is time to make some changes into our strategy. As we mentioned before, it is completely fine if the target group, for example, changes but in order to that to work out, you need to be aware of the changes around you and know when it is time to act.
We do not really know what tomorrow will bring but we believe that somehow that is half the attraction when it comes to social media. Things that worked yesterday might not work tomorrow and that is pretty exciting! New channels are being seized and developed all the time and all it takes is the right amount of “buzz” at the right time. The questions is, where do you want to be, when the buzz is created and what are you going to do about it?
Hunsinger, J. & Senft, T. (ed.) 2014. The Social Media Handbook. Routledge.
Johnston, A. 2014. Community and Social Media. In Hunsinger, J. & Senft, T. (ed.) 2014. The Social Media Handbook. Routledge, 18-29.
Kerpen, D. 2019. Likeable Social Media. Mc Graw Hill Education.
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Media Update 2018. Targeting on Social Media: The Why and How. Accessed 3.5.2020. https://www.mediaupdate.co.za/marketing/144209/targeting-on-social-media-the-why-and-how