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Is it time for social media?

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Should you be using social media? Maybe. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and their ilk are spreading as a means of business communication.

Such media let you communicate quickly with customers and prospects. If you’re offering a discount, you can send the offer to hundreds or thousands of prospects with one click. Prospects away from their computers may still see it immediately on their cell phones.

For some businesses, it works. A Rice University study in the March Harvard Business Review affirms that Facebook—the world’s biggest social network—generates leads for restaurants.

“Cautious optimism seems wise at this point,” conclude study authors Utpal Dholakia of Rice in Houston (he’s on Facebook) and restauranteur Emily Durham. “Companies should see what Facebook can do for them, but use it as just one niche tool.”

In other words, prospects who aren’t social-media users would miss it completely. So don’t abandon your efforts with old-fashioned lead finding.

One advantage of contact via a Facebook or Twitter account is that it can feel personal. In fact, three of five physicians think your doctor will soon be nagging you about your health habits via Twitter, according to a survey by Case Western University in Cleveland.

However, it’s best to learn social media before you try to use it. The New York Times in March quoted a consultant who found closely targeted personal ads on Facebook sometimes “not only creepy but off-putting.”

In sum, start with marketing principles. Apply them via whatever way you judge best: social media, e-mail, mail, in-person networking, walking around to leave brochures or cards on boats—or all of the above.

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