Social media are intrinsically about sharing; sharing ideas, sharing good practice, sharing knowledge. In an age where short-termism still prevails in business and, as argued by Dr Jeff Overall in his recent blog post, is at least partially responsible for the financial crash, the prevalence of an online sharing culture may perhaps appear surprising.
At a time when the general public is appalled at the tax avoidance schemes of major multinational corporations raking in millions of pounds in profits, social media platforms are making it possible for individuals and smaller businesses to have a voice; not just to be heard on these headline issues, but to share knowledge and business improvement tips with a worldwide audience. Social media are, in effect, bucking the ‘me, me, me’ trend of short-termist economics and encouraging a far more inclusive way to do business.
Social media marketing has become a discipline in its own right and, when done correctly, shows that by adopting a circular approach, re-using intangible resources such as lessons learnt and ‘how to’ information on a myriad of topics, businesses can reap long-term rewards: increased visibility, online referrals and building of positive reputations.
The circular economy is described by Dr Sarah Dixon as “a generic term for a new industrial economy that is restorative and in which materials flows are closed loop. Instead of consuming scarce resources, that either end up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or as waste in landfill, the circular economy envisages a virtuous circle which utilises renewable energy and which produces goods which are recyclable and generate no waste.” If you view knowledge and information as scarce resources, then social media are the platforms that enable this ‘virtuous circle’ to recycle ideas and allow a restorative closed loop approach to business. Thus, social media marketing enables businesses to avoid knowledge waste.
Of course, not all businesses and marketing professionals understand this. Some use social media like megaphones: shouting out advertising in the vain hope that someone might be listening. At best, they will simply be ignored; at worst, they’ll actively push away their customers. They are wasting an opportunity to interact with their customers and potential customers, they are losing out on the referrals that their competitors are receiving, they are forfeiting the chance to listen and gather valuable information.
Great social media marketing activities are based on the principle that for all its SEO benefits, social media content is meant to be social first and foremost. The best social media marketers engage their readers/followers in conversation and offer value to their audiences. In a world in which consumers and businesses have every conceivable choice at their fingertips – literally, they need compelling reasons to follow a Twitter account or ‘like’ a Facebook page. They need to enjoy interacting with the posters of the content, believe that sharing the content may boost their own popularity or feel that they are learning something whenever they view a particular user’s posts.
A site such as Social Media Examiner have over 200,000 subscribers, over 800,000 monthly readers and can boast being “one of the world’s Top 5 business blogs” because its creators understand this. They provide their readers with useful and easily digestible information. Businesses need to be financially viable, of course; sustainable in the long term. Nobody is suggesting that social media should be used as purely altruistic platforms for sharing, but as Professor Peter Hopkinson outlines in his blog post about the circular economy, businesses can and do profit from taking a fresh approach at how to re-use their resources. Social Media Examiner offer a wealth of information for free to their readers, but are then able to sell very highly-priced tickets to world-class social media conferences that people travel halfway across the world to attend.
Businesses that use social media to provide advice and information to their customers/clients, whether they are an accountancy firm offering simple financial advice in their blog, or a travel agent offering information about the best times of year to travel to various worldwide locations, or a training organisation offering some of its training content for free via its Facebook page posts, it makes good business sense to use social media platforms as springboards for sharing and unselfish business behaviour. Businesses that understand this will flourish in the long-term when their competitors may be long gone.