Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are no longer optional. Actions such as "like," "hashtag," "follow" and "check-in" are golden tickets to a business owner.
They are part of the growing lingo of social media, which has become an essential marketing tool in growing a business.
The intentions are for small-business owners to engage customers, create dialogue and invest time in the company's social media platform.
Social media provides businesses with an opportunity to increase brand awareness and sales, improve consumer perception and customer service and to spot trends that may prompt new products or service offerings," said Elianne Ramos, vice chairwoman of communications at Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) and CEO of Speak Hispanic LLC. "We see that the most successful businesses in this arena are the ones that maintain a more transparent, two–way conversation. The key is to use it not just as a simple 'shouting platform' for your organization, but as a tool to build goodwill and enhance relationships with existing and prospective customers."
Today, four out of five active Web users will log on to social networks and blogs. Of those users, females and 18- to 34-year-olds are the most active social networkers, according to Nielsen's Social Media Report: Q3 2011.
"Advancements in technology means that your customers can find you at a moment's notice, and usually at their fingertips," said Leonardo Basterra, executive director of digital at Lopez Negrete Communications. "There are new generations of future customers who will only know you through social media. While it's important that you be in the game, you'll need to be an active player to win in this medium."
At Northwestern Mutual, a life insurance company founded in 1857, social media is used to engage with consumers in long-term conversations about planning and financial security, said Karl Gouverneur, vice president and chief technology architect for Northwestern Mutual's IT strategy and architecture team.
"A large part of that conversation is being a good listener; we believe in listening to social media chatter for suggestions and concerns about our company," Mr. Gouverneur said. "As a result, we build brand awareness and receptivity to the company, drive traffic to our websites and increase interaction between Northwestern Mutual and 'fans' of the brand."
The Audience Is Hungry
In August 2011, 72.2 million Americans accessed social media networking sites or blogs on their mobile devices -- an increase of 37 percent in the past year, according to comScore. Of the top 10 types of apps used by smartphone owners, social networking landed at the No. 3 spot, behind games and weather, according to Nielsen. In fact, 40 percent of social media users access their services from their mobile phones, according to Nielsen.
"With the introduction of smartphones and 4G connectivity, reviews, thoughts and comments are shared at speeds never before seen," Mr. Gouverneur said. "Businesses need to sync up and stay on top of their brand reputation."
Top presidential candidates also are aware of social media's power. They all have a Twitter, Facebook and YouTube account to connect to prospective voters.
There are 13.5 million U.S. Hispanics on Facebook and 8.1 million on Twitter, according to SocialMediaSpanish.com based in Columbus, Ohio. Fifty-fi e percent of influential Hispanics use social media as a way to promote and improve their businesses, according to LATISM, which held its third annual awards gala conference in Chicago recently.
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