Take a moment and think back to high school. Remember the "cool kids"? You know... the popular ones everyone wanted to be like, the ones who managed to stay ahead of the trends that everyone later followed in hopes of being cool. Unless you were one of the few chosen ones, there was almost nothing you could do to achieve their status.

But I have encouraging news for the older you: I am going to illustrate how your "cooler" peers are using social media today, and you'll see that it won't take much for you to tap into what makes them cool.

Every good social media plan starts by focusing on where you want to end up. Your goals dictate the objectives and detailed execution plans to achieve them. Most social plans still center on increasing brand awareness and building business. As it turns out, though, the cool kids are using social for much more.

Social is versatile, like a trusty Swiss army knife. It can serve your marketing and business development goals in many ways. Here are my top four social media applications:

Build stronger brand relationships faster by using social media to hyper-target customers. People will follow you if you have something they are interested in. If you are behaving nicely and you share lots of helpful and engaging content, you will earn their trust; that can later turn into business for you.

Speed up your sales cycle and close deals faster by using thought leadership to jump the line of competitors. The right content lets customers lead themselves down your sales funnel.

Build loyalty, defuse dissatisfaction, and show you really do care. Social media is the 24x7 customer service window

Listen for the trends. Social media can help steer everything from product development to market expansion decisions.

I'll take 'em as I pitched 'em.

1. Using hyper-targeting to build stronger brand relationships faster

Think about traditional social media as pulling all your prospects and customers through one big corporate door into your main lobby. They are there simply because they are fan of you or your company and they're interested in what you have to say. In effect, simply by showing up, they've eliminated the biggest challenges of target marketing.

Hyper-targeting tools such as LinkedIn's newer Showcase pages let you nurture a community of extremely loyal brand devotees who are super-receptive to your product. Want to start some buzz around a new product coming down the pike? Want to test-drive a new website or promote a special offer? These are the customers that trust you the most and are therefore most willing to be your greatest fans.

Plenty of other tools can help you build your community (I mentioned Followerwonk in a previous article). Harness these tools, along with helpful, human engagement, to continue to hyper-target and watch the bonds of branding grow even stronger.

2. Speed up your sales cycle and close deals faster

Thought leadership doesn't come before the sales cycle. Thought leadership is part of the sales cycle. Using social media to establish your reputation automatically puts you on your prospects' short lists. Correction: it usually puts you near the top of their short lists.

Social media gives potential customers not only a reason to believe in you but also the ability to research and pre-qualify your company and products/services. By the time they reach out to you, they've already determined that you have what they need and they have led themselves further along the sales cycle.

Consider our client Etratech Inc., a contract electronics manufacturer. By posting a YouTube video of its manufacturing facilities, Etratech gave prospects the power to discover and view the company's strongest selling point as part of their online vendor research. Now prospects who have seen the video are so pre-sold that the sales cycle has gone from 6-8 months to just 6-8 weeks. Etratech's website log shows a steady stream of traffic going directly from the video to its product pages.

3. Social media is the new, 24x7 customer service window

These days when customers have something to say about a product or experience, they go straight to Twitter or Facebook. Unfortunately, they're more likely to cite a negative experience than boast of a positive one.

Savvy companies that place a strong emphasis on high-touch, high-response customer service constantly monitor their social media channels so they can quickly acknowledge customer issues and complaints. The faster the response, the more "heard" the customer feels, and the more likely he or she is to forgive and continue doing business with you.

Equally important, doing so allows you to defend and protect your reputation by dispelling rumors and misinformation before they can do serious damage. A rapid, well-written response offering to rectify a problem sends a strong message that you care.

High-volume, high-stress businesses (such as airlines) were among the first to recognize the power of social media as their customer service window. Long before most of the world had even heard the expression "hashtag," American Airlines had set up a twitter response team. That was an early indication of just how big a deal social media was going to become. American Airlines hasn't lost its edge: Its team still gives meaningful human responses, as opposed to the robotic miscommunication we've experienced from other companies.

4. Listening for trends, keeping one step ahead of the competition

Professional trend-spotters live in the social media channels, constantly listening for emerging customer wants and needs and looking for patterns in discussions that help steer R&D decisions.

For product developers, the most important words in social media sound like these: "Gee, wouldn't it be great if...?" "If only suitcases had rollers...." "If I could see behind the car when I'm backing up..." "If I didn't have to go the doctor just to get a flu shot..."

See what I mean? When your ears are in the right place at the right time, "Aha!" happens.

* * *

So now you know how you can raise your social status. I'm not saying social is the silver bullet, but it certainly does a lot more than most people realize. None of these four stratagems is difficult to execute. It just takes a little time and a certain amount of diligence, and before you know it you'll have a new respect and appreciation for social media's usefulness as business tool.

In light of such versatility, it seems almost silly that we're still having debates about the value of social. It's time to ask yourself, "How else can I harness the power and reach of social?" After all, all the cool kids are doing it.

Enter your email address to continue reading

How All the Cool Kids Are Using Social Media to Achieve Business Goals

Don't worry...it's free!

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


image of Philip Paranicas

Philip (Phil) Paranicas is director of new product development at ThomasNet.com. He is responsible for creating new products and services that support ThomasNet's mission of helping bring buyers together with sellers. Reach him via pparanicas@thomasnet.com.

Twitter: @Flip2Market

LinkedIn: Phil Paranicas