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People have always relied on word of mouth influencers when making purchase decisions. Today’s word of mouth is social media.

Social media buttonsIdentifying these influencers, building relationships with them, and engaging them in the conversation are some of the best moves a company could make. And yet, a lot of major companies are only now starting to get on the bandwagon.

Business is approaching the end of a huge transition in the online world. We’ve known the importance of social for a while, or thought we did, and it has become a central component of many online marketing strategies. This hasn’t been an easy change, though. Just think of how most of us think of “transitions” in the office: long hours, grumpy bosses, questions about whether or not it was the right move in the first place, and, one of the biggest hurdles of all time, people holding on to the “old way” of doing their jobs. Sometimes you just need to move on. Just as technology aids in advancing processes of the work place, it also benefits the world of marketing.

Not Just B2C

Social media has opened doors for every type of business out there, and successful B2Bs are notably utilizing this marketing channel. Companies like IBM and Cisco have built social media strategies and campaigns that can no longer be ignored by companies who struggle in bringing the cycle of sales full circle.

Where Did Your Customers Go Signs - Finding Lost Customer BaseIn point of fact, just as consumers socialize or shop online, so do other business owners and potential partners. It is human nature that if we need something, we learn how to fulfill that need – whether it is personal or business. Fortunately, fulfilling these needs or answering these questions can, in most cases, be just a click away. What if you aren’t at the other end of that click? How much further are your customers willing to go just to find you?

Any good business owner has, more than once, compiled a benchmarking list of organizations that are the best at what they do and have the numbers to prove it. These lists are especially valuable when starting a new business, but are also good when re-evaluating a marketing campaign or platform as well. Companies whose business and marketing structures would be good to mimic might be found somewhere like the Fortune 500 list.

The Growth of Social Media Usage

So what does this information have to do with social media you ask? Well, according to recent market research done at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, social media is playing a much larger role in marketing and customer retention than people might think.

2013 Fortune 500   UMass Dartmouth resizedThe findings at Dartmouth paint a rather clear picture of how these Fortune 500 companies are quickly adopting social media in order to strengthen their marketing campaigns. These numbers illustrate a positive relationship between their ranking on the list and whether or not they are engaged in social. From 2013’s list of F500 companies – 77 % now have twitter accounts and 70% have Facebook accounts, while on average adoption is growing annually by about 6%. It also shows a higher percentage of companies within the top 200 that are already utilizing these tools as compared to the lower ranked companies. What’s interesting is that even these giants just now understand the importance of social media engagement where it has demonstrated success in other sectors for years.

Is Social Providing Enough Value?

Regardless of their delay in adapting to the times, these numbers suggest that social media is working somehow, otherwise, why the rush? Now whether or not it is actually creating new and valuable cus-tomers has yet to be determined. According to INC.com, research would suggest this might not be the case. It would seem that the majority of the most valuable customers over time are gained more through organic search rather than through social media outlets alone.

Organic search methods are the most natural and common ways for individuals to find products and information online. Getting your business out there for organic search queries to identify is no easy task, and even if the suspected value of an organic search customer is higher than someone from, say, Facebook, that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on social. It just means you have to make sure you’re using social media channels correctly.

Holding On with Social Media

Don’t get discouraged by the stats in the INC.com article. If nothing else, this information might magnify Google’s latest algorithm changes, where “content is king.” It so happens that the Dartmouth research also showed that in 2013 there was a 6% increase in the F500 companies found to have active blogs. And what partners better with a blog than social media?

After coming across this information, I had to dive back into my marketing studies, get back to the basics and ask a couple of simple questions:

What is more important than gaining a new customer?
Keeping a valued and loyal customer.
And how do we do that?
Through good customer retention practices.

We can do several things with social media but here are (in my perspective) the 5 most important ways we can facilitate social for customer retention:

1. Engage with our customers on a more personal level
2. Find out more about what they want
3. Track our findings
4. Be available 24/7
5. Build relationships

Social media is one of the best ways to remind current customers of the value you offer. It allows an organization to:

• Keep the customer informed and reminded
• Engage with them on a regular basis AND
• Track customer questions, concerns, likes and dislikes

On top of all of this, social media aids organic search, which, according to INC.com is the number one way businesses today are incurring new and valuable customers. So I ask: what better way is there (aside from good honest business practices) for a business to achieve customer satisfaction than through social?

White Keyboard with My Story Button.Tell Your Story

Walter Fisher, a professor of communication, is famous for his theory referred to as the “Narrative Paradigm”. In it, he suggests that all meaningful forms of communication, the ones that describe our actions and justify our behaviors, are, in essence, a form of storytelling. Storytelling, one of the oldest and most universal forms of communication, is defined as giving a report of events, or a narrative. This concept has become even more of a reality through social media. These “stories” are the building blocks of a successful marketing campaign. Word of mouth and experience are some of the defining factors in producing a loyal customer.

So, what’s the point of social?

Social media has been referred to as an enhancement to the “pillars of good business.” Katy Stewart, with the Houston Business Journal, points out that aside from boosting an organization’s presence, social media will also allow the public to become more engaged (which, of course, is what we are all looking for – to stand for something), convert on-the-fence onlookers into revenue generating clients, and address customer service issues across the board.

Through social, these pillars can all be addressed in the same location, by the click of a mouse or the touch of a fingertip. In an instant a story can be shared or even started and the narrative paradigm that we are all part of continues instantaneously and with great ease.