Revolution is a word often used lightly. Applied to behaviours and patterns that, though a marked change from the norm, are only passing fads. Revolutions must leave a legacy. Not just a litany of soon to be forgotten tweets. And so to say the rise and rise of social media is nothing short of a revolution is not hyperbole. For while the pillars of traditional media remain, their once vice-like grip on mass communication has not, in large part due to the influence of social media.
The early 2000s ushered in an era that changed the business landscape. Businesses and entrepreneurs were able to reach unprecedented numbers with nothing near the marketing budgets required only 15 years earlier. As restrictions to the mass market began to drop, so start-ups and other enterprises began to grow.
Traditional televisual marketing worked on a very simple premise. Draw people to a TV screen and you can charge handsomely for people to advertise. The challenge then for the networks and studios was to keep people glued to their screens. Their success was dependant on their ability to continually create content. Social media televisual marketing capitalises on its own success. With many platforms allowing any and everybody to create and curate the sheer amount of content means that social media is a proverbial well that does not run dry.
This has not gone unnoticed by vendors and service providers. A marketing department that previously could not afford mass media exposure now only has to stretch its to the price of Interent data bundles. And though a whole industry has arisen out of the great demand for social media marketing, many businesses still conduct their own campaigns. The ease of access to this market is the first selling point. With many people already using a social media platform of some kind it is not unknown territory. And though content has to be created specifically for the business, it requires no highly specialised skills. Accounts are opened at a younger age and therefore by the time companies take on staff they are well versed in the basics of social media networking.
Another major advantage is the price point. With most social networks charging no fee for an account the barriers are virtually non-existent. Considering smartphones too now come at lower prices than ever before, it is easy to see why pricing is not a major pain point for businesses. Furthermore, boosting posts on many social media platforms can start from as low as a dollar a day.
The low cost for businesses to get onto social media likewise applies to their clientele. And that perhaps is the greatest pro of social media. The uptake has been so incredible in many places there are more people on social media than not. The sheer numbers of active users on platforms like Twitter far exceeds any figures previously boasted by traditional media outlets.
Yet, with these numbers social media has an even greater advantage over even the traditional media companies that had large audiences: customer segmentation. With traditional media the numbers can often be deceptive. Of the hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of viewers and readers reached, there was no way of ensuring only your desired demographic was reached. Men’s products were aired to children. Adverts targeted at new mothers found their way in front of retirees. By offering users the ability to track and analyse metrics social media allows businesses to place their adverts in front of the people they think will pay for them. Businesses have moved from a grenade approach to sniper attacks. Picking off their targets with increased precision.
Zambian-based social media manager Grace Kubikisha noted these benefits. “Social media allows business to not only stay in touch with clients in a real and engaging manner, but also to strategically target a specific and relevant audience. It also allows business to stay relevant in a rapidly changing, highly diverse community. Traditional media, such as billboards, does not have this advantage. Plus, social media costs a lot less, virtually nothing and that cuts the marketing budget to minimal.”
Social media not only makes it easier for businesses to reach clients but for clients to reach businesses. The channels for giving feedback are much easier on social media. And many businesses, rather than seeking to limit the lines of communication have activitely embraced it and incorporated it into their own marketing strategies. Platforms to offer feedback are being opened up now more than ever. Customer relations are evolving into customer relationships.
The ease of communication between potential clients has also increased. Whereas word of mouth was mainly limited to people within two or three degrees of separation, product reviews can be read by virtually anyone sharing a social media platform.
Grace saw this as another key factor. “The engagement between client and business opens new territory to have a more open relationship where business owners can easily identify client needs and understand their purchasing patterns. The engagement is authentic, which means that they will talk about your business to others and those others are organically generated leads. It’s like word of mouth, but with a much greater and wider reach at no monetary cost to the client.”
The use of mentions and hashtags allows companies to get free exposure from impartial ‘advertisers.’ Unsolicited reviews from fellow customers carry more weight. And a well-crafted social media campaign that goes viral can push profits through the roof.
One way to ensure a campaign goes viral is through the use of media influencers. Influencers are social media users with sizeable followings and whose opinions carry a lot of weight with their followers. A recent report by influencermarketing.com predicted that this year alone will see more than 25 million ‘influencer posts’ on Instagram alone. Translating into just under $2 billion.
The advantages of jumping on the social media train far outweigh the potential drawbacks. That more and more businesses in Zambia and beyond continue to make use of social media platforms indicates this has not been lost on them. Previously inaccessible markets have now opened up to many small businesses. What may have been started as a business with only a local market in mind is now at the doorway of a whole new world of opportunity.