It seems only a year or so ago, if you had a web page that you kept on top of, and maybe a blog, you were staying on the sharp cutting edge of marketing technology. Today, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so many other social media beacons being transformed into business tools, you might be wondering if you, too, should be tapping, tweeting and filming away.
On the plus side, social media can bring you new prospects and give you an approachable, youth-friendly identity. But if your ridership demographics don't presently match those of social-media users, is it all for naught? Not necessarily — but you have to consider your needs, capabilities and goals carefully.
According to PewInternet.org, about 79% of American adults used the Internet in 2009, and a full 46% of them use a social networking site like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn. Though they're not as heavy users as their younger counterparts, Baby Boomers are one of the fastest-growing segments of social-media users, according to tracker InsideFacebook.com Some experts have dubbed them the "silver tsunami."
Can social media work to promote your brand? Ask Baby Boomer Barack Obama — or at least the people who managed his campaign. During his candidacy, he was at one point the top user of Twitter and had five million friends on social media outlets. The advertising revenues from his YouTube videos alone was $46 million. Many pundits attributed part of his victory to the energizing of the youth vote through the Internet. The other side has a big presence as well. As of June 1, Newt Gingrich had about 50,000 Facebook "likers" and 1.3 million "followers," the most among conservatives on Twitter according to one list. And chances are, they're not all kids.
Of course, just because politicians tweet doesn't mean you should too. For every powerhouse personality or brand, there are dozens more languishing in a much lonelier world.
If you do decide you want a social-media presence, there's a lot to think about. Though it oftentimes looks trivial, especially to those bombarded with messages about what their friends ate for lunch, social media requires a significant commitment. Having a blog or Facebook page you never look at or update is possibly even worse than having an outdated web page, because the social media sphere is a two-way street. If you have customers who are dissatisfied with you or your services, they can let you — and the public — know in a very public way. And if you're not there to respond or at least manage the response, you may learn the meaning of "going viral" in a very negative way.
On the other hand, if you can set yourself up as a knowledge leader, perhaps on travel in your region or green transportation, you may be able to leverage your web presence (activity in travel forums, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, links from your Facebook page, etc.) into some real business.
Twitter, which limits messages to 140 characters, can be a great way to blast specials, last-minute tour availability and other messages with great immediacy — and often right to customers' handheld wireless devices — i.e., iPhones and the like. But will your customer base be tuning in? According to Pew Internet research published in October, people 65 and over make up only 4 percent of Twitter users. Users aged 50 to 64 account for another 9 percent. The biggest user group is 18- to 29-year-olds. But it’s currently the medium generating the most buzz, with more people of every age joining every day. And being an early adaptor (relatively speaking) could put you in the position of being a leader.
Doshdosh.com relates one of Twitter's primary benefits as the ability to develop "a casual persona [that] establishes you as a social personality that is connected and approachable." Doshdosh also likes Twitter for its ability to help businesses with feedback generation, hiring, directing traffic, gaining prospects through Twittersearch, offering live coverage of events, and staying on top of news.
With more than 103 million U.S.-based users, Facebook is still the gorilla of social media — and it's still growing fast. Of all adults who use social-networking sites, 78% have a Facebook account. The demographic breakdown of social network sites in general is not as aggressively young as Twitter: In 2005 about 26% of U.S. users were 45 or older.
According to InsideFacebook.com, the fastest-growing user segment in 2009 was women over 55. Istrategylabs.com says the over-55 demographic grew 922.7% from January 2009 to January 2010. As of January 2010, nearly 10% of Facebook users were 55 or older, and 29% were 35 to 54. According to the Neilson 2010 Media Fact Sheet, Facebook is the third-most visited site by users 65 and older.
Successful Facebook pages tend to be actively maintained, with timely status updates, photos, contact information and other content. If you already have permission to send info to your customers' email addresses, you can send invitations to either "friend" you or "like" you as a fan. Your friends and fans will then usually see your content as you publish it. You can delete inappropriate posts by your fans and friends, but that doesn't mean they haven't been seen before the damage is done.
U.S. Internet users watched 32.4 billion videos in January. The video-sharing service can be a great spot to showcase your products, whether they be tours or vehicles, and there’s plenty of Google power behind users’ keyword searches. Like other sites, you can allow user comments, so potential passengers can praise — or pan — your video (tread carefully). Another potential downside? While watching your YouTube presentation, a customer may see your competitors' videos under the "related video" column currently on the right-hand side of the page. And they may see advertising from your competitors as well.
In sum, social media can be a powerful tool — if you can get anyone to pay attention. It also offers a more dynamic sense of interaction than the average website, which is usually a good thing, but not always. If you really want to control your message, you might consider simply advertising on the social media so you can more safely drive traffic to your website.
Still interested in delving into the world of social media? There's no shortage of information on the Internet, including helpful advertising and usage guidelines from the social-media sites themselves. Your friends await you.
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