Social media is usually treated as a marketing tool, a way to build a relationship with a market, maintain that relationship and make sure that it’s ready when we’ve got a product to sell. We use it to make sales, and we want to be sure that whether we’re pitching watercolor paintings or computer programming the time we invest in writing tweets and uploading photos to Facebook are hours that deliver a return. Otherwise, what’s the point? No one understands better than freelancers and small business owners that every hour has a price and that time spent on activities that don’t deliver a measurable return is time spent not earning.
But there’s more than one way of measuring the return on social media activity and more than one goal for a professional social media account. Sales delivered through social media are nice but they’re not the only reason to tweet, post and upload to Instagram.
Those multiple benefits are already known to large corporations. Raytheon, for example, is an aerospace and defense company that sells rockets and radar systems to government buyers. Nothing the firm writes on its Facebook page or its Twitter timelines is going to affect the chances that it will win a contract from the Department of Defense for a new air-to-ground missile system. Those sorts of decisions are influenced by prices and jobs, delivery schedules and capabilities, not sharp photography uploaded to a social media page.
And yet, on Raytheon’s website is a social media section that contains widgets for its Google+ account, its YouTube channel, its LinkedIn account, its two Facebook pages and its four Twitter timelines. Another page explains the firm’s “social media participation guidelines,” a set of rules for commenting on the company’s pages that even threatens to delete comments that aren’t relevant or respectful.
The company has clearly decided that social media is worth the effort and is investing time and money in keeping multiple platforms active and updated even though it knows that none of them will result in a single additional sale.
The reason becomes clear when you look at the topics of those timelines and the subjects the posts and tweets cover. Although the company does show photographs of its defense system on its Facebook page, most of its posts relate to recruitment. Readers are challenged with a “math mystery,” told about the opening of a new learning center at the University of Arizona, and shown pictures of students at the National Space Symposium.
Raytheon isn’t using social media to compete with other sellers pitching products to a market; it’s using social media to compete with other companies pitching their career openings at science graduates.
That approach might not result in more sales in the short term but if smart engineers move to Raytheon instead of choosing to build the latest mobile phone or write server software, the company will be able to continue generating sales in the long term.
And the strategy does produce measurable results that go beyond an impressive GPA among new recruits.
According to David Meerman Scott, an author and social media expert, Raytheon’s strategy can be described as “brand journalism.” Instead of hiring copywriters and marketing staff to promote the firm on social media, the company recruited journalists and editors, including Chris Hawley, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Associated Press. The result is that the stories the firm highlights on its Web page and its social media platforms are often picked up by the mainstream press and spread across the media. After attending the Association of the US Army annual conference last year, a major trade show for the defense industry, Raytheon chose to highlight just three stories rather than the 20 it had promoted in 2010. Traffic and exposure increased by as much as 451 percent over the 2010’s figures.
Even if you’re not looking to recruit more staff for your growing firm, you can still use social media to rustle up some mainstream publicity.
Comments In, Charity Out
You can also use it to win feedback on the development of your business. Elina Lorenz is an artist who sells her work on Etsy. Her pictures are posted on her personal Facebook page rather than on a dedicated business page, and while some of them are shown with prices, photos of others are simply uploaded as finished work and often posted to the page of the Society for All Artists.
The aim of these posts isn’t so much to generate new sales as to make the most of an opportunity to show off her work to her peers and win their feedback. It’s unlikely that Elina would be counting the responses and changing the style of her work but even if the compliments and comments have little effect on her output, they can deliver enough confidence to keep pitching, even at times when sales are low and the marketing is failing to make an impact.
And another valuable use of social media that is unlikely to deliver direct sales but is still worth doing is charitable work. Most of the posts placed on the Facebook page of the Roots Soap Company show off the small company’s soap and announce its new products. A few promote other related businesses, which presumably promote the soap firm in return, but scattered between the posts are occasional charitable appeals.
It’s possible that those appeals help to brand the company, show that it’s trying to give back and portray it as a positive firm that’s trying to do good. But it’s more likely that the company just wants to support a good cause and is using the audience it’s picked up on social media as a way to help.
Again, those appeals probably won’t sell more soap. But they could well push a little money in the direction of a charity — and that’s always worth doing on social media, even for a freelancer or a small business.