by Clive Young.
New York--Social networking has taken the world by storm over the last few years with no sign of letting up. While it was originally aimed at helping people interact online, increasingly social media has become a promotional tool, used by industries and businesses, including Pro Audio, to develop "relationships" of a sort with existing clients and potential customers.
According to Nielsen Online, the amount of time spent in the US on social media sites has climbed 83 percent from a year ago: in April, people spent 13.9 billion minutes on Facebook, 4.9 billion minutes on MySpace and 300 million minutes on Twitter.
With numbers like those, it's clear that merely having a website is no longer enough to ensure a company is reaching its customers. At the same time, however, for service-oriented businesses like live sound providers, recording studios and pro audio dealers, tangible results are hard to measure, particularly because much of what constitutes social networking feels like "social not-working." Much of that process essentially boils down to hanging out online--opining on topics sometimes far removed from pro audio, passing along web links of interest and so forth--in order to engage clients.
Numerous audio pros who use Facebook and other services were interviewed for this article; while few had gained business that could be specifically traced to social networking, they unanimously felt it was a good way to maintain contact with pre-existing customers.
"It's the most direct form of effective marketing I've yet come across," said Paul Henry of Minneapolis audio dealer Paul Henry Pro Audio (@ph_pa on Twitter). "The combination of Facebook and Twitter allows the client to stay in his 'comfort zone;' I notice that a high percentage prefer to correspond via those outlets over the option of conventional email or phone."
The need to have a presence in the social networking arena becomes obvious once a company jumps in. Nick Corsi, marketing coordinator/sound engineer for live sound provider Raven Sound (Erie, PA), recently started a company account on Twitter, a micro-blogging service where users post 140-character messages ("Tweets") to their followers.
Within three weeks, Raven Sound amassed 280-plus followers, but Corsi's main focus is on Facebook: "We have not seen any direct business from Twitter; however, it hasn't been coupled yet with any buttressing initiatives to promote a specific product or program.... A significant number of our clients use Facebook for the special events they plan--which we produce. I was a little apprehensive about using Facebook initially, but given the significant number of existing events and organizations are already on there, I believe it has a good opportunity to boost awareness and action in the local arena for small to medium production and small storefront rental."
Since MySpace has always positioned itself as a networking tool for bands, it's not surprising that much of the pro audio world interacts there, too. UK-based recording engineer David Pye (@davidpye on Twitter) noted, "I get a good percentage of my work through MySpace now, whether it's finding bands there, bands finding me, or simply using it as a form of communication. It seems like it's the most direct way to get work in the music industry, as far as social networking goes."
The catch is that it only goes so far. While all interviewed for this article believe social networking is essential moving forward, each noted that "word of mouth" remains the top advertising medium, and that the internet is merely one tool among many.
"You get out, go to charitable events, hand out cards, work the blogs, work the social networking boards and find new business," said Don Lanier of Wood River, IL-based Pearl Pro Audio (pearlproaudio.com). "Word of mouth and recommendations from other customers are gold, so making sure they know your name, website and Facebook page is important. Communications has changed and typical advertising is good, but social networking is my favorite tool; I spend time making sure I have articles and blog updates, and I'm very big on Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, and forums on the Internet."
Every company has to decide how much time and effort it wants to apply to social networking, but just as tricky a decision is where to put that effort. MySpace may have been used 4.9 billion minutes in April, but that was down a third from 7.2 billion a year ago. Similarly, Nielsen also reports that 60 percent of Twitter users stop tweeting after just one month, while only 30 percent of users quit Facebook and MySpace.
Having large numbers of followers means nothing, of course, if one has nothing to say--it's the quality of conversation that makes a company worth tracking. Social media experts suggest that companies should avoid incessant self-promotion, and include posts about their industries overall, as well as provide tips and advice, since the key is to engage followers. While that may feel like killing time instead of working, it gives a company personality and a human face, and it sends up a signal flare that it is present and available in a venue where its customers are active.
"Social media is all about sharing information and, so far, it's been awesome for us," said Kevin Jacoby, CEO of Rain Recording and Rain Computers (@rainrecording on Twitter), which builds audio and video workstations. "We've learned more about our customers and use these tools, including Twitter, to better communicate with them both on a large scale and as individuals. Today's consumers are very savvy and want to know that their investment is secure, not only in the product they buy, but also in the company behind it. Showing our face in the digital landscape is a big step; it means we're not afraid to talk to individual customers, accept the criticism along with the praise, and show the world that we're committed to staying in touch."
To stay in touch, companies have to go where their customers are, and these days, everyone's on social media sites. Case in point: All interviews for this article were done via email, and all but one interviewee were found and contacted via social network sites, making the clear case that readers of Pro Sound News (@prosoundnews on Twitter) are using these media. If our clients (i.e. readers) are there, it's a safe bet that your clients are there, too.