Over the past couple of years we’ve really struggled to identify the place that social media has in our overall business strategy.  Common sense dictates that we should have a social objective but as an online supplier of computer consumables and office products it’s been difficult to create that buzz required for a successful interaction with both current and potential customers.


I often look on with envy when I see companies with ‘cool’ products that actively encourage user sharing and discussion.  As an example, over the summer my Facebook News Feed was inundated with people who had bought massive boxes of meat online and were actively uploading photo’s showing off the delicious goods they’d received.  Although dead animals have never been considered particularly engaging there’s something about a product like this which encourages someone to show it off to their friends.

Unfortunately I’ve come to learn that ink cartridges will never really elicit this desire in our customers; if anything it would take a rather odd person to take a picture of the cartridge they had just received and share it with the world.

The one company that gives me hope that one day we may crack this puzzle and make our boring product socially interesting is the blender manufacturer, Blendtec.  At the time of writing this article, their ‘will it blend’ YouTube channel has over 219 million views, they have over half a million subscribers and their Facebook page has 36,500 likes.  That’s some extreme social activity for a product which is ordinarily used for making soup.  Of course, the CEO doesn’t film himself blending vegetables but rather putting the blender to work chopping up a variety of products from Golf Balls to an Apple iPad.

Until I experience this eureka moment I have knocked together a list of points that are currently serving us well.  It is by no means comprehensive but represents my summary of our experience in trying to engage users in an industry that is typically considered boring:

YouTube and alternative Video Sharing Sites

-          Attempt to help people in your niche – Your niche doesn’t have to be interesting in order for it to engage the reader.  Chances are that whatever your industry, you know more than the layman so use that to your advantage.  Self-help videos are a fantastic way of increasing your authority in your industry along with attracting the attention of potential customers.  One of our most popular videos (100,000 views in a year) simply explains to the user the buttons they need to press on a specific range of Canon printers after refilling a cartridge in order to resume printing.  Although everybody in our industry would consider this common knowledge it would appear this is an inaccurate assumption. 
Feel free to also annotate the content of these videos and publish the material on your company blog as both traffic and link bait.

-          Review products in your industry as and when they are released – It’s a no brainer really; a customer looking for a review of a product is likely to be on the verge of buying it.  If you can get in there with a review then you are within touching distance of converting them in to a sale and potential future customer.

 

Facebook, Twitter and Google+

-          Don’t post the same content on every channel - Your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest accounts should all contain unique posts.  Not only will this serve to get users engaged over multiple channels but they will also feel a little less like you’re just spoon feeding them content.

-          Post Regularly – Nothing says that a company can’t be bothered like a social media page which hasn’t been updated for several months.  Not only does it discourage engagement but it might actively put a potential customer off the idea of buying from you if they check out your page before making the purchase.

-          Give away prizes – Although offering the user a chance to ‘like this page to be entered in to a competition’ is prohibited by Facebook’s terms and conditions, social media can be a fantastic way of building up excitement around your competition.  Announcing the existence of the competition on social media, providing updates and attempting to generate a buzz with pictures and status updates tend to naturally prompt liking and sharing.

-          Don’t automate posting – Although it’s tempting to automate the process of populating social channels very few users will want to subscribe to a feed that simply pings them whenever you update your website.  The trick is to make your post genuinely interesting rather than just saying ‘we’ve posted a new entry on our blog - click here to read it’

-          Provide Outstanding Service – Social Media can be a fantastic selling tool if users are able to see customers raving about the service you offer.  Unfortunately the flipside is that it can just as easily work against you; as recently as last night I was going to buy an item of furniture off a company but decided against it when I found their Facebook page littered with complaints.  If you do get a complaint then answer it in full; nothing stinks of a company that doesn’t care more than when a complaint is responded with ‘we’re looking in to this and will contact you by e-mail’


As mentioned, the above is a summary of my own experience in my particular niche.  Although unfortunately there isn’t a comprehensive list of pointers that will work well for all companies and industries, I’d be very much interested in hearing any tips that I may have missed that worked well for your business.