With so much information competing to grab consumers’ attention, businesses are increasingly turning to social media to connect with prospective clients more efficiently.
“Social media has really changed the way we communicate all over the place,” says Michael Rodriguez, assistant professor of marketing. “It’s not just something used to reach out to friends. It’s being used from a business-to-consumer perspective and a business-to-business perspective.”
He says that a single conversation on social media can replace numerous phone calls, emails and face-to-face meetings because it instantly reaches hundreds of people who are already interested in a company, product or service, making it easier for businesses to develop trust with consumers.
“What social media does is it makes an introduction and starts a conversation that is less intrusive” than traditional methods, Rodriguez says. “That trust in a normal sales cycle may take months if not years to develop. Social media breaks down those walls and obstacles of developing that relationship.”
Rodriguez, who teaches professional selling, principles of marketing and customer relationship management courses at Elon, says that despite the widespread use of social media, a lot of businesses still don’t know how to use it efficiently. They invest in it but don’t really have a blueprint of how to incorporate it in a marketing strategy. Rodriguez is trying to find solutions to that problem by looking at companies that do a good job of capturing information using customer relationship management (CRM) tools, the traditional technology used to organize, automate and synchronize business processes, as well as social media technology.
He says one sector that has used social media well is the real estate industry, which has been hurt by the vulnerable U.S. economy. His research suggests real estate businesses have successfully used social media tools to develop content that can be helpful to buyers and sellers, positioning themselves as experts in that market and gaining people’s trust as a result.
“Once you create content, you’re creating relationships,” he explains.
He says it is very easy for businesses to get excited about the possibilities of CRM and the social media phenomenon. But, he adds, it is important to remember that Facebook and Twitter are not replacements but rather an extension of traditional CRM activities. Accessing customer information, tracking sales activities and managing sales processes, he says, are still the foundation for building and managing costumer relationships. Social media simply adds a new dimension by allowing companies to record their interactions and conversations with clients.
Rodriguez says it’s important for businesses to be aware that technology can help them but also hinder their progress if they do not know how to use it. Likewise, he teaches his students to pay attention to the ways they use social media technology in their personal lives.
“It’s important that students are aware of what’s on their Facebook page, who are their friends and what they’re posting,” he says, adding that social media can be used not only to build a network of friends, but also foster professional relationships. “We want to make sure their social media presence, whether it is on Facebook or LinkedIn, is professional.”