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Neil Perkin 

Social Media: Maximise your business's potential

Neil PerkinsNeil Perkin, founder of Only Dead Fish, gives "ten very practical reasons why content producers of all kinds should be putting social at the centre of what they do"...

With the news that Facebook has just overtaken Google to become the most popular site in the US, twitter passing it's ten billionth tweet, and Foursquare announcing new analytic features for business users alongside a tie-up with Starbucks to create a whole new kind of customer rewards scheme, we've seen some interesting social technology milestones passed in the last few days. At this year's SXSW, Twitter announced a new service called @anywhere that allows site owners easy access to twitter functionality, with all its inherent real-time interactivity, without sending people to or going via API's and third party applications.

So the socialisation of all media streams marches on. And yet, (with some notable exceptions) many content owners have some way to go to maximise the potential that social technology has for their business. Social technology tends to attract much pontification so here are ten very practical reasons why content producers of all kinds should be putting social at the centre of what they do:

1. It drives reach. Better than that, it drives engaged reach.  People don't fill in profile information, or become a fan, or follow you, unless they like what you do. The Guardian Tech twitter stream now has 1.6 million followers who like what they do.  That drives some serious traffic back to The Guardian site.  The sharing of content around networks facilitates new forms of content discovery to a broader audience through one of the most powerful forms of marketing - word of mouth.

2. Not all traffic is equal. Users who arrive via search are more likely to be looking for a specific piece of information. Once they find it they'll likely leave. Search is extremely useful but it should be complemented by social since the latter is focused around users who are already engaged, or are likely to be engaged, in what you are doing. Engaged users interact more, spend more time with you, buy more, come back often. If someone likes what you do they are more likely to click on your banners, follow your affiliate links and (dareisayit), pay for your content or the service you are offering.

3. It creates a platform. Developing a community around your content facilitates continuous interaction, customer advocacy, the enabling of data driven solutions and a ready audience for your promotions, offers, samples.

4. SEO. More people sharing your content means more people linking to your content, which has clear SEO benefit. A good comment stream can add search-engine-friendly 'weight' to an article.

5. User insight. Consumer insight is the name of everyone's game right now. If it isn't it should be. Many online content owners know surprisingly little about exactly who is visiting their site. The socialisation of content enables a rich level of user understanding. The more you know about your users, the more you can effectively target them, the higher yield you can command, the more you move away from a commoditised view of your users.

6. An entirely new kind of development model. Social technology enables a continuous and invaluable feedback loop from your core customers. Show that you are listening, and taking action on that feedback and your users will feel involved, respected, and more inclined to come back. Some of the most interesting business and product development models now involve customers in unprecedented ways.

7. It enables differentiation. The internet is a does medium. It's not for passive consumption, it's about interaction. So thinking of your audience in terms of their level and type of engagement and interaction immediately leads you to think differently about your content, and about the value you are delivering.

8. Growing advertiser focus. Just about every forecast you look at is predicting continued advertiser interest and growing spend in social media. Forrester has forecast that Social Media investment will grow at the highest CAGR of any digital ad type (higher than mobile, search, display, e-mail). Small wonder it's been such a topic of discussion amongst the ad planning community in recent years.

9. Editorial benefits. Social functionality enhances user experience and site content. Real-time feedback, the ability to optimise, interact, react, and new ways to tell stories, campaign, and crowdsource expertise, all bring new dimensions to traditional media practice (just look at The Guardian's approach to MP's expenses, or what happened with Trafigura)

10. Your audience are already there. If you only remember one reason from this list, remember this one. At the recent 4A's conference in the US, Vivaki's Rishad Tobaccowala told agencies that they cannot allow their clients to fall behind their customers like they have done. I'd say the same could be said for many content producers. He suggests that benchmarking against our consumers makes as much if not more sense than benchmarking against our competitors.

Like digital before it, social technologies require a particular mind-set. If that sounds arrogant, I don't mean it to. But I do believe one thing: that the only way to truly understand the nuances of how social technology and digital community really work is to get stuck in and be a part of it yourself.

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