Why change what has always worked for me?
Photo by: mbeo
Change is hard. Change is harder for some than for others. Many professionals, particularly those who have been in business for more than a few years, debate the value of a web presence. They have grown accustomed to having business walk through the door based on word-of-mouth referrals alone.
Unfortunately, the method by which referrals may be delivered is changing, and failing to adapt will result in being left behind and seeing that hard won reputation and word-of-mouth stream of business dwindle to nothing.
Why? Because word-of-mouth is now synonymous with social media marketing. Of course, people still give referrals to their friends and family members during conversations, but rather than digging through a pile of papers to find something with your phone number on it, most people today prefer to simply give a name or a web address. We have all probably heard someone say they are going to "Google" something, meaning they would perform a web search looking for a particular term. And, that is how many professionals today are getting the majority of their business, even if referred by someone.
The Power of a Web Presence
Even if you simply rely on word-of-mouth marketing, the person receiving the referral will absolutely want to learn more about you and your business before meeting you. And, I guarantee they are going to turn to the Internet first.
Imagine John gives Susan a referral to his old friend Stock Broker Steve. Susan may trust John's recommendation, but will want to know more about Stock Broker Steve. She'll take a look at his web presence to see if he looks successful, and even check to see if Stock Broker Steve has a social media presence and what others are saying about him.
Without those things, Susan may have doubts about Stock Broker Steve and his firm, even if he has been at it for a number of years, because his lack of an online presence might be misinterpreted as a lack of experience or prominence in the professional community. In fact, with so little information available outside of John's referral, Susan is much more likely to pick one of Stock Broker Steve's competitors because she can learn about them and develop a sense of comfort about their practice even before she has met them face-to-face.
Social Media Is The Heart Of Word-Of-Mouth Online
Okay, so you understand the importance of having a website to provide information about yourself and your business to potential clients, but what is all the talk about social media? Is it really that important? Absolutely!
One term you will likely hear a lot of when working with your web presence is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO is work you perform on your website so search engines will rank it higher in search results. Search engines use complicated algorithms to predict which search results will be most relevant to someone, and spit out a list of results based on that prediction.
A key element search engines use to determine relevance is one's social media presence. If you or your website is being discussed by people on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you are likely to appear higher in search results because the search engines predict your site is being searched for due to that chatter. Being higher in the search results means more people are likely to see and click on the link to your page, which in turn can mean more business.
Indeed, the social media sites themselves have become a major means of both searching for and gathering information about businesses. Social media pages often serve as secondary websites for many companies, and provide a much more direct and active means of communicating with a company's clients. Social media allows others to post and discuss your company right on your page, allows for direct emails, and gives you a platform to post recent articles and announcements that can be seen by millions of users and potential clients.
In today's modern, connected age social media is synonymous with word-of-mouth. When someone checks in at their favorite restaurant, for instance, everyone they are friends with can see that and might think "ooh, that sounds good!" Better yet, that same diner might take a picture of their dinner before they eat it to show all their friends how amazing his meal looks, and really get his friends thinking about eating at that restaurant.
Or, if someone brags about the newest gadget or service they received, their friends may ask them for more information or it may get them thinking about getting it for themselves. Social networks literally cause your customers do the marketing for you. So, just as one needs to practice SEO to improve a website's visibility, one also has to have a solid plan for social media optimization (sometimes called SMO) to leverage the full power of social networks, as well.
Big Returns On Your Investment
As you can see, having a web presence and, more importantly, having a solid social media presence are crucial to remaining relevant and continuing to generate business, even by word-of-mouth. As a result, it is, hands down, the most important piece of any marketing plan, and should be considered as basic as hanging up a sign outside your business to let people know where you are.
Of course, some overlook web marketing and jump right to more traditional forms of advertising like billboards, direct mail, and radio and television ads. These can all be quite expensive and have a stated success rate of only single digit interest per impression. A well-designed website and corresponding social media presence, on the other hand, is going to provide you with a significantly higher return on your investment, particularly with the way that social media can take on a life of its own as your customers talk about you among themselves!
While the old ways are sometimes the best ways, change is inevitable. The way people are generating business is changing, and even though word-of-mouth referrals may still come through the door, they are destined to dwindle over time if one does not have a web presence. A strong web site is the first piece of that equation, but a solid social media presence, fresh content, and direct interaction with potential clients are also key. In fact, social media has become the way word-of-mouth marketing works in the modern age. And, websites and social media are by far one of the best investments and provide the highest rates of return of any form of modern marketing. So, what are you waiting for?