Social Media: What’s all the fuss about?

Tanya Hemphill is a senior lecturer, and programme leader in Public Relations, based at the Warrington School of Management (University of Chester).

Tanya Hemphill

In the first in a series of expert comment pieces Tanya delves into the social media phenomenon and give a basic overview of where to start and what to think about.

Social Media: What’s all the fuss about?

The business world is changing fast and at the forefront of the change is technology. One of today’s marketing buzzwords is ‘engagement’, which directly links to social media. However, a lot of business owners are wondering what all of the fuss is about and whether it actually delivers solid organisational benefits – particularly sales.

The world of social media is a potential minefield for the uninitiated and most business people have heard mixed reviews about the various channels available. It’s sometimes easy to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ when a marketing tool is free but this isn’t always the best route to take.

Stage One: Who’s your target audience?

The first stage of any marketing campaign is to consider your target audience. The majority of businesses skip this stage to jump straight into tactics, i.e. “Let’s set up a Facebook page because all of our competitors have one”. This is a major downfall for most social media campaigns.

A successful way to think about your target audience is by creating a customer persona (or several, depending on your business). This is essentially a summary of the main characteristics of a customer/ client. For example, a Laura Ashley ‘soft furnishing’ customer is:

Likely to be called Dorothy, she lives in the Home Counties and is a housewife.  Her husband has a disposable income of about £60,000 a year.  She is very house proud and socialises mostly through coffee mornings and dinner parties with her neighbours and other mothers from school.  She listens to Radio 2 and watches costume dramas and murder mysteries on the television.

What social media do you think ‘Dorothy’ is likely to use, if any? You might be surprised to learn about the demographics of certain channels…

Stage Two: Research social media platforms

Firstly, it’s worth setting the scene – according to OFCOM (August 2011), it took social media just four years to achieve 50% penetration of the UK population (in comparison, mobile phones took fifteen years to achieve this level of penetration).

It is easy to make assumptions, when it comes to social media usage. However, if you have a bit of time to do some research, it’s amazing how easy it is to access information that can be used for marketing planning. To speed up your decision making process, here are some key statistics:


Econsultancy research has found that Facebook accounts for 47.86% of all social networking traffic in theUK. There are more than 30m Facebook users in this country, reaching nearly half of the population (49.9%).

From a business perspective, in the last year Facebook has increased its downstream to online retail sites by 12%. On top of this, 33% of social network users agree that they trust what they read on sites such as Facebook.

Most people are surprised to learn that there is a fairly even split between the age and gender of users (source: Facebook Insights):

Men                              48.66%

Women                         51.34%

Age Demographics:

13 – 17 years old           13%

18 – 24 years old           24.5%

25 – 34 years old           25.5%

35 – 44 years old           17.5%

45+ years old                19.5%

According to ComScore (Feb 2013), the median age of a UK Facebook user is 37.5 years.

Interestingly, to continue our ‘Laura Ashley’ theme, they have a Facebook Fan Page which has more than 61,000 ‘Likes’ (


The second largestUKsocial media site is the Google-owned video sharing platform, YouTube. This website accounts for 24.84% of traffic to social network sites (source: Experian Hitwise, March 2013).

According to Google’s official blog, YouTube users upload more than 48 hours of video every minute and they have 3 billion views a day (50% more than last year). Although watching videos is mainly seen as an entertainment activity, don’t underestimate the business benefits this platform can bring. Video can help improve your search rankings (SEO) and increase ecommerce conversion rates.

Two examples of this can be found on Econsultancy’s website – equestrian sports supplier Ariat said that visits where a product video had been viewed showed a conversation rate 160% higher than visits without video views andU.S.shoe e-tailer Zappos found that sales increased by between 6% and 30% for items that included video product demonstrations.

Although these are both B2C companies, the biggest B2B success story from the use of video is Blendtec (the ‘will it blend?’ campaign). The company uploaded home-made product demonstration videos in 2006 and increased blender sales by 700% between 2006–2008.

YouTube’s user demographics can be found on ‘YouTube Insights for Audience’ and the majority ofUKusers are male (72.7%), aged 18-24 years old (40%).


Although Twitter has 10mUKusers, it only accounts for 1.63% of traffic to a social networking site (source: Econsultancy and Experian Hitwise). Like Facebook, the demographic spilt tends to be fairly even – 49% are Male and 51% are Female. Twitter users tend to be more well off than the rest of the population and use smartphone and tablet devices regularly (source: Ipsos Mori, July 2012). Age demographics are as follows:

15 – 24 years old           16%

25 – 34 years old           16%

35 – 44 years old           17%

45 – 54 years old           17%

55+ years old                34%

There are mixed reviews regarding sales conversion rates linked to Twitter activity. It seems to be a very good brand raising tool (and useful for positioning individuals as experts) but not everyone is convinced of its direct sales benefits. A number of small fashion consumer brands have seen a direct increase in sales when product photos and discounts have been promoted via the micro-blogging network and in the B2B arena Dell claimed that $6.5m of its sales were generated via Twitter.

According to a U.S.survey of small business owners, conducted by the Wall Street Journal and Vistage International, the social media networking site with the most potential is LinkedIn – gaining 41% of all votes. One user – Ken Lopez who runs a legal consulting firm – has used LinkedIn to increase traffic to his website more than ten-fold in a year. He’s using Twitter, but he explained to the Wall Street Journal that there’s a big difference between the ROI he receives from Twitter and LinkedIn. “We will tweet 10-plus times a day, and we will put roughly the same number of posts on LinkedIn per day, yet we get dramatically different results.”

Other Networks

Although we do not have the space to cover every social media platform available, the other key sites to note are: LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. They all have very different audience demographics, which can easily be found via online research. It’s also worth finding business case studies for each of these channels.

 Stage Three: What are your social media objectives?

Once you have matched your customer persona/s to targeted social media platforms you need to be clear on your social media objectives, which should directly align with your core business objectives. Social media tends to achieve three marketing goals:

  • Lead generation
  • Customer retention
  • Brand awareness

You also need to consider the 3 Ms of: Management, Monitoring and Measurement. Generally, marketers dedicate an average of 1 hour a day to social media activities and according to research by EML Wildfire (May 2012), the following business benefits have been experienced from the on-going use of social media:

31%      Customer engagement

30%      Loyalty

25%      Traffic to website

21%      Sales turnover (due to active use of social media)

Stage Four: Plan your campaign

Once you have decided what channels to use and have clear objectives, it’s time to consider your overall strategy and tactics. Example strategies include:

  • Generate product awareness with solicitors who deal with ligation cases
  • Generate product awareness with new mums
  • Increase lead conversions from the company website
  • Develop and promote content to help facilitate a prospects’ decision-making process
  • Reduce customer service calls by dealing with enquires via social media channels

Ideas for tactics should be gained from: researching case studies, attending a course or employing a digital/ PR consultant to help you.  Four key questions to ask yourself at this stage are:

  1. Does the tactical idea deliver on the strategy?
  2. How likely is the customer persona likely to respond to this tactic, compared to others?
  3. Does my business have the resources to implement this tactic (in-house or outsourced)?
  4. What are the critical success factors and main barriers to achieving these?

Stage Five: Evaluation

Many smaller businesses are interested in directly aligning their social media strategy with their sales funnel. Some of the core measurement metrics to do this are:

  Facebook  YouTube Twitter LinkedIn
Retention Rate 
Sales Volume per   Customer
Revenue per Customer
Customer service   Costs per Customer

The metrics you use should be directly linked to your social media objectives. If you want to clearly to see an ROI and monetised conversion rates associated with social media channels the best way to do this is by linking Google Analytics (free software)  to your website and setting up conversion goals. Further discussion on this topic needs a whole new article! However, you can visit for more information. If you are considering going down this route make sure that every social media campaign is tagged by using Google Analytics’ ‘URL Builder’.

Hopefully, this has given you a general overview of social media and how it can be utilised effectively to help generate leads, aid customer retention and build brand awareness. This article has only just scraped the surface of this topic – there are so many different aspects to social media and its uses that it is impossible to cover everything in a few pages.

Sometimes, businesses rush into using social media channels because they are free and easy to set up. Don’t fall into this trap because you can damage your reputation more by not understanding the characteristics of the medium being used. It is also a time-consuming marketing tool, so be sure it’s right for your business before rushing in.



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