Over the past five years social media has risen through the ranks from a relatively novel and light-hearted way to keep in touch with friends and family to a serious and highly regarded marketing channel that can potentially catapult your brand, company, product or service to new heights.

Although it’s still considered a relatively ‘newish’ concept, social media marketing in South Africa is a rapidly growing trend that simply can’t be ignored. Locally, the main platforms are Facebook, Twitter, MXit, YouTube, Linkedin, Blogger, Wordpress, Posterous and Tumblr. Of these, Facebook and Twitter are undoubtedly the biggest and best examples. Twitter has a strong B2B focus and acts as a medium for sharing information instantly and in real time, while Facebook is more ‘social’ and B2C focused, allowing people to ‘like’ and ‘share’ content they enjoy.

Most good online marketing strategies incorporate Facebook and Twitter because together they effectively:

  • Target both B2B and B2C audiences
  • Enhance a company’s online reputation and brand awareness
  • Reach new target audiences who might not have known about a company before
  • Allow companies to communicate more directly with their clients
  • Keep track of what is being said about a company online and respond immediately
  • Engage with customers on a more ‘human’, personal, dynamic and interactive level
  • Develop an online identity for a company and its products or services
  • Increase website traffic

Current stats speak for themselves and as of March this year over 3.8 million South Africans have a Facebook profile, that’s approximately 80% of internet users, each averaging 50 minutes a day on the site. One would have to be living under a rock not to see the marketing potential. As for Twitter, it has around 1 million local users (up from 90,000 in January 2010) and South African tweeps are tweeting approximately 1.5 million tweets per month. In fact, according to Sysomos, a Canadian research company, South Africa recently hit the 10th spot of the world’s top Twitter countries. And you thought social media marketing was lagging behind in our country?

Nevertheless, the truth is that many companies are hesitant to lay themselves out for fear of public criticism. Publicity, you see, works both ways. It can either be hugely positive or hugely damaging and it’s the latter that requires careful cleaning up after. For this reason, if a company chooses to run a social media campaign, it is vital that they have someone who can effectively and efficiently manage and monitor their sites and online reputation.

It might seem like a hassle, but the benefits that this type of marketing can bring far outweigh the time and trouble it takes to set up.

As with most marketing strategies, you need to remember that each business or brand has different needs and targets, and what works for one might not necessarily work for the other. There are, however, a number of local companies that have successfully incorporated social media into their overall marketing strategy. These include Yuppiechef, GetSmarter and WebAfrica.These companies get top marks for (amongst other things):

  • Generating a large and loyal following on their social network pages and successfully increasing their brand awareness
  • Interacting with followers both en masse and individually
  • Providing interesting and relevant content and information that their followers enjoy and want to share with others
  • Responding quickly to customer queries and knowing how to handle both positive and negative comments and publicity

If you haven’t yet jumped on board the social media wagon, then it’s definitely something you should consider, as a well-planned strategy has the potential to drive you to the front of your game…

...It is, however, a long term, full time commitment and studies have shown that it can take 2-3 years to develop a full social media strategy. This is why it’s important that the company you hire to manage it has the relevant expertise and experience to help ensure you get the results you desire.