Tim Youngman - how to use social media to grow your business

From time to time I am asked to present at conferences on topics on anything from the newspaper industry to digital to marketing and media. I like to think that I am asked because of the high quality of content and presentation style that enthrals my audiences, at least that's what I tell myself.

Next week I am hosting an event for the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce entitled 'Engaging customers – Using technology and social media to grow your business through content marketing and customer care'.

This expansive title will see speakers from local agencies to national brands such as Dell and King of Shaves share experiences of how they have used social media and technology to grow their businesses and businesses they work for.

As I was creating my introduction presentation it struck me how different customer engagement is from 10 years ago and even three and how much of that is down to speed of change.

If you are eating at a national chain restaurant and have an issue, how many people have not just complained to the local staff but also tweeted the chain to complain at the same time? How many people now use the airline's twitter feeds at airports as a more reliable source of information about delays and issues than the information boards?

Customer engagement however is much more than dealing with complaints.

Engaging with your customers to create and build customer loyalty is far more important to brands in the longer term.

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Understanding that consumers now have more complicated needs that include the desire to be recognised, share opinions and form groups around those opinions and interest all facilitated and grown by the rise of social media brings new challenges to businesses both big and small.

Some businesses have reacted to this by engaging with customers via social media, others by making their online presence more user friendly and others offering value-added in the form of useful content for their target consumers.

The really clever businesses of course do all of these things within an integrated strategy targeted at delivering growth through customer engagement and retention.

Many companies are already doing this and some are going further by rewarding customers who actively engage with them.

Tesco, for example, recently ran a trial where users could get double clubcard points when they liked, shared or bought products on its Facebook page. Likewise online retailer play.com is looking at how it can reward customers who promote it and its offers on social networks.

Of course, to any business there is a difference in value between simply sharing or consuming some of your content related to your product offering or following or liking you compared with actually parting with hard cash. The effect though is the same, that customers can and want to engage with brands and now can do so in more complex and instant ways that businesses need to understand and react to.

That pace of change is not going to slow down and will increase as customers push harder and businesses look to exploit new ways to engage and build loyalty and ultimately growth. Sharing experiences on how to exploit these new trends will become even more important so I suspect next week will be busy!

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him on twitter @timyoungman