Social Media and A Hosting Provider / Domain Registrar

When you don’t have a massive marketing budget you need to be careful how you spend what you have and try to find alternate methods to promote your business.

Promoting your business shouldn’t be just about the sale. Of course you need to make sales, but there are better ways to interact with people than just trying to sell people your products and services.

This is where “social media” comes into the picture.

“Social Media” for us as a company has gone from being almost an “afterthought” to being one of our more focussed online channels. It helps us provide customer service to our clients, while also helping to drive sales and get feedback on new product and service ideas.

Unfortunately there are a hell of a lot of “buzzwords” and inane claims being made by people about how social media can help companies. A couple of years ago everyone was told that they needed to have a blog, now they’re being told that Twitter and Facebook are the “one true way”.

Sure, there is some truth in it, but the reality is that a lot of people don’t really understand how it works and a lot of the people advising them are out for very short term benefit. (I’d love to know how many “social media” related businesses have sprung up over the last couple of years!)

For many companies they’d be better off ignoring Twitter and Facebook rather than setting up profiles across multiple social media networking site and services and not actually using them actively. This may seem to be counter-intuitive, but in reality it’s not.

You’ll have to excuse the analogy, but if you’re never going to answer the phone or make a phone call, would you continue paying line rental?

While a company that actively engages and adopts social media as part of its business processes can benefit (and I know we have), unless you are willing to really “dive in” it’s probably going to do you more harm than good.

So what has been our experience to date?

Bear in mind that some things we’ve done probably wouldn’t suit everyone, but I’ll share them anyway.

We have been actively engaging with the public via discussion forums, blogs and mailing lists since we first started out over 7 years ago. The “explosion” in social media hasn’t changed that. All that’s really changed is the media that we use.

I’ve posted some of the statistics of our usage etc., in the past, so let’s revisit them again.

Twitter can be a fun medium, though when things go wrong you need to be able to respond as quickly as possible. We have hooked both this blog and our status one into our Twitter account, so that all our blog posts, be they news or service related, get distributed to our Twitter followers. We have experimented with adding in other RSS sources, such as our forum, to our Twitter account, but the results weren’t favourable.

Apart from news, customer service stuff and technical service related messages, we’ve also used Twitter to run a variety of “silly” competitions and other promotions. We view them as “silly” and “fun” and based on the feedback we’ve had from clients they seem to get a “kick” out of them as well.

In terms of our follower count it has been growing, but I wouldn’t consider that to be the most valuable metric. When talking about social media you need to remember that the important thing is the “social” side of it. You need to interact!

Twitter Counter chart August 2010We do use the web interface sometimes, but generally speaking we use 3rd party services to read and respond.

As you can see the most popular client for us is Tweetdeck, which we use on both desktop machines and mobile phones (iPhone). The only thing to be wary of if you’re using a single client to handle multiple accounts is not mixing up the accounts! (We’ve all made that mistake in the past and it could be potentially embarassing!)

twitter client usageYou’ll also notice that we’re using Twitterfeed, which pulls in any RSS source you throw at it and Facebook. Anything we post on our Facebook wall gets automatically sent to Twitter as well.

We recently setup a custom branded URL shortener so you’ll see tweets from @blacknight and various members of our staff referencing blacknig.ht.

And since I mentioned branding….

If you’re tweeting for business then you need to do it separately from any personal account that you may have. You should also spend a bit of time customising the avatar and background to fit in with your company’s branding. We got our designer to do custom backgrounds for our main account and those of several staff members, so if you go to our accounts in a browser you’ll see our branding is retained.

Facebook is a slightly different beast.

We’ve been using it in pretty much the same way that we’ve been using Twitter, so it’s also being used to pull in posts from both blogs, as well as a channel to promote special offers and deal with customer service queries.

There is one notable downside to Facebook. There is no way to know if someone has posted on your “wall” unless you actually go there and check, so it’s very easy to miss time-sensitive queries. To help counter this we added our primary contact details to the sidebar.

But what about actual metrics?

Here’s a breakdown of our Facebook page:

Facebook InsightsThe page has grown in popularity steadily over the last year and you can clearly see that our audience is primarily male and Irish!

Making sense of Facebook stats isn’t that easy, as they use a lot of their own jargon, but “interactions” are pretty self-explanatory:

Facebook InteractionsWe tend to see spikes in activity if we run promotions or competitions

Over the past year we’ve run several promotions via Twitter and Facebook. While the uptake on them has been very good we’ve also been reminded more than once that not everyone is using them, so cross-posting coupon codes and other offers to our main blog or via our email newsletter has paid dividends. To that end we also setup a dedicated site just for our latest offers and coupon codes.

Going where our customers are (or could be) is essential, so we keep an active eye on discussion forums and mailing lists where people might be talking about us or the services that we offer. While there are several monitoring tools available Google Alerts works very well most of the time.  We also use Twitter’s search functions pretty heavily!

Another area that we’ve found helpful has been video. Using tools like Camtasia or iShowU it’s quite easy to put together tutorials and screencasts to help our clients make the most of our services. Admittedly we haven’t posted a new video in quite some time, but it’s on our ever growing todo list! And since we don’t like being overly constrained by 3rd party services we’ve been cross-posting our videos to multiple video sharing sites using a combination of blip.tv and TubeMogul.

So what if any advice can I / we give you?

I guess the sanest advice is as follows.

If you’re thinking of using social media to help your business then that is commendable. However if you’re going to do it setup a personal account first and see how people use (and abuse) the various media first. A common issue I’ve seen with businesses attempting to use social media is that they don’t understand how people use it, as they haven’t watched at all and simply dived in. If you take a bit of time to observe and learn you’ll probably gain a lot more.

There are an ever growing number of tools and services available to help people and businesses use social media and a lot of them either don’t cost anything or are incredibly cost-effective.

We intend to keep using social media to communicate and interact with our clientele as we feel that is working for us.

There are probably a lot of things we could be doing and things we might be able to do better, but we’re always willing to try new things!

In closing, though I started this off thinking about our experiences as a registrar and hosting provider I guess most of what we’ve done would apply to any company that offers services.. Maybe I should change the title?

Metrics pulled in from Facebook, Tweetstats and Twittercounter

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18 Responses to Social Media and A Hosting Provider / Domain Registrar

  1. Daragh Mc Grath August 29, 2010 at 23:00 #

    Excellent article Michele – a fantastic insight into how an organisation such as yours can really engage with clients (existing & prospective) to grow your business.
    Have already shared this to a few friends & colleagues and will no doubt be taking some inspiration from your post over the coming weeks & months.

  2. Michele Neylon August 29, 2010 at 23:31 #

    Daragh
    Thanks for the feedback!
    Michele

  3. James Larkin August 30, 2010 at 09:40 #

    I think it would be worth noting that social media is a HUGE drain on resources especially if you plan on doing it right and being interactive with the public and not just a ReTweeting machine. (especially if you’re a one or two person setup)
    People seem to get very annoyed if you don’t repond on every social media outlet almost immediately
    I also agree with the amount of “social media experts” that have sprung up and wonder how long all that can last … hence my old parody site http://www.donkeyfluff.com/
    The facebook non notification on message posts on your page wall as you said is one of my biggest pet peeves. Going back and checking every wall post simply isn’t an option past the last day or so of posts

  4. Darren August 30, 2010 at 11:39 #

    Interesting post, being a blacknight customer I really enjoy yous interacting with your customers. Makes me really enjoy having my sites hosted by blacknight. Its also reassuring to (sort of) have an idea of the kind of people who manage my hosting.
    More ontopic: Have yous noticed an increase in sales thanks to social media?

  5. Michele Neylon August 30, 2010 at 11:51 #

    James
    That’s part of the reason I’d suggest that companies don’t try unless they’re willing to actually commit.
    I’ve seen some of the backlash from people who expect almost instant responses and it gets ugly very fast.
    Michele

  6. Michele Neylon August 30, 2010 at 12:11 #

    Darren
    While it’s not that easy to track ALL sales we definitely can attribute quite a few sales to it 🙂
    Regards
    Michele

  7. Eoin Kennedy August 30, 2010 at 13:07 #

    Thanks Michelle for sharing you stats. One of the bigger problems has been pointing to good irish case studies. A lot of them are a really hard to find but there are a good number of companies doing quite nicely. George Lee interviewed some businesses in Arklow on saturday morning on Facebook usage. Expectedly most replied they did not have a computer but some nice quotes came from some small shops who reported that they get up to 150 euro a day based upon some Facebook posts (special offers etc). I think business could really benefit from the expansion of case studies rather than just the usual suspects!

  8. Jonathan Thomas August 30, 2010 at 16:52 #

    Great assessment of your social media efforts. Thanks for sharing this information. You guys do it very well – much better than certain other domain registrars whom shall remain nameless.

  9. Tom Doyle September 1, 2010 at 09:58 #

    That’s an excellent article Michele and great to see how well your social media campaign is working for you.
    The biggest problem I find with clients and trying to persuade them to work on their social media presence is the fact that it is very hard to quantify. You mention above that you can attribute sales to your social media campaign, but how exactly do you measure it.
    I see social media as just an extension of your “real world” networking – therefore, you really don’t know exactly how you made the sale. Ok, you can say that “that person only knows me through Twitter, so it must have come from there” – but the reality is that it’s not as simple as that. It comes down to what type of business you are in. If I need let’s say a solicitor, just because I find you quite knowledgeable and funny on Twitter, doesn’t mean I’ll do business with you. I’ll probably keep an eye on Twitter and other mediums as well as asking my existing network what they think of you before I even talk to you about doing business with you.
    So social networking is really about making sure you are visible and open for business. It’s a tough workload that takes time to see the fruits of your labour – but it will be worth it in the end.
    That’s easy for us who have been using forums etc for years to understand that we can generate business online in that way – but know it takes time.
    This overview of your social media campaign is something that every business should look at and use as a benchmark in terms of seeing how to run a successful social media campaign.
    Good job!!!
    I hope you don’t me using it as an example to our clients! 🙂

  10. Michele Neylon September 1, 2010 at 10:08 #

    Tom
    As I tried to make clear, the entire thing with social media isn’t purely about sales. It’s also about customer service and reputation. If you do a search for some well known brands / businesses (regardless of sector) on blogs, forums, Twitter and Facebook it becomes very clear which ones are doing a good job of managing their presence (and their perceived image) versus those who aren’t.
    If one or two people aren’t happy with a company’s services, which is inevitable, that’s one thing, but when you have hundreds or more people talking negatively about them, then it will impact their bottom line. We have found that people are a lot more understanding and forgiving if you are honest and transparent with them – which we have always tried to do.
    With respect to sales themselves – you can track specific coupon codes and tagged / shortened links. You can also see the “word of mouth” in action ..
    Of course tracking it 100% accurately all of the time is nigh on impossible. Some sales could be a combination of print exposure, ppc, seo, social media and $random stuff I haven’t even thought of.
    But the key is that people and businesses shouldn’t feel obliged to use social media unless they feel that is the “right fit” for them..
    Thanks for your comments
    Michele

  11. Leo Fogarty September 1, 2010 at 12:03 #

    Excellent article Michelle. I think if companies are looking at using social media, they should first see how many of their clients are using it. Most companies will have an email subscriber list. Just running this through facebook/twitter, they’ll be able to see what volume of their client base use social media and in what ratio twitter v facebook so they can devote their time accordingly.

  12. Luke Abbott September 2, 2010 at 21:15 #

    Excellent case study I might plug this on the radio tomorrow if I can.
    Luke

  13. Tom Doyle September 3, 2010 at 21:59 #

    Michele
    You made that very clear and I was backing up your point by trying to explain that social media is just another way of building your brand.
    For example, brand development is really hard to quantify in terms of sales – you just realise as you go along that the image you portray as a company is why people want to spend their money with you.
    This for me is the same as social media. The image you create by how you deal with support queries etc etc is all about your brands perception.
    Tom

  14. gmanireland September 3, 2010 at 22:53 #

    Love it, very interesting read. Fully agree with Social Media Experts ……
    Keep up the good work……
    Gman

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  17. Michael Leahy September 30, 2010 at 18:00 #

    It’s easy to track traffic from Twitter. It’s harder to know what to write. There really is a distinction to be made between banter and pushiness. I’m not going to follow people without some engagement. But I’m not going to subject myself to hard sales lines or inspirational quotes all the time either.
    Take your time to find your voice and the audience’s expectations.
    Twitter has been a sensational network building exercise for me on one of my accounts. I also use it gather info for one of the sites I run.

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