The history of social media is littered with case studies big and small, of companies that have misread their audience, overestimated their brand loyalty, or locked horns with their customers over their right to voice their feedback.
The failure of brands to recognise that transparency and brand authenticity are the cornerstones of social media will always result in a lose-lose for their reputation. Conversely, those companies that engage in open and authentic dialogue with their customers have seen big wins in social media, from increased brand awareness, to massively enhanced audience reach and the recruitment of loyal brand advocates.
Social media is either framed as a fad, a business revolution or a new marketing arm no one can afford to ignore. Whilst we can safely say it isn’t a fad, the truth about social media is that it is in fact part of the evolution of the connected consumer, and is therefore forcing companies to investigate how ‘social’ can integrate and extend existing efforts.
There are real fears in leaping into an environment where one angry blogger can outshout an entire marketing budget; where consumers favour transparency; and where informed purchasing decisions have seen a transformation from the home to the high street and beyond. As we continue to build social layers into business, companies are often forced through trial and error, to learn the Do’s and Don’ts of social media. The challenge for marketing staff, and any company thought-leader is how to explain an entirely different way of communicating your business. This discussion often results in stony-faced responses from boardroom oldhats. However the opportunity exists to equip and prepare for executing a social media strategy the right way.
A perfect place to begin is to observe how the best amongst your competitors are doing it, and to seek professional help. The right practitioner will prescribe an authentic and personable company voice, an examination of your audience and the creation of S.M.A.R.T. goals for your social media activity. Companies will have far more success if they are mindful of social media boundaries. Starting with the list below will help your brand get off the starting blocks the right way and avoid social media burnout, or failure:
– DO begin with an end in mind. Your return on investment possibilities with social media depends 100 per cent on your objectives. Your objective may be to increase brand awareness or brand recognition, to enhance your reputation locally or to catch-up and surpass a competitor. Discuss this first.
– DO be aware of your audience. Your existing customer base has certain behaviours and patterns which you are already familiar with. Find out how these translate online. Find out where your customers are interacting and discuss why you are not also there!
– DO be where your customers expect you to be. Facebook may have the lion’s share of active users in Australia and globally, but they are also waiting for you on Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube, for example. Make educated guesses on where your brand can provide value.
– DO “Grow bigger ears.” You wouldn’t invest in television advertising for your business if you had never seen a TV ad yourself. Social media will fail if you are unaware of the behaviour of your future audience. Begin by understanding the what, why, when and where of content creation and content sharing (credit to prominent blogger Chris Brogan www.chrisbrogan.com for coining the phrase).
– DO investigate content strategy. Creating engaging content is the key component of social media engagement. Take note of optimal relevancy and optimal frequency for all of your content to reach your maximum potential audience and stay a step ahead of the competition.
– DO consider the customer service channel on social media. Airlines use of Twitter is a great example of the wins to be had from setting up a strong customer service and support presence online. You can reduce resolution time, increase complaint resolution rate and get suggestions from your customers whilst winning over more fans.
– DO look out for opportunities in the geolocation space. Tools like Foursquare are currently the home for passionate earlyadopters of ‘checking-in’ and there are wins to be had here. Offer incentives and create another outpost to your social media presence. We will reach a tipping point where connected consumers check-in en masse to locations, giving brands valuable data about their audience.
– DO set up employee guidelines on how to behave online when representing or speaking as the companies. Coaching employees about the opportunity to help their colleagues, contribute ideas and add to social media discussions can transform your workforce and demonstrate transparency.
– DON’T broadcast product or brand messages at the expense of real engagement. A key component of social media is sharing. If your brand is providing little or no value in your social media activity your fans and followers will leave in droves.
– DON’T treat all of your audience the same. Your customer’s behaviour and loyalty to your brand is in constant flux. Successful brands analyse and segment their audience and identify those who are really passionate about the brand.
– DON’T ignore comments, likes, retweets and any action from a consumer which shows a vote in confidence in your brand. A fan who continually engages with you often translates to a real life advocate for your products and service.
– DON’T jump on the newest and greatest social media tool without knowing why. You wouldn’t leave your shop front window empty and dusty in a busy high street for months. Brands that abandon their social media accounts are effectively putting up an ‘out of business’ sign to all new customers. Choose the right tools and get expert advice on which objectives they will help your business achieve, and stick with it.
– DON’T ignore customer expectation. Social media presents a different challenge to companies that are slow to respond to feedback or complaints. Customers post open feedback to social media networks with the expectation someone is listening and will help. Don’t be caught out as problems can be quickly amplified.
– DON’T leave Social Media in isolation in your business activity. Businesses will benefit from an expansion of social media activity beyond the marketing department. Embrace social as an integral part of the business and look out for opportunities to increase engagement and share content via internal social media tools like Yammer, internal blogs or enterprise wide solutions like Google Apps.
For those companies that are looking to catch-up or improve their efforts, the only requirement for social media is that the business is ready to operate in this new environment. The next stage of social media is that it will become more pervasive and will continue to influence consumer behaviour, namely through the proliferation of smart phones and geo-location technology. The key message coming from marketers is that businesses need to adapt in order to survive.
Michael Roach is a technology practitioner and long-time social media advocate. Michael has worked as company director for a UK social media consultancy and is a former Digital Producer at a prominent digital communications firm in Manchester, UK. Michael has codeveloped the Social Media Business Boosters franchise opportunity and currently trains the franchise network establishing successful social media businesses.
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