I will happily admit that I was sceptical about how social media could benefit organisations, but having now done some ‘research’ through observation (aka going on Facebook during work hours), I believe that it is worthwhile for every organisation, big or small, to at least consider a social media plan—even if that plan becomes to ignore it.
Like it or loathe it, social media is here to stay. All of the little icons that surround you on the Web and even in ‘real life’, asking you to ‘Like’, ‘Follow’, ‘Find’ or even ‘Friend’ them herald new ways of connecting to customers, engaging with them, and fostering their loyalty.
If your brand has consumers who are active online, you can’t afford not to have a social media strategy. Imagine what would happen to your brand if your organisation was being heavily criticised in social media and you were completely oblivious to it. Worse still, imagine the media caught wind of it, and the first you heard about it was a call from a journalist asking you for comment.
You can have all the centrally controlled brand guidelines you like, and even a robust communications plan, but with the interconnectedness of the Internet, control of a brand’s image lies squarely in the hands (or more specifically, at the fingertips) of the consumer.
Still, even if this makes it sound like you should be all over social media yesterday, it’s not a decision that should be made lightly; your personal Facebook page might get scant attention, but you can’t afford to go into social media less than wholeheartedly. Here are a few of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly things about having a social media presence that you need to take into account when making your decision.
Negative word of mouth can spread like a virus
It used to be that if we had a bad experience with a company, we’d make a phone call to complain, or go into a store and ask to ‘speak to the manager’, or write a letter of complaint. Customer service was semi-private. It was a 1:1 interaction between the customer and the company.
Nowadays, a complaint online can spread like a virus, through the network of friends, and friends of friends.
On Facebook recently, a friend of mine commented on a post made by another woman—a complaint directed to the page of a national baby retail chain, outlining her dissatisfaction at the service that she received at a particular store. The owner of the original post had 120 Facebook friends, all of whom had an opportunity to see her complaint. My friend, having commented on her post, has now shared it with her network of 525 Facebook friends, which spurred their contributions. The reach of this post grows exponentially with each share. By the time a representative from the baby store had seen this post, there were countless accounts of poor service and dissatisfaction—both at the same store, as well as others around the country—and the group had unanimously decided to boycott their stores—to vote with their wallets, as one person described it. Whether they follow through or not is almost irrelevant; the ability to control the situation and provide any level of damage control and customer service has passed. The meek reply of “please call us to discuss further” just added fuel to the fire, and the barrage of replies is not pretty.
It may just break you
Social media is not just for big companies and big brands. Local businesses can also harness the power of social media. Many hairdressers, electricians or cafés can be found on Facebook, helping people to find and connect with them. However, the downsides associated with social media apply as equally to them as to the big players, if not more so.
On a community discussion board a few months ago, there was much anticipation around the grand opening of the new local pizza shop. The first review that was posted after its opening was not flattering. In that week, another 4 people visited, and their negative reviews shared. With no one from the store present on the forum to respond, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the store may not exist for much longer. In this instance, it’s hard to deliver on any form of customer service if you aren’t aware that there is an issue.
You need to be there when your customers need you
For some, the traditional Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm business hours just don’t work. Using social media, service can be provided at the time of need. Having had no luck trawling through a supplier’s ‘Help’ pages on a software issue, one of our staff took to Twitter late one night to contact the company, who replied within the hour with an answer. This turned a potentially frustrating situation into one that was resolved quickly. Our staff member’s smiley-face-filled thank you Tweet was visible to all and sundry.
Of course, this can have a downside too—it means you need to be unfailing in monitoring your account. As mentioned before, social media is not something that you can just jump straight into and expect to be easy.
Be strategic about how you build your community of brand advocates
Building and maintaining a relationship with like-minded people who are supporters of your brand is invaluable—but you need to know how you’re going to do it. Some organisations are great at creating this space using sites such as Pinterest, providing a rich source of curated information and inspiration for their consumers who have similar tastes and interests.
Other organisations have done this well on Facebook, using it as a voice for their brand. The most popular Facebook page for a brand is that for Bubble O’ Bill—an ice cream!—with over 1.2 million ‘Likes’. The page features quirky provides updates from Bill, and fans send in pictures of themselves with their ice creams. Maybe that won’t work for your organisation—but it’s certainly working for Bill!
Set objectives for your social media interactions
What do you want to achieve by engaging your customers through social media channels? Brand awareness? Lead generation? Sales? Knowing what you want out of it will help you to work out how to get there—and maybe even adapt your Sales model to fit.
This week, I will be involved in my first online demo being run through Facebook. I was invited by a friend to join the event, which will involve a sales rep for an eco home products brand to demonstrate the benefits of the products in a conversational and personal way. I find this approach interesting as I trust my friend and share similar values to her, so am more receptive to what this company has to say. Until last night, I had no idea the company even existed—or that I had a need for eco products around my home! If nothing else, it will be an interesting social media experiment for me.
Should I get social?
Before you decide you’re going to be social, do some homework or ask an expert. Some thought starters:
- How does social media fit within your overall brand strategy? Your corporate strategy?
- Is there a fit with the product or service you are selling?
- Will it work for the type of customer you attract? What about for the customers you aspire to attract?
- Which sites will you use? How will you use them? Will you only promote your brand? Will you link to other sites?
- Who will be responsible for checking the account/s? How often?
- What protocols will you set for how to reply to queries, particularly how to deal with complaints? Will you need to set standards for how quickly to reply to queries?
Your customers may already be leveraging social media. You need to choose whether to join them.
The savvy will recognise the growing trend in this communication and networking phenomenon and find ways that suit their organisation, to deliver the best levels of service to their customers, and foster the best relationships with their brand.