We are living in an age where every man and his dog has a soapbox to voice their options, thoughts and mindless rants! So, it is no wonder that the world of business is so fascinated and petrified in equal measures about the impact that social media can have on their bottom line.
There is a perception, from some, that commercial businesses have no place in social media – I completely disagree with this – the web & social media as we know it has been shaped by business. The internet has gone through a number of phases in its short life already…in the very beginning the internet was the sole domain of the IT Geek…
a place to post bios, share ideas and options and discuss what was important (sound familiar?).
After the decommission of NSFNET in the mid-90s the internet became open to commercialisation; brands and business placing their billboard sites online. As content developed, the internet’s reach expanded and it rapidly grew beyond the IT Department and into schools, colleges, offices and our homes. From here ecommerce, after a small wobble, has become the norm and is expected of all brands, not as a ‘nice-to-have’, but a ‘must-have’. And now we have come full circle to social media – people posting their bios, sharing ideas and options and discussing what is important to them.
In many cases people are talking about the brands they buy and the services they use. This type of social interaction has been driven by the consumer and was embraced much quicker by them, than by businesses. Marketers are understandably wary about jumping on the bandwagon and participating in these conversations, and there are many examples of where they have got it totally wrong.
The challenge that marketers face is to find the most relevant way of engaging customers/potential customers and drive them to a particular action. Social networks offer a number of ‘clever’ ways to reach consumers and spread your message, however, before doing this it’s vital that you understand how your brand is perceived.
Are you seen as a brand of interest or a brand of purpose?
Knowing this will help you to understand the tone and type of communication you use to drive your audience into action. A brand of interest would seem to have the easier task – consumers are drawn to the brand due to a connection with their personal beliefs – this can cover a number of things – the ethical nature of a brand, a charity or even a lifestyle/aspirational product. Consumers want to be seen to be associated with the brand and will happily promote and discuss the issues surrounding it. The level of advocacy for brands of interest is very high, information is freely and willingly passed on to others in their network. So, as a form of broadcasting it can be beneficial to be of interest to your customers. However, it is more troublesome to be overly commercial with this type of audience.
Brands of Purpose have the opposite challenge, the audience is not interested in conversations around the business/products. It is a more transactional relationship. The majority of fans of brands on Facebook follow them because they want special offers, discounts or exclusive content. For brands of purpose the message needs to be simple and clear – there is no need for expensive ‘’viral’’ campaigns to drive revenue from social media – more an awareness of who and where your audience are and an appealing campaign – this is traditional marketing. The only difference is the channel has changed.
Yes, conversations will occur on customer service or product reliability and it is important that the business responses to these in a prompt and professional manner. For many customers social media has become their outlet for discussing poor service/products from a business. The opportunity for all brands is to identify and resolve these issues via social media to improve brand reputation, by turning a negative into a positive. By engaging the disgruntled customer and responding to their complaint you can turn them from a detractor into an ambassador. For brands of purpose this is vital – the number of ambassadors in this area is low, so when the opportunity arises it must be taken. There are numerous social monitoring tools available on the market (eC-social) that will allow the business to react in a timely fashion.
As social becomes increasingly mainstream marketers need to be able to manage a consistent message to the customer via multiple channels. The term multi-channel is one that gets quoted a lot as a key strategy for communications. However, this is just the first step! To a greater or lesser degree all businesses are ‘multi-channel’, all are able to broadcast messages via different channels (both offline & online). In certain cases, there is a need to improve the quality of engagement to a specific channel, but the real focus needs to be on the customer, not the channel. To gain the ability to engage a customer, with a consistent message across multiple channels, cross-channel marketing is where businesses need to focus. Individuals are not loyal to a channel, they will choose to interact with you when and how best suits them. This shift in control is scary for many businesses. Consumers expect to be heard and answered regardless of the method they choose to engage with. This, in particular for social media, presents some real challenges – not at least the gathering and management of all this customer information.
So social media can and should play a large part in any business’ marketing mix. It needs to be embraced by the entire business. It should not be feared , just better understood.
Being able to listen, react and engage with the vast amount of customer data generated in social media (and all types of media) is the key – burying your head in the sand will not make the problem/conversations go away, it will only present your competition with a greater opportunity to engage with your customers. The wonderful thing with social media is that you can hear their feedback – if you get it wrong you have the opportunity to make up for that mistake, which can have a significantly more positive effect on your brand image.
Once you have listened and understood what your customers are asking for, present them with the relevant message to meet that need. Don’t try and preach to the converted – the consumers ask the questions and brands now need to supply the answers.