A CEO recently told me he had an inkling he needed to get his brands on ‘some of those social media things’ but that he had no idea where to start, or whether social media marketing worked.
In contrast, Andrew Alamango of Etnika fame sold out two nights of Café Brazil jazz last autumn using Facebook as the primary means of marketing the event. Historic house museum Palazzo Falson, which has been on Facebook only a month, says it ‘could not resist the irony of having an ancient house with a strong presence on the most happening social network site’. It appears that those with little or no marketing budget are more inclined to investigate, and invest time in social media channels than potentially more cash-rich businesses.
But social media is nothing new. From internet’s earliest days, we’ve had chat, forums, message boards and virtual worlds. Today, blogs, podcasts, social networks, photo- and video-sharing sites, RSS (really simple syndication) and more, all fall within its scope. We now talk to each other by posting on a Facebook wall, uploading a video on YouTube and ‘Twittering’ about our every move. Even websites’ pre-eminence is being whittled away. Search engines pick up well-tagged blogs rather than website urls. Your homepage is now wherever someone lands when they search for you.
Little of this has, until now, interested business, particularly local business in Malta. But, when Dell has a senior Vice-President Communities & Conversations, you know that social media is moving up a gear and becoming more mainstream as a business tool. Today, any entity used to mediating and controlling its publics will have to face this paradigm shift and engage in online conversations if it is to stay relevant to its audiences.
But social media for business is not without a learning curve. There are some basics to get right, if you want to join the conversations and gain.
Get closer to your clients
Social media is about understanding customer nature, and nurturing it. Consumers today prefer to read and listen to opinions about products and services from fellow consumers and their peers. If you are going to use social media, don’t interrupt their natural conversations with corporate spin and one-way marketing messages. You need to foster a valued, trusted, authentic voice to get heard in the babble.
Listen to some home truths
On social media, your customers tell it to you straight. Dell discovered from its Twitter presence that people thought its customer support centre was abysmal. It took measures to improve the service based on the customer gripes it picked up on Facebook comments. Better to know than not know.
In a recession, social media becomes more important simply because barriers to entering it are zero. It costs nothing to set up and manage a Facebook page or to Twitter; only your time. You can monitor return on investment though, as social media has readily-available metrics. Start low-key and learn what works.
Engage with purpose
Find people who are passionate about social media within your organisation. Let your social media-savvy employees do their bit on your behalf, but as themselves. Palazzo Falson has two staff members with responsibility for its Facebook page, and, according to the curator, they are doing a great job.
Enter social media conversations wisely
Ryan Air heard disgruntled customers moaning about it on Twitter, and entered the fray publicly on the medium giving all customers a cocky brush off. Within an hour, the Ryan Air ‘Tweets’ had been pulled, probably by a senior executive who thought a junior’s hasty responses ill advised. Social media is about immediacy, but think before you post or tweet.
Don’t socialise everywhere
Your goal should be to fish where your fish are. You don’t have to touch each conversation, but you need to be having one or two, because whether your business realises or not, it’s on social media already. Your name is being bandied about as any Google search will show you.
Lastly…see your customers as your allies, not just as people to sell to. They are your real brand value, so value their online conversations about you and with you.