The face of communications has changed dynamically in less than a decade — Twitter is just seven years old and Facebook a more mature nine years.
But it is undeniable that corporate messaging and branding has been slower to evolve, particularly in utilising this new world technology to understand customer loyalties and bond them closer. Social media is more than just cute animal videos, ‘likes’ and aimless twittering — it can propagate a revolution as it did during the Arab Spring.
Certainly for a younger generation, life is now lived out second by second on the internet through a stream of thoughts, activities, photographs and more. And for businesses, it is naïve not to recognise the immediate impact social media can have on brands, products and sales.
It is a given that everyone, every organisation and every brand has to have a Facebook page, from the Queen of England through to your local coffee shop. But the investment needed to reap commercial rewards goes beyond just registering on the site.
Issues that need to be addressed include the scope of resources available to support a virtual 24x7 communication platform, ranging from staff to man the site and brand ambassadors with access to the creative input that will deliver consistently relevant, compelling and authentic content.
The lure is tantalising — social media provides that perfect vehicle to increase sales, brand awareness and engagement. But effective use of the media requires recognition of a basic fact, that to be successful your message should be about your customer rather than just about your product to avoid perpetual presentation of a predominantly advertising message.
In order to get your fans to really like your page feeds, you must engage them in the right way to ensure they become marketers for you. And make it easy.
Nearly everyone is connected now, and it’s easy to see what people are saying about a particular brand; the good and the bad with user-generated content and interaction is only a click away.
One bonus for any company using social media is the opportunity to assess what customers are saying and thinking, giving an opportunity to bring those findings back to the brand.
For example, if they tend to be passionate about a particular sport or event, create content that intrigues their interest, gives relevant information and brings them back to your site.
If customers are music fans, create content that is music related even if your product or service has nothing to do with downloads or concerts. You can mine that theme, reap viral sharing and make associations that are not obviously commercial but will build brand recognition and engagement in a positive fashion.
A second priority is to give your customers a forum where they can share opinions both good and bad.
For some corporations, courting bad publicity seems counter-intuitive given the fact that these views can be accessed by all and sundry, but surely it is better to discover faults in this way rather than have customers complaining on their personal, privacy-protected Facebook profiles, leaving you helpless to reach out and rectify the situation.
Moving on from that premise, it should be a priority to integrate social media in to your customer service operations.
Neglecting social media when they are full of customer complaints is suicide for any brand. It is akin to publishing a customer service hotline phone number that no one ever answers — or possibly worse as anyone accessing the Internet can see your negligence.
But don’t open up the floor for complaints without a plan to handle them. Predict the complaints you may get and construct policies for replying to them.
You should also plan on responding to fans who compliment you. At the very least, you should thank customers for the compliment.
And if you really want to make customers happy, show them your appreciation with coupons or other rewards. All of which is possible only if a company starts by activating its existing customer base before moving on to acquire new fans.
Moving on, the next stage could be to reward social media influencers,perhaps by giving advance notice of a special promotion or even tangible benefits such as a free tour of your shop or facilities. The aim is to make them feel special, part of an exclusive brand club to which others might aspire.
Also consider using voice applications to let the brand’s spokesperson actually speak to fans, a real voice that can be heard above the crowd.
Humanise your brand social media experience, after all, it’s only social that you do so.
CREDIT: The writer is a US based brand advisor.