It seems that everyone is getting involved in social media - even David Cameron has a LinkedIn page. In fact, visiting social media sites is now the fourth most popular online activity – ahead of even personal email.
But, how can businesses ensure that they’re not just jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of getting involved and instead ensure that they maximise the opportunities that social media give them? We look at the best practice business should be aiming for when trying to effectively engage their customers through social media.
Unlike traditional marketing, social media is not about just broadcasting information to the masses: it’s a twoway conversation that has the key aim of engagement with customers and stakeholders. As research proves that 78% of people trust recommendations from peers, if a business can engage positively with the right people then that gives opportunities to grow their customer base.
Like any worthwhile business activity, to use social media well requires a well thought out strategy. Social media channels are like all other communications channels, such as events or newspapers. So, the same principles of more ‘traditional’ communications strategy still apply. What audience are you trying to reach, with what message and what action, response or sentiment do you want to evoke? Understanding the answers to these questions combined with a thorough appraisal of what the competition is doing will help to formulate a strategy. To provide some context and understand how social media can help an organisation, it’s always worth looking at what the competition is doing before scoping out a social media strategy. What are they doing well, what’s not working
and how are consumers or stakeholders responding? Rob Harris, Principal Lecturer Marketing and Enterprise at the University of Wolverhampton, comments: “The businesses that are making the most of social media channels understand exactly what they want it do for them – whether that’s loyalty building, supporting customer service or establishing expertise on a particular subject. That’s because they have spent time at the outset to develop a robust strategy that fits with their overall communications plan. “The most important thing is not to ignore these communications channels altogether – some businesses may have dismissed these channels when they were in their infancy, but the scope and opportunities that they present are changing and evolving on a daily basis so it’s worth evaluating the opportunities on a regular basis.”
Once something is posted online, it’s not always possible to remove it. To prevent a potential PR disaster, businesses and organisations should set out clear guidelines on social media – these should state which staff will be able to update each network and the frequency, as well as giving guidance on what the tone and content of their page should be. Rob Harris continues: “Once a page or profile is set up it is key that businesses remember not to use it as a forum for hard-selling as this will just discourage people from following or engaging with them. As a rough guideline, every commercial message should be balanced with seven or eight non-commercial messages. It’s also important that social media channels aren’t neglected – this is a medium that needs constant attention and any lapse is very visible and can send out the wrong message to the audience the business is trying to reach.”
There are several main social networks, and each enables a business to reach out in different ways:
The microblogging site Twitter has rapidly grown in popularity since its inception in 2006 and now hosts more than three million tweets per day. It is ideal for engaging with both consumers and businesses and allows users to read, write and share updates of up to 140 characters. Twitter is used well by companies such as Virgin Media and Chiltern Railways as a fast-response helpdesk. It enables customers to easily get in touch with a customer service team who can then quickly respond to their enquiry.
Those businesses that are getting the most out of Facebook realise it’s about creating a loyal ‘community’ of customers that are passionate about their brand. For example, brands such as Gap offer exclusive discounts on their Facebook page that encourage this loyalty.
Billed as the network for professionals, LinkedIn offers the opportunity for businesses to set up company pages and prompt discussion between groups of like-minded individuals, usually operating within a similar field.
Rob Harris explains: “Those getting the most out of LinkedIn are leading the way in contributing to and setting up groups. This can be a useful way to network, build contacts and learn about developments in your sector.”