the Birddog Blog
According to Nielsen, the total minutes spent on Facebook alone increased nearly 700% year-over-year, growing from 1.7 billion minutes in April 2008 to 13.9 billion in April 2009.
Friday 27th August, 2010
But what about brands? How can brands use Social Channels effectively? In the new world order, instead of pushing our message at an audience, we are expected to allow the audience to make up their own minds, be selective about what information they choose to adopt and trust that they will spread our message within their own network of peers. What about the loss of control over subject and message? For some brands, the thought of effectively handing the majority of their PR to their customers has been, and still is, a daunting prospect. What if they say the wrong thing, what if they damage the brand?
The social web is different. It’s no longer a channel controlled by website owners – as it was way, way back in the dark ages of 1999. It’s now a two way medium, with site owners providing us, the audience, with the tools by which to connect, share, and voice our thoughts and opinions. The success of these sites is largely driven not just by the functionality they offer the users, but by the PR they achieve. But the PR coverage no longer comes exclusively from press releases and magazine adverts. It comes from us, the audience using them, becoming their advocates, singing their praises (or not) both online, and in day-to-day conversation.
Building a successful brand online, and then protecting it and your brand values isn’t just a case of having a nice shiny website with RSS feeds, a Facebook page, or a Twitter alias. It’s a combination of all of these things, the appropriate use of the channels and relevant context.
Before embarking on a Social Media strategy:
What are you hoping to achieve from social Media? If you’re looking to use it as a direct sales tool, forget it.
Do you have the skills in-house to develop, launch and manage these channels? If not, consider appointing outside expertise.
Are any of your competitors using social channels, and what are they using them for? What can you learn from them?
Social Media isn’t ‘free’ (just like PR isn’t free). Yes, setting up a simple Facebook or Twitter account costs nothing more than a few minutes of your time, but it’s how you develop these channels in terms of functionality, management and marketing (seeding, incentives, fan engagement) which takes time and costs money – sometimes a considerable investment.
Are you comfortable with your employees engaging with whatever social channels you choose to launch and advocate? There are varying levels of anonymity to most areas of social media, providing people with a means by which to have a gripe without giving away their true identity.
Is your internal PR team, or your PR agency social media savvy? Do they know how to react correctly to whatever is said on any of the social channels?
Are you committed to your social strategy, as a long-term investment, not a quick thing you can pick up and put down as you see fit?
Creating presences in relevant platforms:
When you can answer the questions above (and a few more questions along the way) the next step is to choose your channels. Sounds simple right? Well, not really. This is the most important part of your strategy. Using the appropriate channels for your brand will make or break your strategy so it’s vital to choose the right ones. Relevancy is key – think about your audience, your customers, where are they in the digital space? If you’re not sure, ask them!
Do this right and you’ll reap the rewards. Get it wrong and you’ll either waste time and money, or end up upsetting your audience. Or a combination of the two.
What to include?
Of course, it’s important to ensure your messaging is consistent – after all, it’s your brand, but it’s also important to ensue that your tone of voice is relevant to the channel. Come across too corporate on certain channels and you’ll discourage people from engaging with you.
By using social media as a means to engage with your audience, you can build a relationship with them, a good rapport. It’s a small step to turn customer conversation into customer advocacy of your brand. Whether you’re engaging with your audience through social channels or not, people will be talking about you. It’s better to be engaged and influencing the conversation than not at all.
Social Media in a B2B context:
Social Media, as a tool in B2B, can be broken into three core areas:
Conversation - Channels such as Twitter fall under the conversation category. These channels are a continual stream of real-time chatter that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Conversation channels are fast becoming the first source of information for people seeking up-to-the-minute information on anything current.
Community – Facebook is the best example here. Whilst Facebook is a ‘social utility’, to most users, their space in Facebook is their own online community, made up of friends, relatives and associates. Online communities are built through trust and relationships, and provide both users and advertisers with powerful communication tools.
Networking – Networking sites provide users with the ability to do exactly that, network. LinkedIn is a great example of a networking site, giving its users the ability to get introduced to people they want to know, through utilising existing relationships. Networking sites are a powerful tool in today’s business world.
Of course there are other ways of using social media, however, understanding the above will ensure that you use social channels effectively and in a way that is relevant.
What to say?
The main thing to remember with all social media is that the conversation is continuous. Just because you log off at 5:30pm, doesn’t mean the conversation ends until 9am the following morning when you log back on.
The web is 24/7. As we’re going home in the UK, people in the US are going in to work. Conversations that have been created by a predominantly UK audience will continue through the night with people around the world, so it’s important as a brand to understand how these conversations can develop, and the repercussions if something were to go awry.
How to ensure you’re saying the right thing:
Listen. See what people are saying about your brand, where they’re saying it and to whom.
Get involved – join Facebook groups, follow conversations on Twitter, slowly begin to engage with these groups and conversations.
Be responsive. If people are asking questions, be prepared to answer them, help them and guide them in the right direction.
Don’t try the hard sell approach on social channels. Ever. People won’t like you for it. They will probably also tell you they don’t like it. And all their followers/friends.
When it all goes wrong!
There is a flipside to the good and wonder that is Social Media. It can also severely damage a brand. As a brand, you can no-longer control what others say online. How you react to what has been said online will therefore determine a good or bad final outcome.
Things to remember with social media:
You can’t control what people say about you online, but you can ensure you’re engaging with these people, and have the tools and knowledge to best to engage with them.
There is no room for spin with social media, if you try and manipulate the truth; chances are you will get found out. Transparency is key.
It’s not all about you. A big part of your success lies in how much and how well you interact and share with others in the social space. This can range from quoting and referencing other brands’ articles, linking to useful resources (other than your own), or commenting in a positive manner to something someone has written.
The majority of social media engagement takes time and effort. It’s not something that can simply be bought (such as banner advertising). It’s all about creating awareness, creating your unique space and building your reputation.
Just because a channel exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your brand.
Attention, Interest, Desire, Action/Advocacy. That’s the thing to remember with social media, it’s not a direct sales tool. You don’t necessarily want your audience to perform an action. You do however want them to become your advocates.
Social media isn’t merely something you can do as and when it suits you. So spread the load. Consider your corporate social media policy and allow others to establish, join or maintain the conversation. This can range from your employees and customers to your competitors. Ensuring your brand is well protected is about being aware of the conversations happening – even if you’re merely listening. But the best protection will come from the network itself. Brand advocates will do the protection and the promotion. Look after them.