We are increasingly seeing companies and marketing agencies looking at ways of leveraging social media for themselves or their clients. A lot of companies are looking at, and asking questions about:
- How to monitor the conversation
- How to measure results
- How to avoid bad publicity
- What tools to use (how, what, why, when, where).
There is also a lot of confusion out there. They all know they should be ‘doing something with social media’, a few dabble with it if it doesn’t cost them anything – like ‘being on Twitter’. But few are prepared to spend money on a properly planned out, strategically integrated social media presence – which of course is what they really need to do if they want to successfully engage with social media. I know – its the economy. That’s fine – we’re all in the same boat. In the meantime though, companies looking at social media need to understand one thing – every company’s social media requirement will be different – there are no ‘off-the-shelf’ answers – you are always going to need a solution that is customized to your own particular needs.
That said, there are five fundamentals of social media for business that will apply to almost any company, and of any size. Companies – if you focus your thoughts on these fundamentals as they apply to your own situation, when you are ready to seek the expertise of an outside expert, or hire one in-house, your customized solution will be all the more easy to implement.
1) You need to know who your ideal customer is
Who are they, what are the key aspects about your product or service are they interested in, what online media do they use to find out about it. I’ve talked about this before – David Meerman Scott is a useful source on understanding what he calls ‘buyer personas’. I have plugged his book, ‘World Wide Rave‘, several times before and I make no apologies for doing so again here. This is such an important point that it deserves to be No. 1 in our list of 5 fundamentals to social engagement. You cannot even begin with social media until you understand this:
“By truly understanding the market problems that your products or services solve for your buyer personas, you transform your marketing from mere product-specific, egocentric gobbledygook that only you understand and care about into valuable information people are eager to consume and that they use to make the choice to do business with your organization.”
2) You need to open up – humanize your company
Letting your potential customers & clients get to know who you are, what you do, what motivates you, why they should come to you and not the other guy is another fundamental of any social media plan. It is likely that the two primary tools for achieving that goal are the company blog, and video (your YouTube channel). If ever there were two tools that I would argue every company should use, it is these two. Here is one example of a very simple, easy to do, video introduction I came across just this week, which I think is very effective in putting a human face on a small company – http://www.youtube.com/user/MarComPros#play/all/uploads-all/0/guyVDY8qg4Q – very simple, under 2 minutes, but instantly makes them much more approachable.
People like to do business with people they know, or at least know something about and are comfortable with – they like to business with people, not companies, and especially not corporations. For larger organizations and corporations, you don’t need to let people know all your staff, just introduce your bloggers and relevant personnel (see 4). “It’s about people, not logos” as Jason Baer so rightly said in his post on ‘maximizing your company’s social reach‘ today. You don’t even have to give their full name if they are uncomfortable with being publicly profiled – just their first name will do, as long as it is done honestly. Which leads us to point
3) You need to be honest
Social media is about engagement – if you can’t do it openly and honestly then don’t do it at all – you will be caught out, ‘named and shamed’, (as us Brits say), and publicly so! Laura & Jim’s folksy blog called ‘Wal-Marting Across America,’ is a classic case of dishonest blogging being ‘outed’. Supposedly written by two ordinary ‘fans of Wal-mart’, the blog turned out to be funded by Wal-Mart. Needless to say, Wal-mart’s perceived dishonesty got far more attention than professional writer, Laura & professional photographer Jim’s gushings about how fabulous Wal-Mart is.
Another good example was also the huge backlash against 3M following the “3M Carjacks the Post-It Note Jaguar” story (that David Meerman Scott also highlights in his book). You definitely do not want this happening to you. But it is not only about being authentic, it is also about being responsive. You need to be monitoring what people are saying about you and your products and be prepared to answer any concerns people have quickly and honestly. It is your reputation – manage it carefully – it can disappear very quickly if you don’t, or you try to ignore it. When it comes to social media ‘honesty’ is not only the ‘best’ policy – it is the only policy.
4) It is your story – it needs to come from you
There has been some debate as to whether a company’s social media should be done in-house or whether it can be done by an outside marketing agency or PR firm. Ultimately, it is YOUR story, it needs to come from YOU – that is to say someone who is a company employee and who knows the company and its products or services inside out. Who you chose to tell that story will be determined by what it is that your ideal customer is most interested in engaging with you about – that could be product developers, to customer service managers, to the company CEO – it depends on the particular situation. A good article to read on this subject is Jeramiah Owyang’s post – 3 Ways Companies Let Employees Participate in the Social Web.
However, that is not to say that a marketing agency or PR writer cannot write on the company’s behalf (they can certainly be vital contributors in terms of strategy). But, if you do go down that route, I would suggest that not only should this be made very clear to the audience (see 3, Honesty), but also that the writer him/herself, needs to physically engage with the necessary personnel at the company, at least on a weekly basis, if any element of authenticity in your company’s story is to reach your audience. It is still YOUR story – you need to own it – you are the one who will ultimately have to answer the feedback that arises from it.
5) Be service orientated, not sales orientated.
I think this fifth point really struck home to me after I saw Dell’s Digital Media Manager, Lionel Menchaca’s presentation at the recent BlogWell Conference. There has been a lot of back and forth over the question of measurability and Return on Investment (ROI) over the last few months, but the fundamental paradigm behind social media is that people will come to you because they are interested in what you have to offer – what has been dubbed ‘inbound’ marketing. That is never going to happen if you use social media from a sales mindset. That sales mindset is the primary reason that the old methods of ‘push’ or ‘outbound’ marketing are being universally blocked and rejected, and why the trend in marketing is heading towards the alternatives of ‘inbound’ or ‘pull’ marketing to help companies reconnect to their customers. (Eg. ‘Gap dumps TV ads for Facebook campaign‘) ‘Pull’ marketing, I would argue, can only work from a customer service orientated mindset – it won’t work from a sales mindset. However, as Dell has been finding, if you engage people honestly and from a service-minded viewpoint, people will naturally want to do business with you. Just don’t make that extra business the sole benchmark by which you measure the success of your social media. Dell doesn’t even factor it into their thinking. As we have quoted before, Lionel Menchaca’s view is:
“I frankly don’t care that we’ve done $3 million in revenue through Twitter – but I do care that Stephanie Nelson is out there answering questions and engaging with customers.”
Obviously revenue is being generated through social media, and obviously it is measurable – even if it isn’t necessarily the focus. If it works for Dell it can work for you.
I hope this post helps those companies looking for answers for adopting social media successfully. I am sure others will have views on other aspects of social media they think equally fundamental, and I am more than happy to see them expressed in the comments section. To companies, I would say we have the expertise to help you define the right solution for your particular needs, and have the tools that can help you plan and manage a successful social engagement. We are here to help – feel free to contact us today to discuss your needs.