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Social Media — Not Just for Dummies
By: Ted Curtin
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It’s one of the greatest organizational challenges of the day. Across a variety of channels, businesses are scrambling to understand and harness the power, speed, and reach of social media. The proliferation of mobile devices from smartphones to tablets only serves to increase the level of urgency as businesses try to remain relevant and connected to their customers. But to be able to effectively harness the full potential of social media marketing, you must first understand the underlying premise. It’s social!

Facebook and Twitter are just two of the current channels that companies can use to engage and exchange with existing and potential customers alike. They offer a new level of market insight and customer interaction, essentially changing the balance of power between brands and consumers. Two significant issues that organizations face when trying to integrate social media into existing marketing communication initiatives are, first, understanding the democratized two-way flow of information that the consumer now controls, and secondly, that it’s okay!

Many companies, large and small, are already taking advantage of this opportunity to interact more meaningfully and more frequently with customers. In turn, customers, feel a stronger connection to the brands they love and are in fact helping to spread the message to their own networks. To effectively take advantage of these new channels of communication, you need some basic social media guidelines.

It’s both a good starting point and a smart ongoing strategy. If you’re just here to talk, you’ll quickly find that nobody’s paying attention to you. Look at successful organizations that are interacting and sharing. These are the ones people really cheer for, are attached to, and are even proud to be associated with — as a customer or fan. Big banking brands like Citi and airlines such as American Airlines are out in front listening and learning from valuable client conversations about themselves and even their competitors.

It’s not enough just to listen. There’s great intelligence and feedback to derive from listening, but this is a social medium and that involves interacting. Many brands are challenged by having to suddenly humanize an established brand identity. At the recent Social CRM conference in New York, American Airlines’ Jon Bird acknowledged the challenge that process presented. Considering the volume of transactions and possible touch points spanning a typical customer’s journey, the opportunity to be transparent and have a conversation was critical. In their mission to create advocates, and considering the inherent challenges within the nature of travel, they view incidents of service failure as an opportunity to connect, repair, and build brand loyalty.

Don’t use social media channels only to address problems unless you want your social space to just be an open complaint board.  Thank people, promote your followers’ posts and ideas (even if they’re not directly related to your business), and share things that matter. They’ll see your brand’s personality and be more likely to support your brand in good times and bad. In social media circles a little appreciation goes a long way — strengthening bonds and fostering customer loyalty. Customers take pride when the brands they love acknowledge them and are more likely to share that with their own network of fans and followers.

Promote Yes, You CAN Promote and Sell Using Social Media
Promoting your product or cause won’t make you “unsocial," provided it’s in balance with the rest of your activity and in context with the conversation. If you want to be social, just be interesting, be authentic, and be useful. It varies by brand and industry, but if you are sending more than two sales or promotional messages for every ten non-sales messages, you’re probably overselling and you risk losing the attention of your audience. Be generous with your original content. Share something that will benefit your audience (no, not by saving money on your product or service), but something they can really use, even if it’s not directly related to your product or service. You’ll have your customers’ attention and when it is time for you to promote, they won’t tune you out — they might even help spread the word.

What other things are critical for organizations to consider when developing a strategy for integrating social media into their marketing plans? Share your ideas below.

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About the Author
Ted Curtin is a recognized strategic marketing leader with over 22 years experience covering online and offline marketing channels. Follow him on Twitter or at TedCurtin.com
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