By Les Robinson
Social media is a fast-moving, ever-evolving medium that continues to help shape how business is done. With ever-increasing frequency, consumers are looking to various social networks for information, advice and opinions before making purchasing decisions. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or another platform, as an organization, social media provides an opportunity to listen to, learn from, and speak directly to consumers in real time, 24 hours a day.
However, businesses should not leap into this area just because it seems like everyone is doing it. It takes careful planning and dedication with a clear focus on the business goals involved. Having exciting, successful social media interactions doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how popular your organization is.
Here are some things to consider:
Social media is a two-way conversation
Social media is a two-way conversation, while more traditional communication channels like advertising, are not. It gives an organization and consumers the opportunity to talk about a message, whereas a print advertisement, press release or television commercial is pushed out, and generally left at that. In that respect, social media doesn’t operate alone. It often works best when integrated across advertising, public relations and traditional marketing. The discussion around the message and the opportunity for the audience to interact can take place on social media. Often, not only is it better for the organization to coordinate messages across channels, but not doing so could cause the various messages to lose focus.
You’re going to need a plan
Before creating your first social media site, you need a plan. Just having a social media presence means absolutely nothing if you don’t do something with it to meet your business objectives. Start the plan by evaluating what your business goals are and what you hope to accomplish through social media. Then, start creating plans to accomplish these goals.
A clear, well-developed set of social media guidelines forms a solid base for the entire social media program. Included in the overall social media strategy, there should be a straightforward policy that provides guidance on who can engage in social media on behalf of your organization and what is and isn’t permissible when engaging. It’s important to be clear on the purpose for the guidelines, so everyone interacting on social media understands the business reasons for the policy.
Tips for interacting on social media
Listen: Understanding the value of listening is a key to getting started. If you want to know what your audience wants to talk about, just listen to what they’re saying, or ask them — they’ll tell you. Also, because of the speed at which news about your organization can travel on the Web, you have to monitor mentions of your brand constantly and stay on top of what the social community is saying about you.
Give them something useful: A quick, effective way to get involved in — and gain the trust and respect of — a community that’s talking about your organization is to answer the questions they’re asking. As an official representative of your organization in social media, you have the ability to provide information, guidance, recommendations, clarifications, corrections and more. In other words, by listening first and identifying good engagement opportunities, you have the ability to provide value with any of the content you put out. Social media provides a great opportunity for you to harness your expertise and share it with the audience. The key is to provide value for both the audience and your organization.
Your audience relies on you: It’s important to remember that in social media, conversations are happening in almost real time. In order to be a reliable source of information for the community, you’ve got to be an active member. Make sure you’re able to dedicate the time it takes to update content, answer questions, and offer information to the community. When you speak, they will listen, as long as they know they can depend on you being there. In order to make it a two-way conversation, you’ve got to interact.
Don’t shy away from negative comments: One of the questions I get asked frequently is, “What if someone says something bad about us?” Typically, I’ll ask that person what they would do in that situation. “Just delete it, and block them,” they often say. Many times, that’s the wrong answer.
When you have a healthy dialogue, not everyone is going to agree. There are people who don’t like you or your products and have no problem letting you and everyone else know about it. The conversations about your organization are happening with or without you, so why not look for opportunities to interact and turn negative comments into positive ones?
There are instances where deleting the comment and blocking the user is appropriate. It depends on what your site guidelines are. If someone is being obscene or attacking or insulting your organization or other community members, generally, that person isn’t going to add a lot of value to your interactions. Consider what your site guidelines should be and make them clear to the community. There are also those times that make every social media manager proud, when the community does the responding for you. Once you gain the trust and loyalty of the community, they will often address negative posts for you. As long as their responses are clean and within your guidelines, sometimes you can just sit back and watch.
Building relationships online
Social media is about relationships. One of the most difficult things for any organization to realize in social media is that it’s about the community. The community has the true power in social media. The audience decides how the conversation goes, and you can only hope they will accept you and let you be a part of it.
In order to harness the power of social media, you need to be a valued, accepted member of the social community that’s talking about your brand and services. It’s hard work, and it takes time to build a successful social media program. A well-planned social media program will allow you to reach and listen to consumers in a way that you haven’t been able to before. You will be able to provide information about your services to thousands with one post. Consumers will get updated or corrected information from an official source on their time. Maybe, most importantly, customers and potential customers will get to know you, and they’ll know that you care about them.
Finally, remember to have fun with it. Your passion for social media will come through in your interactions and, hopefully, will rub off on the entire community. Social media is another place where consumers are. With a good plan and proper execution, you can satisfy your business objectives and provide content of value to those consumers and experience the true power of social media.
Les Robinson, a five-year veteran with social media, serves as social media specialist for Stihl Inc.
Sources and recommended reading for anyone interested in social media:
Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard
Social Media Marketing by Liana “Li” Evans
Social Media SmartBrief: www.smartbrief.com/socialmedia