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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Social Media For Business - The Engagement Blues

Many businesses are quite confused about social media. Most are reluctant to use it for reasons best known to them, some are treating it like a website i.e. they open their fan page or profiles on various networks and that’s it. Still others are treating it like a one way broadcast to those who care to listen; they are not really engaging with the followers.

From a customer point of view the first two categories are acceptable; they are as good as not being there. It is the third category the customers have expectations from and perhaps the one which lets them down.

Social media provides for a two way communication and that is what users of the social media expect from the other users/businesses. If one continues to use it for marketing his products, services or himself without paying any attention to what others have to say, you can rest assured that soon you won’t have anyone listening to you either.

Conversation is an art and not everyone can handle it well. Therefore it is important that the person responsible for social media is not only good at producing engaging content but also be able to continue the conversation when someone responds. For this the person should understand the business lest you want him to run to the concerned department every time there is a comment.

Every business owner will tell you that Customer is the King, but somehow on the social media the kings are reduced to just another number. That is the surest way to loose a customer. If your purpose of getting on to the social media is to attract new audiences and retain the existing ones you must follow the basic rules of engagement.

When a customer likes your page or starts following you, consider it as a customer walking into your showroom or shop. Welcome him with open arms and thank him for following or liking you.

When a person comments on an update or your blog post, think about it as a direct dialogue with your business. If it is a question, answer his concern by providing the requisite information. If it is a compliment thank him, if it is a statement think of it like a feedback and thank him. If it is a complaint, try to resolve it or guide him to the requisite department. Understand that the person has taken the time and effort to comment on your page/wall and it needs to be acknowledged, to say the least.

Doing this much will at least not put off the person and will probably encourage him to come back or continue following you. Conversely, if you do not respond, the person ends up thinking that he is not important enough for you and we all know what his next step would be.

Respect your followers/fans and do not let your ego take over. Unless it is spam, which can be deleted straightaway, it does not matter whether the person has not understood your update, the language is incorrect, or he does not seem as an important lead. You have to respond. That, is the beginning of engagement.

Download the free eBook “Understanding Social Media

Social Media – The Target Audience

A few days back, I saw a job vacancy for a social media executive on one of the portals. The job responsibility read something like this: Weekly increase of followers: FB 150 fans, Twitter 150 followers, LinkedIn – 150 followers….. Sounded like a shopping list of a big hotel.

It is amazing how the business even thought of such ludicrous objectives. Getting followers or fans is not a difficult thing to do, but whatever happened to the concept of inbound marketing. I don’t know what the business is selling, but unless it is a global business selling the elixir of youth, getting followers in this manner is going to be an absolute waste of time and effort, never mind the clutter they are going to create on the business’s walls or streams. With fans or followers acquired in this manner, your Facebook wall is going to become just that, a wall.

The social media manager’s quick fix to such objectives presented itself to me on the website of a major league (?) social media company. The company had integrated their Twitter feed on the home page of the website and the last couple of tweets were about requesting (pleading?) their followers to like the Facebook business page of a particular client.

Agreed, that in the longer run, the whole world is a market and everyone a customer, but then be prepared to wait an eternity for the impact of social media on your business. What use is a follower or fan acquired in this manner? The business does not gain anything from them. They are not interested in your products, they are not listening to what you have to say and they may not even be in your country/city of operation. What they are is just a number in your list.

This brings us to an important facet of social media, a targeted audience. That is what differentiates the social media from the traditional communications. On social media, people follow businesses because they are interested in some part of the business, be it products, processes, services or technology. These are the people one can engage in a two way communication, to understand them, their needs and to inform or educate. These are also the people who will contribute to enhancing your business by sharing and spreading the word about your business, by taking part in the discussions and by being your loyal customers.

It is important for businesses to realize that just numbers are not going to get them anywhere. The old age adage, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush” holds good with the difference that on social media a single genuine fan is worth hundreds, if not more, of indifferent followers.

The social media strategy of a company needs to define what their target audience is. Thereafter one can effectively go about reaching out to them rather than mindlessly getting followers as if they were going out of stock.

If you have some thoughts about this, for or against, I would be glad if you could share them with me.

Download the free eBook “Understanding Social Media

Why Businesses Need Social Media Strategy

Most businesses and companies do not have a clear strategic picture of their social media endeavors or campaigns. They make the mistake of building their strategy around the various social media platforms rather than focusing on their own business objectives and goals. Developing a good social media strategy right at the beginning will go a long way for any business in terms of ROI and bringing value to it. The questions that need to be answered are: how much are you willing to invest or can invest in the social media activities (both in terms of money as well as time) and how does that relate to the business value? How best does the social media strategy align with your business and other marketing strategies?

Social Media Strategy
Its very important to get the answers to these questions and understand the objectives and goals of the business or company before starting off any social media activity like opening a Facebook or a Twitter account without any concrete plans or strategy in place to measure success or understand what you want to achieve from it. 

Having a social media strategy in place is the need of the hour for any business today, helping to build a foundation towards better handling of the social media platforms in the right manner to suit the individual business and its values, and also helps to achieve the unique objectives and ensure maximum ROI.

In order to create a comprehensive and successful social media strategy, the business should first establish who their demographic audience is that they are trying to reach and to identify a clear way to measure the success. Understand the objectives of the social media strategy and be prepared for a long term commitment, as it takes consistent effort and time to get results from online campaigns.

Think clearly what your business wants to use social media for - brand awareness, drive more leads, drive sales, promote products, improve customer relations or customer services. All these can be achieved by careful planning, expertise and experience.

The different social media have their own unique and specific tools or metrics that can be used to measure the results or level of interaction that takes place on that platform. For example, the number of "likes" on Facebook, or number of followers on Twitter or percentage of females versus males in your community can be tracked over time to measure your progress and the impact of your social media campaign on your bottom line. 

Social Media Platforms
The different social media platforms should be analyzed and conversations tracked so that you can identify business relevant topics as well as potential crises and issues. The end result should put your brand in a position to establish who your audience are, where they are online and define your objectives to maximize engagement with them. 

In order to find and identify the most relevant platform to your business, monitor the different sites to see where your brand name is being mentioned, where your competitors are, use specific keywords to identify and understand what your target audience is using and which will offer you the greatest opportunities for your business. The sites can include anything from Facebook to blogs or forums. So be prepared to go anywhere. 

Once a business has identified and chosen the relevant platforms to further its social media activities, it will have to then define how to manage engagement with the customers on the different channels. Each platform will require different content or means and ways to engage the customer in an effective manner. Therefore, a careful strategy needs to be developed around content creation in all sites or platforms along with its frequency of posting. The content should be the voice of the business, should reflect brand values and guidelines, which takes time, effort and resources but is crucial to build an active and engaged community.

A continuous open communication between the business and its customers has become very vital for any business today. Therefore plan, engage, listen and manage any negative comments/feedback or criticism in a timely and effective manner so as to maintain your credibility and reputation online. Social media provides many tools to accurately track and monitor the performance of your business online. Therefore, its wise to use these findings to optimize the program and ensure that your social media activity is performing as effectively as it possibly can. This not only leads to social media success but is also vital in contributing to the overall objectives of your business.

Download the free eBook “Understanding Social Media

What is Social Media?

All web based applications which allow for creation / exchange of user generated content and enable interaction between the users can be classified as Social Media. These could be in the form of Social Networking Sites, Blogs, Internet forums, online community sites, Q & A sites etc.

The social media has some inherent properties which make it much more powerful than the traditional media.

Accessibility: The social media is easily accessible and takes minimal or no costs to use. Social media is easy to use and does not require any special skills, knowledge to use. It is absolutely simple to connect with others and be a part of communities. Therefore anyone with online access can use the Social Media to initiate or participate in the conversations. In a sense, everyone is now empowered to speak up.

Speed: The content that you create on the Social Media is available to everyone in your network/forum/community as soon as you publish it. You can communicate with your audience without any external factor affecting the delivery of your message. The responses are also near instantaneous and thus you can have a dialogue which is almost in real-time.

Interactivity: Social media affords a two way or multiple communication channels. Users can interact with each other; ask questions, discuss products / services, share opinions and anything else they might be interested in doing.

Longevity / volatility – Social media content remains accessible for a long time, maybe forever, because of the nature of the medium. In addition to this the content can be edited / updated anytime. So, if a user likes a particular product and says so in the social media, it is not a permanent positive vote for the product; the user can always go back and change his opinion anytime.

Reach: The internet offers an unlimited reach to all content available. Anyone can access it from anywhere and anyone can reach, potentially, everyone. Social media offers the same facility to all the users who can share anything with anyone they like.

Social media has opened up new avenues for people to engage with each other and with the content available on the internet. The social interaction of the yore, severely restricted by various boundaries, has now been taken online, opening up a world of new possibilities.

People are using the social media to stay connected with friends/family, find people with similar interests, discuss issues with others, share opinions, asking and answering questions, reading user reviews etc. We can surmise that, in addition to staying connected, the users want to acquire/enhance knowledge and gain insights into specific subjects to help them make better decisions. It is this consideration that makes social media an enticing opportunity for businesses, celebrities, politicians etc. Opportunities to help them gauge consumer sentiments, acquire new customers/fans, interact with the customers, enhance their brand and manage their online reputation.

Download the free eBook “Understanding Social Media

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