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Don’t worry, be social

Many businesses are scared of social media. There I’ve said it. We’ve all heard the horror stories of large companies (burger joints, classy supermarkets, etc) getting it really wrong. For me the challenge is not about stopping the wrong message getting out (it always will somehow) but handling the response to it in the best way. There are as many stories of businesses getting it right but they’re just not seen as being as interesting – search for ‘good social media responses’ on Google.

The great thing about social media is that you can get hugely positive impact out of it by managing your message or your responses. You can use it as a tool for gathering loads of important information – for customer feedback, advertising, brand awareness, customer services, talking with customers, interacting with other brands and businesses. And the best thing is, sometimes you don’t have to do anything, trends and conversations happen organically.

Despite what many experts say there’s no definite way to be a success on social media, I think you need to be true to your brand. The key is making sure that the person doing the hands on management really understands your audience, and how you want to position your business to that audience.

You might want to use Twitter in a more responsive way, as a news channel or as a customer service tool, for a shorter term gain, whereas Facebook might be more about building your brand and managing a longer term proactive strategy. Social media is also a good outlet for showing off a lighter side of your organisation.

The impact of social media in the mass consciousness is highlighted by things like second screening which are now common place and are giving way to the next generation, the social media 2.0 if you like, such as active second screening.  In the UK over 60% of Twitter users tweet whilst watching TV, and there are 11.5 million Twitter users in this country. Advertisers and TV shows are now prompting you to get involved, usually by flashing a #hashtag onscreen, or more creatively by using Shazam or an interactive advert where you decide the ending.

This interactivity has been made possible by the massive rise of smartphones and tablets. In 2012 sales of smartphones were up around 50% to 695,000,000 worldwide.* It’s this crossover that’s key to driving the purchase of mobile devices and activity on social media.

What this means is that social media is absolutely here to stay and its influence on business is only going to increase. One of the biggest challenges is understanding that each channel (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) needs a different voice, what works on one won’t necessarily work on the other. Understanding that not every social media platform is suitable for everyone can also cause consternation within organisations. For example YouTube is quite often used because it exists rather than because of a defined need. Sometimes just having a presence on a social media network is enough; you just need to be able to get those people to where you’re most active to be able to get your message to them.  Google+ is an example of where lots of accounts were created but the actual daily usage is thought to be low. One thing to remember though, even inactive accounts need to at least be monitored; there’s nothing worse than contacting someone through social media and not hearing back!

Ultimately social media is the same as any other type of customer communication. Whether you use it for marketing, sales, customer service, or product development you’ll need the same things. To understand your audience. To know what you want to say to them. And how you want to say it. The keys differences are that you might get an immediate reaction, and that you almost certainly won’t be able to control the resultant conversation – at least not easily.

Just remember one simple thing. Don’t panic.

*Source: Tomi Ahonen Almanac 2013

Max looks after social media for the Membership team at BCS. He’s a heavy user of all platforms, mainly to talk about gigs he’s been to. Sometimes he’ll link to something useful someone else has said.Max Mazonowicz- Product Manager, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT@bcsmembership

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