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Business value from social media
Wednesday, 05 September 2012 00:00
Written by Tessa Reed
Social media has changed business and marketing as we know it
The youth of today, the so-called X and Y generations, have grown up with the Internet, and businesses and organisations need to adapt to these generations, or they will lose out, says Suzanne Little, head of marketing at DMMA, and head of social media at Quirk.
Delivering the welcome address at ITWeb’s Social Media Summit in August, Little spoke about the evolution of social networks and what this evolution means for brands.
According to Little, social networking started in the early 90s, in the form of online forums. She noted that, back in the 90s, there was a stigma attached to users of social networks, as it was widely believed that social networks were only used by IT geeks.
The emergence of file-sharing network Napster changed this landscape significantly, said Little. She said although Napster was swiftly cut down by music executives, it illustrated what can happen when remarkable content is combined with a social network – it can go viral.
Today, social media lets users share information over long distances with many people, she said. In addition to social media, there was the emergence of mobile, which Little described as “social media on steroids”.
According to Little, social media, coupled with mobile technology, lets customers talk about brands at their convenience, not that of business’s. For this reason, she argued that businesses have to be part of the conversation. Because of social media, one customer’s bad experience can spread across networks and quickly escalate into a crisis.
Little also noted that people are going to discuss brands on social media networks regardless of whether businesses take part in this conversation.
According to Melissa Attree, business development manager at communication agency Cerebra, businesses engaging with customers on social media channels can follow many of the guidelines they use in real life.
Speaking about the need to put human behaviour back into social media, Attree stressed that brands need to remember they are talking to people. For example, she says, if a business receives a complaint via social media, or even e-mail, it should respond in a way that is human and authentic, such as “that sucks, we’re sorry”, as opposed to “thank you for alerting us to your problem”.
Attree compared engaging on social media platforms to attending a party. She argued that, as people shouldn’t attend a party and only talk about themselves, companies shouldn’t make their conversations on social media only about their brands or products.
Instead, she suggested businesses should talk about things their customers are interested in. Businesses should also avoid bragging about how many followers they have on Twitter or how many likes they have on Facebook, said Attree. She explained that consumers do not want to feel like they are just a number.
According to Attree, planning is also important. Before businesses embark on a digital strategy, she said, they should engage with their customers and find out what they are doing on the Internet, instead of assuming everyone wants to talk to them on Facebook.
“Don’t just throw yourself into the Internet and push out content,” she warned.
This view is echoed by Nikki Cockcroft, head of online at Woolworths. She says before companies put themselves on a social media platform, they need to make sure they are ready for the medium. This includes having the right systems in place to respond to customers in real time, and making sure the company’s social media account is in line with the brand image the company wants to project.
Cockcroft noted that conversations on social media platforms happen in real time, and customers expect responses in real time, too.
She says it is crucial that social media managers feed the comments they receive on social media platforms back into the business. For example, she said, if a company is receiving a lot of similar complaints on a social platform, this is an indication that it needs to make a change.
For this reason, says Cockcroft, it is also important that social media managers have the confidence to take complaints to the CEO of a company. She added that this is why companies should not hire social media managers purely based on a person’s Twitter following.
Cockcroft also stressed the need for brands to remain professional when using social media to engage with consumers. “Smiley faces and hearts are not acceptable,” she said. “You are still a brand and you need to remain professional.”
Finally, Cockcroft stressed that companies cannot use social media purely to punt their brands or push their public relations. If they do this, she warned, they will quickly lose engagement.
According to Jarred Cinman, chief inventor at digital agency Native, one of the reasons social media uptake may be slow for some companies, is that they are scared of using user-generated platforms, like blogs and social media, to market or create awareness of their brands, because with digital platforms, users have more control.
In a discussion about how advertising has changed as a result of these digital platforms, Cinman pointed out that brands are no longer based on what a company says about itself. Instead, he suggested, brands are created based on what consumers say about them.
According to Cinman, users generate 77% of content about brands. He said this shows that people are talking about businesses whether they like it or not.
Cinman argues that businesses need to become part of the conversations about their brands because, while they can no longer control the conversation, as in the past, becoming involved will allow them to manage it, to a degree.
According to him, businesses can do this by trying to find the balance between user-generated content and traditional marketing and advertising by co-creating content with consumers.
Cinman described this as ‘devolution’ – where companies hand down some of the ownership of a brand and content creation to consumers.
Cinman said this can be done through social media channels, but warns that communication in these channels must be authentic and transparent.
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