We know the world is becoming more social online and technology changes so rapidly that you feel you can’t keep up. The Internet allows us to now have a dialogue with customers instead of them being bombarded with a one-way monologue. But remember, people inherently stay the same – they have a need to connect and social media fulfills that need and facilitates conversations online around brands, ideas and products.
Social media has become much hyped because of the relative ease with which you can set up a profile online and start talking to your audience. It’s very tempting to dive straight into Facebook or Twitter because everybody else is doing it and because these tools are “free”. But what do they say in the classics? … There’s nothing like a free lunch.
You might have heard about this all but don’t know where to start. You might already be doing some fantastic stuff in the online social sphere (if so, I’d like to hear from you). From experience though, keep the following 10 things in mind.
1. Be ready to share your content
As a first tentative step into the social media universe, why not allow your site visitors to share your content via Facebook, Twitter and the other social sites (e.g. Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit etc). You’ve seen the buttons or options at the bottom of articles on all your favourite sites. Search engines will thank you for it too
Once your audience sees that your site is connected to the greater web, they’ll use the tools. And “social bookmarking” tools are easy and free to implement.
2. Fish where the fish are
Are your customers using these tools? Find out by asking them. Survey your audience using either a poll or survey on your site or Facebook page or send an email survey to your database (with their permission of course!). This will always help you substantiate your time and investment in the channel.
If they’re not actively using Facebook or Twitter don’t worry. They’ll catch up. You can’t ignore the way the world is changing. Plus new customers may be there already and you're missing a chance to connect with them. The question is, how do you use it intelligently without following the rest of the lemmings?
3. Customers talk back
Customers will have things to say about your business and in my experience, mainly good things. But you need to be prepared for the not so good comments too. What’s the tolerance level internally to feedback, especially feedback made public? How will you moderate comments, if at all? Will you let your audience moderate for you?
Maybe start with a small pilot to convince others in your company that this can be positive. The one thing to keep in mind is that the old model of controlling information about your company can no longer exist. If customers are not saying things about your brand on your site they’ll definitely be saying it on other sites. Why not keep them close and respond to them on your own site or Facebook page?
4. Always start with a plan
It’s very seductive to think that because these tools are free, you should use them. If you start something online, make sure you know where it’s going to end up. Countless organisations start Facebook pages or Twitter feeds only to see by week 3 they’ve nothing to say or they no longer have the time to interact with their new audience.
Ask yourself why you’re doing this? What are the benefits? What are the risks? How you’re prepared to deal with them? Do you need help from 3rd parties (i.e. and outside developer or someone to write a social media strategy for you)? Do you have the resources? What are you going to say? How often? Why? What do you expect to achieve?
If you can answer these questions you’ll be well on your way to success in the social media space.
5. The good, the bad and the plain ugly…
Many companies have used social media beautifully to engage with their audiences and supporters as well as drive sales too. There are countless UK, US and SA case studies to choose from. The one thing they have in common is that these companies approached this new channel with a plan. They knew what they wanted to get out of it.
There are countless casualties in the social media space too. You only have to look at the 2010 BP oil crisis to see what can happen!
Messages on the web spread dangerously fast so have a plan that when things do go bad, you can deal with it in an open, effective and timely way. Get your customers on side, talk to them, be yourself.
6. Nothing is for free
Although the online Facebook/Twitter/Flickr/ YouTube profile is free to set up online, time and money is needed to create your social media strategy, create the content and keep things updated.
It’s a reality that small businesses will always be cash strapped. But just because it costs money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Use your pilot project or create a business case that substantiates the time and investment needed. It’s also a lower cost channel to invest in and I would advise that you don’t ignore it, because it’s not going away.
7. Get a personality
There’s nothing worse than a stuffy, corporate response to a conversation online. Your audience needs to feel they’re connecting with a real organisation, real people with real things to say. Especially if you’re using the channel as a customer service tool, there’s no need to be formal. Your audience won’t like you for it.
8. For goodness sake, do something!
So you’ve spoken to them online, you’ve spread the message about your latest campaign or initiative. What now?
Your website (remember that?) needs to take over and finish the job. Make your audience work - but not too hard. Do they need to buy your product, sign up to your newsletter or download a file? Draw them to your site (not your home page!!!) and let them do something.
Alternatively, it might be about spreading your message. Make it easy for them to talk about you to their friends.
9. Get a little help from friends
It’s been proven that people are more likely to respond favourably to something if they see their friends or family have responded the same way. If you have a Facebook page and a product or business worth talking about, think about a Facebook engagement campaign - where you pay for Likes and clicks from ads shown on the right side of the Facebook screen.
10. Show me the money!
Where’s the Return On Investment (ROI)? This is the million-dollar question. How do you measure this all? How do you make money from it? Well your website should start showing you visits from Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn (whatever your tool of choice). If you’ve set up Google Analytics properly, it might even show you who’s converting (i.e. doing something like buying or signing up to your email newsletter).
Also look at the bigger picture – especially measuring how people got to hear about your business, as well as how this has affected your retention rate - are customers staying customers? You might see some surprising results offline.
There are also great free tools to measure how strong your voice is online, what people are saying about you, how many followers and “likes” you’ve picked up. Start with a benchmark and build from there.
Again within the context of a bigger digital strategy, measure the things that make sense to your business. But make sure you do measure or else all this activity is in vain.
If all of this is overwhelming, take a step back and go back to point 4. Ask yourself so what? So what if you don’t have a Facebook profile, so what if you don’t speak to your customers in the online spaces they occupy? What will happen?
Remember your current customer base will not be around forever so you need to start engaging now with younger audiences in their spaces so that you can start to taken seriously and be relevant in their lives.
But above all, ignore the hype, know what you want to achieve, get some help and as that famous English World War 2 poster says – keep calm and carry on!