What is Social Media
Social media are the internet services that allow for unconstrained conversation to open up between users. They could be real friends, people who happen to share an interest, or just perfect strangers who happen to share the same online space.
Through these media, people share insights, discoveries and products. Being within that conversational space is critical to brands that want to engage with these consumers – and make no mistake: these are the consumers of the future.
Facebook has over 400,000,000 users. Twitter a further 100,000,000. These are real people that are accessible to brands in ways that were unforeseeable only a decade ago. They not only seek out brands online, but expect to be able to engage with them.
Making the Most of Social Media
Social media is, as Cluetrain hinted, about the direct interaction between people and brands. The top-down style of yesterday is dying a slow death as people themselves decide what a brand stands for, rather than swallowing a grand proclamation from an advertising agency.
The critical thing of direct interaction is the word ‘direct’. The days of filtering customer interaction through third parties is over.
The Agency Model
Outsourcing social media to an agency seems attractive. They have the skills and the know-how to create logins, monitor activity and brand their feeds and pages.
But here’s the thing: people expect to engage with their brand. If a brand has a Facebook page and someone posts a question, they expect an answer. Agencies rarely – if ever – have the answer. If someone asks about stock availability on a certain line, an agency would have to go back to the company, get that information and return it to the customer. That might not sound bad, but the agency is typically reporting to the marketing manager. To get the answer, the marketing manager has to ask the product management team who have to phone the warehouse….
Moreover, the agency model works on a retainer basis. You pay £X and according to the agency’s hourly rate you get X hours of their attention each week. It necessarily follows that they don’t have the time to dedicate to following conversations on Twitter or Facebook updates.
At best, they can look unresponsive and at worse begin to represent the brand in such a way as to.
The In-House Model
In the in-house model, people from within the company become the official voice of the company. They are tasked with maintaining the feed and interacting with customers directly through social media.
These users have to be empowered from within to deal with customers and have access to all the necessary software and accounts. In short, they must be trusted to represent the company in public. They should be your most passionate people. People who are prepared to go above the parapet to talk to people and evangelise about your brand.
Requirements / Best Practise
- Brand Ownership
Any social media accounts that directly relate to the company name or brand must be acquired as a matter of policy. That goes for brand names, slogans and straplines. You don’t want some jackass getting to Twitter first and highjacking your feed for nefarious/comical purposes.
That can be a PR disaster and even lead to the courts if you try to get control of someone else’s feed. Things to check include:
- Twitter names
- Blog addresses
- Facebook Ids
- Domain names
- http://knowem.com/ is often the easiest place to start
- Who’s in charge?
There should be a small body of staff who are collectively responsible for social media activity so that there is almost always someone available who will watch out and respond.
- Who’s in charge of them?
This is the area where companies really struggle to break through. If there is an insistence that everything be run past a marketing manager then there will be no engagement. This is about honesty, friendliness and directness. Where something seem malicious or related to a specific complaint, then it should be answered as fully and as publically as possible – as fast as possible to close it down.
- How do you keep on top?
A great way to make sure that nothing gets missed is to have a projector on in an office which projects the Twitter/Facebook feeds onto the wall – monitoring for mentions of the company or direct questions. That way, any one of the social media champions can respond in real time. The perfect set up:
- Wall projector with real-time social media feeds
- Multiple logins to social media accounts so that numerous speciality social departments can co-exist (@companysales @companycustomerservice etc)
- Social media team given smart phones so they can respond even while out of the office
- Phones controlled by remote systems (like MS Outlook VPN) so that phones can be ‘killed’ if a disgruntled employee goes rogue or a phone is lost
- Keep the number of people you are following very low and high quality (journalists, models etc). If there are too many people in the feed then the signal/noise ratio will be too high for you to follow and you’ll miss the direct tweets.
Case Study: Bing
Microsoft embraced Twitter as a way to market their new search engine, Bing.
5 workers at Microsoft were given access to the feed. They are identified by their photographs – giving a highly personalised feel to the account and an individual ‘handle’ so people can see who is tweeting what.
You can very clearly see how the Bing team communicate with people who message them publically through Twitter – suggesting a very active involvement with the feed.
That goes from very specific technical questions about the product through to general interest/opinion activity.
The Bing team follow just 530 people, compared to the 48,000 followers they have – indicating the feed’s popularity.