Communications has gone social. This isn’t a fad or a trend. The battle has been waged and won. Media outlets have either adapted or closed their doors.
Most traditional news outlets feature a comments section, connected blogs and reporters on Twitter, making their social function almost indistinguishable from those of blogs. Social media accounts for 43 percent of online news sharing, and is thus far and away the most popular way to share a story. Recently Bing, the Microsoft search engine that accounts for 30 percent of online searches, added a social search component, displaying a user’s Facebook friend activity related to their search terms.
You cannot keep your brand from going social. Consumers do not limit their online feedback to companies who are, themselves, online. Adversaries do not look to attack brands only in media where those brands are actively engaged. Your consumers are tweeting, facebooking, sharing and blogging about you. Without some engagement online, you cannot hear them. And if you’re not there to talk to, it doesn’t silence consumers; it leaves them shouting both their praise and their concerns at the wind. Who knows where that wind will blow?
By the end of the 90’s, any company without a website wasn’t doing all they could to market themselves. In the next decade, any company without social media engagement won’t be doing all they can to engage with customers—both a marketing and a customer service activity. Don’t be left behind. Now is the time to join and direct the conversation.
Good online outreach should be based on a company’s traditional communications objectives, audiences and messages. But you can’t lift media messages wholesale and drop them into social media. Remember, these platforms weren’t built with marketing in mind; they were built for personal interaction. There’s a social code and an etiquette to these online spaces that the inexperienced user can easily violate. Some tricks of the trade:
It’s tempting to slap follow icons on our website and call ourselves social media integrated, but that doesn’t take full advantage of the work that it takes to populate multiple online properties. Consider the following:
Follow icons are a good way to show that you’re engaged in social media, but to entice followers and get the maximum benefits from your social media products, take the integration that additional step.
I'm often asked about the value of multiple social media platforms. For example, clients who are happily engaged on Facebook will ask, in a tone I used to direct at my mother about the value of cleaning my room, if they really have to also get on Twitter.
Well of course you don’t have to, but it is important to acknowledge that social media isn’t simply a box that you check, and while there is overlap, the users that you reach on one social media platform aren’t necessarily the same users you would reach on another. Perhaps more importantly, just because the platforms are social doesn’t mean that they’re being used in the same way.
When I evaluate my own social media use (and to simplify this discussion to just two examples: Facebook and Twitter), on Facebook I am linked to over 800 friends and several dozen fan and community pages representing products, ideas and interests that I share. I carefully manage my newsfeed settings and, unless I’m actively seeking information about a given friend or interest, in general I only read a small proportion of the information that my connections are putting out each day. In contrast, on Twitter I follow just over 60 people and read my entire feed daily on the train ride to and from work. I present this example not to suggest that my use patterns are universal, but just to illustrate the divergent ways in which one user engages with different social media platforms.
Here are some examples of outreach campaigns that each platform lets itself to better than the other:
Tom Hanks may have had Meg Ryan repeating, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” back in the You’ve Got Mail days, but just as AOL is no longer the email carrier of choice, business and personal nowadays aren’t so separate.
Individuals have become company spokespeople. Word of mouth recommendations have been codified and digitized. Certainly we’re all familiar with Yelp as a way to receive friends’ and regular Joe’s recommendations on everything from restaurants to dry cleaners (much to many restaurateurs’ chagrin). But social media provides many opportunities for individuals to offer their views on brands and products. A critical tweet can spiral into a well-optimized blog post or even a mainstream media article. Facebook especially provides a social endorsement. When an individual likes a brand or product, that preference is displayed on her profile, it appears on her profile wall and friends’ newsfeeds, and when friends visit the brand page (or now search the brand name on Bing), the original user’s endorsement is displayed. Facebook even uses social advertising—if the company or brand pays to advertise on Facebook, users who have friends who already like the page will be told alongside the advertisement. Our best friend has become a better endorser of Nike than Michael Jordan ever could be.
As individuals become spokespeople, brands become personalized. As a result, when users engage with the brand in a social medium, they expect to be spoken to on a personal level. Corporate speak and legalese makes consumers feel disconnected and suspicious. Repeated talking points are easily compared and sound disingenuous. Social media users must be spoken to as individuals and reached on a personal level. Marketing is becoming more like grassroots politics. The best way to sell someone a product is now the same as the best way to sell her a political idea: identify with her particular problem and offer her a solution. All the better if it comes from a personal voice with a friend’s endorsement.
Defensive social media is as important as online marketing. While we’re all familiar with several high profile stories of social media gaffes and online attack campaigns, what’s most important about social media issues is that the information posted online lives on past the initial crisis timeline.
Though an adversarial campaign’s momentum may subside, the information is still posted online and can be surfaced with the correct combination of search terms. When consumers experience a similar problem or outlier event, they may search the Internet and find long past information that nonetheless helps to underline their concerns or dissatisfaction. With social media, every consumer complaint or issue exists outside a traditional understanding of newsworthiness. Rather, each similar consumer experience can reignite a controversyeven one that’s been long debunked or correctedsetting off a new series of tweets, Facebook and blog posts and, in some cases, traditional news coverage.
Proactively engaging in social media and ensuring that facts about your product are well optimized and independently verified is the only way to build a foundation to combat misinformation. Without it, adversaries enjoy a head start, which can make the difference between prominence and obscurity when claiming online space and optimizing search results.