Jump into the deep end: Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Sina Weibo, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube… submerge yourself until you are completely out of breath. Now realised you have only dipped your toe in: Social media waters run deep.
Start from scratch: If you are accustomed to building business through face-to-face networking, traditional marketing and ‘road warrior’ selling, you may wonder the relevance of social media to your organisation.
It can be intimidating to see high-octane social media offerings emanating from the powerhouses of the business world. If you run an SME, how can you compete with the lavish productions and brand-worship enjoyed by the Apples, Nikes and Starbucks of this world?
A level playing field? The social media world may be free to enter, but identifying the right platforms and maintaining your offering will take time and resources. Not mention it may be necessary to supplement your platforms with paid for ads on Facebook, for example.
The competition consists of anyone who is online, and there is a real risk of getting drowned out in the cacophony of voices flooding the marketplace. In social media, everyone is competing to be heard, pitting players from pizza chains, DIY stores and lingerie brands in the same gladiatorial arena.
Fools rush in: There are a million ways to use social media, from promoting CSR, to recruiting for your company, promoting your services and goods, conducting market research, or simply getting your name out there.
Your approach must be well thought out in terms of what platforms to use, the message you intend to disseminate and your target audience. Even the sturdiest of companies have horror stories that have befallen them.
Sickeningly, social media can be a form of self-destruction, with responsibility resting entirely on your shoulders. When British supermarket chain Waitrose invited Twitter followers to finish the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because… #WaitroseReasons”, they received bruising responses including: "I shop at Waitrose because I think food must automatically be better if it costs three times as much."
Get to work: Being the butt of jokes was not the intended response of this ill thought out Twitter campaign. Still, the spectre of humiliation should not be enough to deter your company from using social media. It will however, make you think twice about jumping straight in the deep end without checking the temperature.
You may be staring into an unknown abyss, but social media is pervasive in our lives and that will only increase with the proliferation of tablets and smart phones, and advances like Google Glass that promise to raise online integration. In other words: do you have a choice?
If you build it, will they come? Research by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business with 468 US based CMOs showed social media spend by marketers will approximately double over the next five years. The study suggests business to consumer (product) companies will increase this from 9.6 % to 24.6 % of overall marketing budgets.
In this environment, maximising success will depend on engaging social media’s unique dynamics, from paying for advertising, to running campaigns on various platforms, and finally earning buzz. To reach the holy grail of word of mouth traffic and viral success, it is crucial to bear several factors in mind:
1) Flexibility is key: Allow for variations in culture and avoid commonality across different markets. You need to come across as genuinely interested in customers and treating them to a sweeping campaign may not achieve this
2) Have a game plan: Create a strategy for delivering messages to customers, set a timeframe, and stick to it. Don’t be too overbearing or sparing with your messages, the former will be off putting and the latter will mean customers almost never check back in
3) Goals are good: Are you looking to sell your products, create awareness, generate buzz, or achieve a combination of these factors? Think about the audience you want to attract, and where they are. Consider how that audience acts online, its likes and dislikes. Learn that audience’s language. Background research in different social media platforms and the ‘tribes’ that occupy them will be crucial
4) Be ready to put out fires: Don’t be reactive to trouble. The nature of social media means attempts to manage crises will spiral out of control without a clear strategy on how to act set in place
5) Get everyone on board: Authenticity will go a long way on the social media environment. If you are an SME, create a culture where your employees can be engaged and want to contribute to social media environments. Building an online community, whether for customers or employees, will lead to a greater understanding of your organisation and what makes it tick. Dialogue with customers in particular can be invaluable to tweaking products and services
6) Content is king: With the market overcrowded, content that is non-engaging, over-marketed, and lacking quality will fall flat. Become a “go-to” source for your customers, a thought-leader and trusted source
7) Think “memorable”: Make people take notice and increase their chances of a repeat visit. On the opposite scale, idiocy may result in a viral mess
8) Assess the results: See if your efforts have increased sales or traffic on your site. Seek customer feedback to examine what you are getting right.
At the end of all that, success will depend on a bit of ‘x factor’ in addition to good planning. Here are some organisations that struck gold on social media.
YouTube: Old Spice
A video campaign featuring former NFL Player Isaiah Mustafa helped change the image of the “old man” fragrance into a modern and sexy brand. Catch phrases such as "Look at your man, now back at me", and "I'm on a horse", coupled with quirky and innovative visual tricks gained tens of millions of views. Celebrities clamored to be involved and Old Spice customised videos to the best (and quirkiest) fan requests, leading to a major rise in sales.
More than 12 million likes testify to its range of attractive videos, graphics and integration into other social media platforms. Engaging content gears to a range of audiences from fitness enthusiast, social media followers, fashionistas chasing new and retro styles, to sports fans checking out videos on their favourite stars.
Twitter: Domino’s Pizza UK
A campaign that ran on 5 March 2012 from 9 to 11am saw the price of its “Pepperoni Passion Pizza” go down by 0.01p with every tweet of hashtag #letsdolunch. After more than 80,000 tweets, the pizza’s price went down from £15.99 to £7.74, which the company offered on that day from 11am to 3pm.
The outdoor brand’s http://www.thecleanestline.comreads like a personal testament to the love of trekking, hiking and being outside. While aligning with brand values it also delivers interesting content without overt branding that would come across as off putting. It also successfully integrates community building across a mixed group of employees, “friends” and customers.
A “Make It Matter” branding campaign in 2012 targeted enterprise technology decision makers. But this was not just a matter of branding for its own sake, HP created dialogue and helped its community grow in a way that was not forced, leading to more than 300,000 new followers in two months.
Website: Red Bull
High quality graphics, videos and photos promoting extreme sports places Red Bull in a realm where the product takes a back seat to branding. Attractive, interactive and informative, Red Bull is perfectly placed to galvanise a whole community of people, enhancing the brand’s cool factor, while ensuring ubiquity in an exciting and unique way.
Conclusion: Use the force
Social media may seem like a world of metrics, with the bottom line to achieve real increases in traffic and sales. But, as Luke Skywalker discovers in Star Wars, sometimes it pays to let go of the figures and engage with “the force”. This “force” comprises the DNA and soul of your company.
All the hallmarks of success in the social media realm, whether finding a niche, knowing your audience, being authentic, and delivering on promises, come not from relentless pursuit of publicity and profit, but discovering who you really are and connecting with those who believe in that.
Digital strategy expert Sam Ford encapsulated these principles in a recent article for Fast Company by imploring companies to understand their customers by listening to:
1) What they are saying about your company
2) What else they are interested in
3) The discussions online that pertain to issues surrounding your products and services
All you need to do is demonstrate customer care, listen and genuinely engage, and you’ll navigate through the social media realm just fine.
May the force be with you.