It is difficult to get a down-and-dirty introduction to what social media is, and how it can be used for business purposes, without having someone trying to convince you that you cannot do it without their expert advice. Consultants who want to sell this next big thing in marketing produce most of the (mis)information out there. The ills and wonders of social media are being hyped to the point where companies become despondent regarding the medium. In the one ear, they are whispered honey-glazed words of how amazing social media is and how it can help their business grow, and in the other ear, they are accosted with the risks and potential disasters that will befall them, lest they fork out for the counsel of some social media expert. This article has none of that conditioning talk. The aim of this article is to dispel some of the hysteria (on both sides of the argument) that accompanies social media discussions.
Knowledge rarely shared
There is no magic formula to help a business succeed on social media networks. Social media is like pub talk, you are either part of it, or you are not. And just like pub talk, businesses have to decide whether they want to embrace the informal discussions and verbal jabs that take place on social networks, or indirectly hear the rumors that are making the rounds about them behind their backs. It is usually safer to defend and clarify oneself at the inception of such stories, but this is common sense and it does not cost a cent.
When to engage in social media
There is no magical tipping point at which a company HAS to engage in social media. Any company that has a sufficient following or large enough market presence will generate discussions and arguments on social media sites, whether they directly engage in social media or not. Unless a company managed to secure customers still trapped in the Stone Age, there is a guarantee that customers will eventually take to social media networks (like Twitter and Facebook) to talk about any pleasures or pains they experienced with said company.
Therefore, managers, executives, and sales professionals who are vacillating over the idea of engaging in social media can relax. They do not need some expert to hold their hand when they engage in social media any more than one needs an expert to guide you into the nearest pub. You will most likely find the pub already populated with little groups that are whispering about you. You can now start to speak for yourself and people there can ask you questions directly.
The viral nature of social media
The best thing about social media is also the worst thing about it. Both positive and negative topics can go viral almost overnight. If your company releases a new promotion, it may explode on Twitter and enjoy a massive following, earning your company success and fame. However, should a disgruntled customer strike an emotional chord with a social media audience, if, for example, they had a bad experience with your company, then the viral nature of social media can become the conductor for a pathogenic strain of criticism levered against your brand.
Social media is probably one of the easiest engagements any company will ever have. It is informal, loose, and even somewhat tongue in cheek. Any teenager can do it. It has no pretentions and any pretentious tone will soon wear itself out. Social media is not something where domain experts need only tread. Social media is merely a digital form of a communication style we all engage in outside of the domiciles of labor where we try to keep communications monotone and professional.
How social media fits into business
Let us assume that the offending company here is a big supermarket brand called ACME. We will now see a real-world example of when and how social media comes into play, both for customers and the company.
Mrs. Trotsky enjoys buying her monthly yogurt supply from ACME. This particular month she purchased a batch and later found out that half of the purchase had gone sour. She takes the expired containers back to ACME—and after a tremendous struggle with an unhelpful and rude staff member—she gets a partial refund. No doubt, this is unacceptable. Before social media, Mrs. Trotsky would be somewhat disempowered. She could make a scene in the store, possibly to the annoyance of fellow customers and at some embarrassment to herself, or she could tell her friends and family of her ordeal. Perhaps some of them will stop buying from ACME out of a shared sense of insult.
Today, Mrs. Trotsky is not so weak anymore. She simply logs on to Twitter and posts her experience online. Twenty-four hours later, more than 15,000 people have read her story, and a further 483 have added their own recount of negative experiences they had with the same retailer. ACME now has a serious problem brewing. One single spat is now snowballing as more and more people are drawn into the discussion. Without a social media presence, ACME would be oblivious as to the damage being done to their brand. A few weeks later (provided the complaint goes viral), Mrs. Trotsky’s tweet could have a following of well over a hundred thousand views.
Even with a social media presence, the company may not be able to undo what is done, but they can help to diffuse the situation while it is still in incubation. ACME can publically address Mrs. Trotsky and offer an apology plus a $100 shopping voucher for the ordeal she experienced. They could also release a public statement announcing their renewed commitment to excellent customer service, while assuring people that they will step up measures against internal staff responsible for bad customer service.
The flipside is also true. ACME could suffer some damage to their brand if one of their PR employees were to make an insulting or inappropriate remark on their Twitter page. This is a real risk, but any company that has some PR activity will already understand these risks. It does not require the clarification from a social media expert.
Social media platforms allow companies to be the umbrella over their brand community. When companies have a social media presence, their brand communities will develop around the company itself. It is the best way to ensure that a growing customer base always gets the latest news directly from the most trusted source.
Our recommendation to companies new to social media is this: say what you mean and mean what you say, and you will do just fine…
Welcome to the group of the initiated. You may be stupefied by the simplicity of social media, and how it simply carries the same risks/rewards as any other sort of PR engagements. It begs the question, what part of the social media concept requires a $2,000 consultation from an ‘expert’ to clarify?
FocalScope makes your social media interactions on twitter as simple as reading and responding to emails. You will not have to learn and perform any special tricks, and you can engage in social media whenever and however you want.
With FocalScope’s Twitter integration, you get expert social media results, without the cost of hiring a social media expert.