Look before you leap

Last Updated: Sun, Jan 01, 2012 22:03 hrs

When social media isn’t handled correctly, it can do more harm than good. Striking a balance is key, but equally important is using it properly.

With online environment provides a limitless number of ways for brands to market their products, and social media has added an additional string to that bow — a potentially powerful one.

But for brands, social media is about more than simply increasing awareness and traffic to the company’s website or fan page. More importantly, it opens the gates to allow constant communication and engagement between companies and their consumers — not to talk at them, but with them.

“Using social media for commercial reasons only is a big mistake,” says Ines Nadal, senior research executive in brand and communications at Synovate UK. “Social media is not a sales platform. Before trying to sell, brands need to engage with users and build up their trust by making them want to interact with you.”

Companies should also think about the amount of manpower they’ll need to dedicate to social media. Klaas Weima, director of Amsterdam-based creative agency Energize, agrees about creating interactive brand communication . “Note that it’s not about the amount of conversations, but the quality and response-time to conversations. You have to act fast and be agile.” These factors require a structured plan, as postings and responses need to move quickly (almost 24/7). “If you can’t respond to a question posted on your site within six hours, forget about social media,” said Weima.

With the operative word being ‘social’, brands’ use of social media is similar to courting a relationship — they must continuously come up with compelling things to reveal about themselves to keep the other party interested, and keep them coming back for more. Give them something to talk about.

This year, Domino’s Pizza has revamped its brand image by focusing on customers on the social media front. On their Facebook page, customers can rate Domino’s Pizzas. With the ‘pizza tracker’, customers can track the status of their orders and also review the pizzas. Reviews are shown on giant billboards in Times Square, building a strong dialogue with consumers.

From November to December 2010, Southwest Airlines in the US worked with Make-A-Wish Foundation and Facebook Places to help grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. The company donated US$1 for every traveller who checked in through Facebook Places on their mobiles at Southwest Airlines’ airports, which generated US$300,000 and donated it to Make-A-Wish Foundation.

In April this year, online magazine Social Media Examiner listed Ford Motor Company as one of the nine companies doing social media right. According to the article, ‘The Ford Story’ blog is unique in that viewers can start reading comments before they read the article, introducing the readers’ comments to new viewers makes for an open, friendly first impression. The benefits that Ford reaps are the new ideas generated by fans giving direction to the technological advancement of their cars. By involving consumers, the connection between consumer and company can strengthen, helping the brand deliver what their dedicated followers want to see.

Of course, when social media isn’t handled correctly, it can do more harm than good. Internet firm Auros studied United Kingdom’s top 25 retailers on their responsiveness level to customers across various social media platforms. It found that only 52 per cent of retailers have a blog on their website and 12 per cent have a YouTube channel. It claimed that retailers were using social networks as marketing channels instead of engaging with consumers. Nadal reiterates that it’s not all about the brand. “We need to keep in mind that social media is a two-way conversation. Brands need to do more than just promote their products and try to sell them.”

And beware of brands that get overly invested in social media. Many brands place ads on Facebook, but this can be interpreted as an invasion of people’s personal space when users find continuous ads popping up in relation to the sites or fan pages they’ve visited. Nadal believes that brands stepping over the line can be seen as a threat and lose people’s trust. On the flip side, social media can also be the best place to make amends.

So what are the parting words to prevent social media overkill for brands? Engaging, listening and responding to consumers will give them a personal understanding about the company behind the brand. Transparency is important, Nadal affirms. “A brand that truly gets that would stand out from the rest as a brand that cares and puts people first.”

Reprinted from Change Agent, with permission from Synovate, an Ipsos company

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