This is a guest post by Corey Northcutt.
Social media has instigated a leveling effect on marketing. Now, small and medium businesses can compete with the big guys when it comes to getting their brand out there and establishing awareness where it matters. While smaller companies will struggle to maintain the level of content creation that large corporations with extensive marketing budgets can, they are at no significant disadvantage when it comes to using social media for community building and customer service. However, recent data implies that such companies are failing to make use of the opportunity to build a brand and reputation because of a lack of a coherent social media strategy.
In a recent survey by Arnold Worldwide of 2,400 people from the US, UK, China, and Brazil, 60% responded that they expected to have their comments on social media answered. Social media has become a preferred channel for customers to interact with brands, and they are conditioned to expect a conversational response. Many brands make the significant mistake of either engaging in legalistic quibbling or defensiveness for negative comments, compounding the already widespread error of regarding social media as an opportunity for the hard sell. Social marketing is conversational marketing in large part. Unfortunately, many companies, for various reasons, adopt the worst possible strategy, and fail to respond to their customer at all.
According to a study by Maritz, 85% of consumers have never had a response, for either a positive or negative comment, from any brand on social media. Keeping in mind that consumers tend to construe the social media presence of brands as a potential conversation, imagine how engaged and committed to a particular conversational partner you would be if their contribution was either constantly trying to sell you something or ignoring you.
Companies no longer really have a choice about whether they will make use of social media. It’s too ingrained in the daily life of most consumers to be optional, and the risks of doing it wrong can be harmful. So, businesses, even small ones, need some sort of social media strategy to make sure, at the very least, that they are engaging with their customers rather than snubbing them. Booz and Company, in a study of the impact of social mediaon marketing suggest five capabilities that should be concentrated on by companies aiming to create a successful social marketing strategy:
Be aware of what customers are saying and what they are interested in; use this to inform your strategy. It is necessary to have a social media strategy that is closely linked to your organization’s goals. A business’s social media presence cannot be managed in the same haphazard way that a personal presence is. However, if you are too rigid about managing your message, and lack the flexibility to proactively respond to consumers’ needs and expectations, then you will lose much of the advantage that social marketing can bring. Fostering engagement requires a conversational two-way approach in which your message is shaped by the context of an ongoing dialogue.
Share interesting content; create interesting content. Many people think that they get shares on social media because they are cool, because they shape a compelling brand image. While this is true to some degree, people generally aren’t going to “like” or share your content because you are cool. People share because your content makes them look cool, because the association improves their brand. This may come as a shock to many business owners, but quite often, even your most committed customers and clients aren’t as enthralled by your products and services as you are. While the widget you have spent years designing and producing excites you, it may not have the same effect on consumers. Yes, you should absolutely use social media as a channel for promoting your products and informing your customers, but you should also mix it up a bit. Social media is not an alternative product catalogue. Expose followers to a wider range of material, rather than having an exclusive focus on your business. The aim is to be the cool guy at the party who know lots of interesting and entertaining facts and is excited to share them, not the guy who obsessively and interminably extols the virtues of his most recent product.
Answer your customers! But more than directly answering their queries, listen to what they are saying, the way conversations tend to go, and get out ahead. One of the worst things you can do is attempt to brush off, ignore, or hide criticism. Deal with it as you would deal with a client who was making a face-to-face complaint, while keeping in mind that all your followers may be watching how you behave. Respond in a timely fashion. We live in a real-time world; monitor your Twitter feeds and Facebook page and have someone available who is competent to respond. It’s best to avoid being overly-defensive or treating followers as if they are not very bright by being evasive. The opposite tactic of full-on pom-pom waving super-enthusiastic cheerleading is also to be avoided; it’s annoying and sounds false.
Use data analytics to monitor sharing and customer sentiment. Test the effectiveness of various approaches. Social media marketing is still marketing, and making sure that particular strategies generate a decent ROI and meet business goals is important.
Bring something new to the table. Create novel content or mobile apps, for example. Make use of the demographic and personal data that social media efforts generate to help shape the ongoing strategy. Be aware of what competitors in the same space are doing, and bring something new to your customers. Above all, keep in mind the conversational nature of social media, and realize that the best tactic may be to hire someone with expertise to handle it. Do you have any tips to offer for social media strategy? How is your business doing in this area? Let us know in the comments.
Corey Northcutt is a professional inbound marketer writing on behalf of Nexcess Web Hosting. Nexcess has been providing custom, optimized hosting solutions since 2000, and currently specializes in providing unique web hosting environments for WordPress, Magento, and ExpressionEngine.