It may sound obvious, but the first thing about social networking is... keep it social. Social networks are about relationships, not about a company owning and controlling the conversation. The challenge is how best to promote a “read-write” relationship with your target audience. It shouldn’t be a cynical move, but an honest and positive determination to engage better with those who really count.
The Web has become a complex world of interactions, and the user experience has heightened to a point where much more is expected of brands nowadays. The conversations will take place whether you are there or not, and with up to 20% of our daily conversations taking place online, isn’t it preferable to get involved in these conversations and position yourself to learn from them and influence them? Whereas the Web has revolutionised our communications, social networks such as Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook have revolutionised the Web.
We have embraced a 24/7 society in which we shop online, bank online, work online, entertain ourselves online, communicate with friends and family online and even fall in love online.
People have stopped “going” online and instead are continuously “being” online across a number of Web-driven platforms, from laptops to smartphones. To some who look back through rose-tinted glasses at a pre-Web world, it can be with a deal of regret.
But to many more who have adopted digital, and to the younger generation who are digital natives, the Web has opened up the world and infinite opportunities and relationships. Secondly, to the question “will social networks work with my brand?” the very culture of a brand is critical. Can you deal with the public talking about you in good times and bad? Unlike yesteryear, bad news stories are no longer tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper. Rules have changed.
Things tend to spread easily and hang around a long time online. This can be grasped as a great opportunity or as a threat to be avoided at all costs. It can also be tempting to be dismissive and convince yourself that only “losers” and “geeks” communicate online.
Ask around and you’ll find those “losers” and “geeks” are your neighbours, your parents, children, partners and colleagues. The thing is, nobody is perfect. Nobody expects anybody else to be perfect and they certainly don’t expect brands to be perfect.
The only thing customers demand time and time again is for your brand always to try its hardest to be perfect, and not just pretend. When you also include the customer on this journey, and involve them in achieving this, you really have hit the bullseye. Because society is more engaged with brands than ever before, they have also grown to expect this inclusion.
People extend the benefit of the doubt if a brand is honest.
Again, these conversations will take place anyway. So it is more important to be involved in those conversations in the places where they are happening and allow your brand to engage in an open, honest and accepting way.
Communications have been revolutionised and everyone has to get to grips with new relationships and engagement with customers, otherwise you open yourself up to competitors who will inevitably pull the carpet from under you. Your “brand” is not your logo, your company or mission statement. It is wider than that and includes your user, customer, or stakeholder.
It includes their perceptions, their feelings and their emotional connection with your brand. Social media develops this by providing a conduit. This type of interactive customer service through social media is also an effective sales tool. The interaction doesn’t just affect the person you are communicating with; others will see your conversation as well. If somebody complains about you on Twitter, it is a far better strategy to engage with them on a level and turn things around.
I continually see brand advocates being made by brands which reach out through these channels every day. You are going to need to heed the old adage of “know your audience”. What do they want, what can you offer them and, more surprisingly, what can they offer you? What insights can they provide? How can your product or service be improved? How can you keep ahead of anticipating user needs? Segmentation, targeting and messaging relies on this knowledge. By engaging with customers better, brands are succeeding in a crowded marketplace to extend reach and develop greater brand recognition and loyalty. Being proactive and going to where the people are will keep you close to your customer, plugged in and more importantly than ever... engaged.