Social Media: Time to DEFINE What You Want.

Take my fiancé’s voice.  It can be used to whisper tender sentiments that warm my heart, or, more frequently, to express irritation that I haven’t hung up the bath mat / put the washing out / hoovered up properly / {insert suitable misdemeanour here}…

As my German teacher continually used to tell me, I’m being facetious.  But the fact remains, that social media is very much like my girlfriend’s voice.  Why?  Because it too has many different uses – and this truth is something that simply has to become embedded in the minds of companies seeking to use social media effectively.

It’s 2011 and if we take a snapshot of the corporate / consumer landscape, it’s evident that many brands are starting, slowly, to ‘get’ social media – and, more pertinently, get it right.  But there still exists a plethora of brands who find themselves asking for resources to ‘do social media’, yet remain unsure of what they want social media to achieve.

Here is my list of social media differentiation:

i) Branding

Want to get yourself noticed?  Engage and interact with your consumers, clients, customers?  Build subcultural capital?  Grow brand awareness with your target audience.  Social media is a valid catalyst that will get your brand noticed by more people, in the channels they choose to be reached in.  Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Wikis, LinkedIn, podcasts, YouTube, Flickr – the key is to be amongst your target audience, be interested in the things they like and show them that they need to invest in your brand as consumers.

We live in an age of permission marketing – your target audience won’t grant you permission unless you can show them that you share their interests.

ii) Commerce

This point ties neatly in with the argument put forward by naysayers who claim social media offers no ROI.  Quite frankly, this is spurious nonsense.  Of course, Dell is the ‘ROI posterboy’, posting sales figures of $3m dollars (& that was June 2009!) directly through its Twitter account, @DellOutlet.

From a branding perspective, measuring branding through any channel (print, press, posters, TV adverts etc.) is difficult to say the least.  But when it comes down to cold, hard, digital e-commerce, the fact is, digital marketers can choose from a wealth of analytics packages to track sales sources.  And more pertinently, social media channels are a great way to reach consumers who may not visit your traditional outlets, be they physical, websites or email.

iii) Customer Service

And this is one that is fast outstripping traditional methods.  Five years ago, a disgruntled customer would submit a form on a website, with their query / complaint / demands being whisked off electronically to some virtual email black hole.  A week later, a customer service representative may get round to opening your email and issuing a ‘case number’, but the fact remains, this has taken too long in the consumer’s mind.

Take social media – especially Twitter.  A complaint aired socially can be picked up instantly by a team of social media customer service staff.  Instant replies offering direct phone numbers, website pages for help, details of someone to contact, money-off deals or compensation are fast becoming the norm.  I grumbled about BT on Twitter regarding what was clearly an erroneous bill.  Within a few minutes, I had received an @reply asking for more details, was asked for my phone number and called up then and there.  The issue was resolved within 10 minutes.  A bad situation turned into a happy consumer – all from a tweet.

***

Those of you that are au fait with social media (and are still reading!) will no doubt be aware of these three basic different uses.  But the point I wish to make is thus:

Social media in itself is not ‘a strategy’ or ‘a solution’. Like anything, it needs strategy, purpose and alignment with business objectives.  If more companies are looking to invest in social media, that can only be a good thing – but these businesses must define the purpose of their social media engagement in order to ensure that it is effective.

You can find me moaning about utilities companies on Twitter right here: @callumsaunders

CC image courtesy of Kelsey Ohman (kmohman) on Flickr.

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