A growing number of companies are jumping on to the social media bandwagon, with Facebook Pages and Twitter streams helping them reach out to worldwide markets and supplementing traditional blogs and media handouts, with a community of followers that can be reached quickly and cost-effectively. Companies are also discovering the risks of outsourcing the "engagement" bit of their social media strategy.
There are several pitfalls to be avoided with social media, and we will cover them in detail soon. When it comes to engagement, however, with social media usage being a relatively recently phenomenon, it is clear that there is no single established "best strategy", but rather, a collection of strategies that work together while approaching the medium in different ways. A recent Forrester Research report delineates the most important steps companies can take to better engage their social media audience:
...In 2011, success and differentiation within social channels will come from distinctions in strategy and not just tactics. Being present in your customers' preferred social channels may be a best practice, but superior social media marketing results will only be delivered by:
- Focusing on engagement.
- Working as much internally as externally.
- Moving past ROI paralysis.
Brands are moving from simply being present on social networks to taking a more active role on social media. Here are three recommendations for businesses to effectively leverage their social media assets:
- Involvement and Crowdsourcing
Get your current and prospective customers involved in providing feedback or improvements to your products and/or services. Take advantage of the interactivity of social media sites by conducting opinion polls and actively helping your fans use your products and/ or services better. Crowdsourcing, or involving large numbers of people to generate ideas, suggest improvements,
According to social media strategist Robert Ball, "Study their behavior, listen to their thoughts and comments and learn how your products and services can help solve a problem they have. This will determine how you will engage. Good engagement leads to sales or improved customer service, everything else is just noise and clutter. Remember: Customers don't want to be "messaged," "pitched," or "positioned." The days of "spray and pray" are coming to an end. There's a reason it's called interactive advertising."
Everyone can appreciate a company going the extra mile to provide a superior experience with your brand. Examples:
- Dell's IdeaStorm is an interactive site dedicated to collecting suggestions from its worldwide customer base and allowing viewers to promote or demote ideas. Members can even see some of the top member contributions that were implemented by Dell.
- Nokia's Beta Labs offers early-adopters and tech-savvy users a platform to use, test and provide feedback on unreleased features and often innovative new ways of using mobile telephony.
- Pepsi Cola's Refresh Project pays out approximately $1.2 million every month as funding to support innovative ideas proposed by contributors that improve the state of the Arts and education, as well as enhance community participation in reducing crime, drug use and access to healthcare.
- Clorox's Dr. Laundry blog is chock full of useful laundry tips and tricks that were contributed by users as well as Clorox's fabric care specialists.
- Offers and Incentives
Whether it is a simple discount coupon, a rebate on a new product, or some other benefit offered to loyal customers and future prospects, everyone loves to get a good deal on a purchase, and such offers can keep a customer coming back for more.
According to a recent survey, when asked what types of interactions new media users look for when they engage with brands and companies online, the response breakdown was as follows with a single tactic far exceeding the rest:
- 77% = Offer incentives such as free products, coupons, and discounts.
- 46% = Solve problems and provide product or service information such as customer service.
- 39% = Solicit feedback on products and services.
- 26% = Develop new ways for me to interact with their brands, such as widgets, mobile apps, online games, and contests.
A few examples where brands have seen success using incentives:
- Logos Bible Software has worked hard to build its email list of 300,000. So choosing to shun that email list for its Black Friday promotion says a lot for the chosen alternative – social media.
- Microsoft promises attractive discounts and rebates with its Incentives site to help cement customer loyalty and bring in new customers.
Firms must try to become more open in their interactions with customers and the media, rather than being secretive. If there is a problem with a product or service, they need to own up to it and get in touch with affected parties to resolve the problem. This will increase trust in your brand and improve customers' experiences with your company, which will inevitably propagate via word-of-mouth and affect your bottom-line down the road.
- Dell's recent social media initiatives, such as setting up their Command Center, were set up to improve customer service, in response to disgruntled user stories widely reported and blogged, such as this one, or even this Guardian article, though not as poetic as the rants in this sailor's blog.
- Bing has apologized on Twitter for a tweet that many viewed as a way to gain exposure in the name of raising money for victims of earthquake in Japan.
- A "drunk" tweet was accidentally sent from the American Red Cross Twitter account. The Red Cross handled the situation pretty entertainingly–something that doesn't happen much these days–and released a charming followup tweet.
- Sitecore uses social media as one of their customer support channels to respond to customer questions and upgrades.
Tapping Into Collective Behavior Helps Engagement
According to Gartner, Inc., many social media efforts are failing because some enterprises just don't understand how to employ social media to facilitate collective behaviors. The study concluded that "Enterprises can employ these collective behaviors as the link between business value and social media technologies. They can use them to examine a target community and formulate new ways that people can interact to achieve enterprise value. By understanding the most prevalent technologies, collaborative behaviors, business use cases and business value for six collective behaviors, enterprises can more effectively plan for successful community-based social media initiatives."
"Social media is not an end in and of itself– it is an enabler. Social media technologies are tools and, like any technology, it is how people use those tools that delivers enterprise results" said Anthony Bradley, group vice president at Gartner.
It is now only a matter of time, indeed inevitable, for businesses to have a social media presence. For many companies, though, much of the current engagement efforts barely consist more than the occasional product update. There are exceptions to these generic business "follower" pages, of course, proving that enlightened and interested business owners and managers can successfully engage with their prospects and customers.