Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. LinkedIn. There is a lot of buzz about the explosion of social media. Many businesses are trying to scramble to gain a presence on these social media sites. All too often, they are joining in the frenzy without a thoughtful strategy and are simply doing it because “everybody else is doing it”. Many businesses also are not committed to creating a dialogue with customers and prospects; rather, they want to control the conversation. In essence, they view social media as another marketing channel through which they try to influence consumers’ attitudes and perceptions. This phenomenon raises a question: is social media a new paradigm for businesses or is it simply a different form of communication?
The murky reality is that it’s a little bit of both. Businesses that will best harnesses the power of social media need to marry some of the tried-and-true marketing axioms with unique characteristics of the medium. Some of the key attributes that need to be incorporated into corporate social media pages are relevancy and compelling creative content. The ubiquity of social media, particularly with consumers, allows people to spew out mundane details about their life. Businesses can fall into the same trap. Just because you can provide minutia about your company doesn’t mean you should. Information should be relevant to the audience you seek to reach. It also should maintain consistency with your brand personality. The ability to tell great stories and connect with consumers on an emotional level can occur through social media, just as it does through well-done advertising, websites, and retail experiences.
Conversely, there are unique attributes of social media that businesses need to understand. Social media is inherently viral in nature. As such, any messaging can scale very quickly. Nike created a spot using soccer star Ronaldinho, which was seen by over 23 million people on YouTube. On the flip side, negative messages can also scale quickly. Recently, Domino’s faced a PR nightmare brought on by two (now ex-) employees, who posted a less-than-appetizing video on YouTube. The video spread quickly and was seen by thousands of viewers.
Another unique attribute of social media is the ability to create a 2-way dialogue rather than 1-way communication, which is more typical of traditional media. Companies can glean important insights from consumers – both good and bad – about their products and services. Companies can also open up dialogues with channel partners, suppliers, investors, and the media.
Lastly, social media operates in real-time, so communication can be timely. Rather than doing lengthy research projects or focus groups, companies can use social media to solicit immediate feedback from consumers. Companies can also have real-time dialogue on any number of subjects that are urgent, important, or both.
Social media can be a boon for companies looking to connect with customers and other stakeholders. However, they need a well-planned strategy to maximize the benefits of social media efforts.