Chapter Two of Now Is Gone goes into great detail to determine whether or not social media is the right thing for a business. Surprise, surprise, though I love social media, I know it’s not the best thing for all companies.
Web 2.0 (or social media) communications tools have become all the rage for companies. Businesses have a wide variety of tools at their disposal; blogs, community forums, social networks, videos, and wikis.
For small businesses, they provide an unusual equalizer, a way to demonstrate subject matter expertise and compete head-to-head with larger service organizations. On the Internet, size matters less. By communicating with stakeholders who, directly or indirectly, affect your business, you can build a better relationship with your community.
But are these tools right for the corporate culture to achieve their desired outcomes. Is social media the right tool for your small business? Yes, it’s more cost effective than advertising and media relations, but can you commit to loss of message control, open consumer correspondence, knowledge of community, substantial resource obligations, and business transparency?
These necessary tasks create the foundation of a valuable social media outreach program. Here are five areas that businesses struggle with in engaging social media.
1) Is Your Community Social Networking Savvy?
Social media communications tools are just that, and they should only be used if your stakeholders can be reached through those tools to affect an outcome. With 54% of bloggers under the age of 30, organizations that appeal to a largely older crowd would not be well served in creating a blog or social networking campaign (according to Pew Internet). However, even if 15 to 25% of a company’s buyers are in that range, then it is wise to address these customers in the social media space.
The social media dialogue can be thought of as a continuous focus group. New media forms become more valuable as time progresses and users of social networks mature and enter the workforce.
2) Giving Up Control of the Message
Corporate control of the message does not exist in the new media environment. Social media users often comment about a company’s perceived flaws or possible alternative views in spite of traditional media coverage. Companies have to be willing to take public criticism if they will be successful with their social media tools.
But negative commenting is not bad. In fact, it can provide great intelligence into the community’s needs, as well as provide a reason to engage customers one on one. By taking consumers’ concerns into account, corporations can relay their message directly and address feedback accordingly. This minimizes consumer frustration or anger and simply lets the user be heard.
Consider Dell Computers’ amazing brand image reversal based on their willingness to take on negative feedback directly. By responding to customer comments publicly through social media, a company becomes well regarded.
3) Participating in a Community
This new media “revolution” returns businesses to older values. Two centuries ago, it wasn’t just about business. It was about neighbors or friends who helped each other. This means companies have to give up spin and talk to customers in a conversational way.
Social media has made conversations possible again, albeit on a much larger scale with a plethora of micro-communities that interact with each other. Small businesses are better suited to understand one-on-one conversations in comparison to larger companies. By talking with its community, rather than at them, a company becomes an integral part of those communities.
4) Dedicating the Resources
The Internet is littered with failed corporate blogs and discontinued social media initiatives. Many simply can’t think of new, interesting content to post, and with the time necessary to commit to a blog, many simply decide to stop. Companies must be ready for the marathon.
A corporate blog or community site must be updated diligently to engage the community with appealing content for the life of the new media initiative, not just for the first few months. A unique look helps catch the reader’s eye. But keeping them there requires a constant creation of appealing content aimed at the community that only comes with significant time and thorough commitment. This commitment may grow over the life of the effort as it becomes more popular.
5) Ethics and Transparency
A brand is a promise to your community. If the public’s trust is broken by a company misrepresenting themselves with that promise, regaining trust will be difficult. Blog readers expect transparency in a corporate blog, especially in crisis situations. Airline company jetBlue paid a serious price for its failure to communicate on its blog during its Valentine’s Day crisis in 2006. You have to be ready to show your company’s true colors and correct wrongs as they happen.
You are ready if your company can say its community is reading social media; that your company can take negative comments and communicate in a public conversation with its customers; can commit the time and creativity resources to do so; and can operate ethically in the toughest of times. Go and engage with these new dynamic communications technologies. Enjoy the great benefits of one on one conversations with your community.