Q: How can social media increase a company’s brand exposure?
Social media is an extremely interesting phenomenon, in that its essentially just good old word of mouth but turbo charged via the power of technology. Therefore, techniques that would have worked well in a traditional media sense can often become extremely effective social media campaigns. What you need more than anything to get social working is something interesting to say! (For interesting read genuinely interesting, funny, shocking, amazing, frightening, etc, etc) It’s extremely difficult to get social media working in any meaningful way if there is nothing that people want to share about your brand. So you have to create great content. Publish a report. Hold an event. Pull off a stunt or a great new business coup. This is where the world of social media blends with the world of PR quite nicely. Anything that would have been a great PR piece is an ideal starting point for a social media campaign. The challenge then is to figure out how to best amplify the campaign via the various social channels available to get maximum exposure.
Q: What is the best way to reach new customers through social media?
There is a saying within the social media community that it’s very difficult to create a community from scratch, but there are existent communities out there surrounding almost any topic or interest that can be tapped into and exploited. That would be a great starting point. But think laterally. If you manufacture pork pies or smoked haddock there may not be a specific community of people blogging about your exact product, but there are plenty of food lovers out there and some very active discussions going on around all aspects of food preparation, recipes, local produce etc that could provide great springboards for your initial forays into the social scene.
Q: Is social media just a tool for brand promotion or can it be used in other ways?
In a lot of ways I’d probably suggest that brand promotion is perhaps one of the more difficult things to pull off via social media, or at least brand promotion in isolation. Social is fantastic for generating and sharing things like reviews, testimonials and for keeping in touch with existing customers. Of course there is an element of brand promotion in all of those activities, but it’s a much deeper brand experience than just seeing a piece of content and being entertained for a few seconds or minutes. Often we are hoping that existing customers will share their experiences – which is a very powerful way of winning new business, but of course demands that the whole customer experience – from start to finish – was good in the first place! This is why we say that social goes all the way through the business. It shouldn’t really be thought of as just a branding or even just a marketing tool. It can be used as a customer service tool, a research tool and can – and maybe will as we go forward – become one of the driving forces helping us plan the look and feel of our entire businesses around the actual (as opposed to perceived) needs of our customers!
Q: What are the potential pitfalls of social media?
I mentioned earlier that social media is a lot like word of mouth – and they both come in two flavours! Take the old adage that a happy customer tells maybe one or two people whilst a disgruntled or disappointed customer tells 10-15. Now apply the kinds of multiplication factors that technology can bring to the table and you can see how this can go horribly wrong if you upset your lovely new social media aware consumers! Case in point was the famous United Airlines ‘United breaks guitars’ debacle. Whereby a deeply disappointed United passenger decided to write a song about the fact that United Airlines broke his guitar and were ‘reluctant’ to deal with the matter. He then posted this song (complete with accompanying video) on YouTube, where it received over 3 MILLION views in the first 10 days (http://mashable.com/2009/07/15/united-breaks-guitars/) and, as I sit typing this, has now reached 9,388,596 views in total. That’s a lot of musicians not flying on United ever again!
Q: Don’t social media sites such as Facebook carry big risks in terms of reputation – you could be exposed to very public criticism of your products?
In short, yes. And there is nothing that you can do about it. However, this is NOT a reason to stay clear of the social space – far from it. What you need to understand is that, if you are creating bad experiences and upsetting you customers, they ARE going to go online and share this information on blogs, review sites, Facebook, YouTube or wherever they can vent their spleen. The only difference being you will be blissfully unaware about it…. Until it’s too late!
The key here is to be AWARE of what is being said about your brand
in these channels. First of all, listen. You can use social monitoring tools these days to collate ‘mentions’ of your brand or other key words or phrases across the social media spectrum. Once you understand what the perception is currently, you have a chance to do something about it. In some ways this could be THE single most important use of social media for businesses – to monitor, listen to and respond to chatter that already exists around the brand. This is real time, 100% genuine customer feedback, and it’s all yours for a lot less than the cost of one (usually ineffective and often downright misleading) artificially staged customer focus group.
Q: How can you guard against feeding information to competitors?
That’s a very good question and one that’s not all that easy to answer directly. Anything that you allow into the social space AND a lot of what you don’t publish yourself but others do, is instantly available to millions to share and distribute as they see fit.
I listened to Doug Gurr (CEO of ASDA) speak at a recent Multi Channel Retail event about how social media leaves businesses nowhere to hide. He envisaged a world of ‘total price and service transparency’ driven by social sharing, reviews, price comparison engines and customer testimonials.
In essence, if this really happens, it could change the way that business thinks about marketing and brands completely. With playing fields being levelled to such an extent, true value to the consumer gets put right back at the heart of the organisation. If the product isn’t the best in the market place you won’t be able to charge a premium for it. If your service is second rate, then you will be found out and no one will pay top dollar. The only way to go here is once again to embrace the full impact of customer feedback and do something about it – and quickly!
Never before have consumers had so much power to literally make or break the reputations of businesses almost overnight. No amount of traditional branding or positive PR is going to be able to stem the flow of genuine feedback from real customers. This represents a huge challenge to us all, but also, for those willing to tackle the issues head on and make changes boldly, possibly the most cost effective and exciting marketing tool at our disposal.