It is crucial for commercial organisations to use online communication channels to help them engage with both customers and fellow businesses.
Businesses are increasingly using social media platforms to build more personal relationships with customers. But while well-implemented digital media communications can be the cornerstone of a building a brand or reputation, a weak online strategy can be equally damaging and deliver a poor return on investment.
Companies need to follow a strategic path using social media to grow their online presence, improve communication with staff and increase customer loyalty. Because social media challenges the old-school practice of ‘push’ media and uses engagement instead, this can come as a culture shock. It also requires an understanding of alternative technologies and online platforms as well as a fresh attitude to acquiring new business that can conflict with traditional communications techniques.
The growth of social media affects how news is delivered: on demand, placing the consumer in control and enabling them to filter content. Some 43% of news on Twitter covers developments in technology, compared with just 1% in the traditional print media*. For businesses operating in a niche such as this, the benefits of social media engagement and online marketing to consumers are clear.
Social media can also be a valuable business-to-business (B2B) communication channel. Twitter is a particularly good example, with ‘follow me’ opportunities replacing ‘friend me’, enabling people who are not friends to do business online. Twitter’s 140 character limit also encourages succinct communications. Meaningful short business conversations add a human touch to the corporate world, creating encouraging online conversations with colleagues, clients, customers and potential contacts.
Facebook on the other hand is predominantly a platform for brands to communicate with their consumers – in July 2009 a study of Fortune 100 companies found that more had a presence on Twitter (54%) than on Facebook (29%). Surprisingly, the study also found that only 32% had a corporate blog, which can be a fast and inexpensive way to promote controlled, on-brand messages and news online**.
The study also found that these companies were using social media platforms for several purposes: company news, customer service, marketing promotions and employee recruitment – the majority of which were successfully completed on LinkedIn. This is most likely to be because they are low cost and highly targeted, providing provided a platform for even the smallest company to excel.
Bullring Birmingham (@Bullring), which is based in the West Midlands, successfully integrated social media and traditional communications during its Christmas campaign in 2009. A model of the shopping centre was created from LEGO, and shoppers were offered the change to engage by recreating themselves as LEGO figures and placing themselves within the model. The initiative really fired consumer’s imaginations; not only did the project provide a story for the traditional media but consumers and local bloggers created LEGO figures online and used them as profile pictures on social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.
So what is next? The BBC has announced changes to its iPlayer, which will integrate social media platforms into the TV viewing experience. Geographical tagging and the open use of publicly available data will drive online users to business directories such as http://awmist.org (set up by the Advantage West Midlands’ ICT Cluster), and this practice will actively reward engagement by offering visitors a richer experience through content such as integrated promotional videos, photographs and press releases.
The world of social media is changing fast. Facebook is causing a storm with its privacy policies at the moment, and many platform providers are seeing a huge increase in mobile handset publishing. Expect social media to become more mobile, so learn how to really use your Blackberry or iPhone now. That way, your knowledge and successful use of digital communications will grow with the technology catering for it, ensuring you can take part in online conversations that customers may already be having about your business or brand.
- Listen to what people have to say
- Use the platforms your target audience is already having conversations on
- Join the existing audience for your brand
- When you are listening to people, show engagement and understanding for their needs
- Build conversations in public
- Share information and news about your business
- Provide guidance, training and examples of best practice for communications staff to ensure that the voice of your company reflects your corporate values and ethos
- Don’t resort to ‘push’ tactics and spam – your customers should ask to be pulled instead
* Source: Pew Research Centre (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1602/new-media-review-differences-from-traditional-press)
** Source: Burson-Marsteller