What an organisation says publicly about itself is, of course, important – whether on its website, through advertising, or via other marketing efforts.
But the social media revolution has meant that what’s even more important is what everyone else says about it – and Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the myriad of other platforms means that whatever is said by one person is easily accessible to everyone else, and almost instantaneously too.
Nowadays, organisations need to use the available tools to make sure they can listen to the conversations between each of their stakeholders on social media, and to contribute where it’s appropriate – whether the comments are positive or negative.
Go where the conversation is
How do they actually go about doing this, and where should their priorities lie?
Firstly, it’s a well-worn point, but it’s worth remembering that in social media a business need to be where the conversation is happening. It’s irrelevant if its marketing manager doesn’t like Google Plus, or if its CIO feels that WhatsApp is better suited to gossiping teenagers than business people – if that’s where people are talking about the business, that’s where its need to be and have a visible presence.
And, of course, having a presence doesn’t just mean setting up a page with some text about the company. It means monitoring every place where there is a conversation happening, and being able to respond quickly and appropriately.
Whether 24/7 monitoring and responses is required is a decision for every business. The best guide is to think carefully about customers – will they expect a response if they message on Twitter at 5am, or on a Sunday afternoon?
If a bus company is dealing with questions about traffic or snow, the answer is almost certainly yes – but if it is a company that sells B2B products, the expectation is more likely to be only that it’ll be around to respond within normal office hours.
Organisations also need to tie their monitoring of social media to their customer service systems. For example, how do they handle a complaint on Twitter or Facebook? How do they make sure the right people respond it to quickly? And how do they ensure that the customer’s problem gets fixed?
The best businesses are able to turn a bad conversation into a good one, and turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied one. And if a customer is impressed, they’re likely to say so on social media – giving the company an unprompted referral.
Around the world
Another point to consider is what level of international response is required. Are there customers in countries that have their own local social media, or where the popularity of global platforms is surprisingly different?
For example, if a company has customers in China it’ll probably need a presence on Qzone. And it needs to keep up to date too – for instance, Orkut has historically been seen as a major social platform in Brazil, but Google has now shut it down.
Organisations also need to work out who handles any regional social media presence. Does a local office have the right people and enough time to take this on board? Or is it better managed centrally from head office?
Quite simply, businesses need to be flexible enough to interact with customers where they want to be – including taking into account regional variations. But that flexibility must be combined with a careful analysis of what’s really important to the business, so it doesn’t end up trying to handle too many different social media sites, and so it can prioritise resources where they are really needed and add value to the business.
This does, of course, open up a whole new question: how does a company decide what level of investment is appropriate, and how does it measure the return on that investment? That is never easy, but is important.
It’s all about conversations and listening. Whatever tools or software that are employed to help, organisations must make sure their fundamental position is to engage in a meaningful dialogue, not just blast out advertising messages.
Sourced from Andy McRae, group CEO, RED