Social media is still seen as a novelty channel in business, isn’t it? New research has revealed that only seven per cent of managers consider social media skills to be important in the workplace. And fewer than 20 per cent of managers and Generation Y employees feel that the use of social media to create dialogue with people within the industry is either very or extremely important.
If this was a survey purely of communications managers, the result might be alarming (though still not surprising, perhaps). But to managers who work in finance, manufacturing, engineering or the public sector, how critical is it that their employees converse on social media sites with potential customers? When would they have time to do that? Why would this be in their job description?
Surely, it’s understandable that a manager might expect an asset fund manager to focus on figures rather than Facebook, or a legal adviser to look at policy rather than LinkedIn discussions.
Even if I was employing someone in a communications role, I wouldn’t overlook an applicant who confessed to letting social media pass them by. It’s impossible to absorb every comms kit or platform.
The real offence is in failing to acknowledge that social media has a business benefit.
Even if you’re a complete novice on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, communicators should no longer be ignoring the impact these channels can have on marketing and audience engagement campaigns.
What surprises me is the relatively slow pace at which social media has been adopted in the corporate world.
Granted, many organisations are using it in innovative, clever and engaging ways to make themselves more approachable and human – and they have been for years. Those who bravely dipped their toe in years ago are now finding it’s a core channel to hook customers and that it has a huge reach.
Starbucks has 4.2 million Twitter followers. Red Bull has 40 million likes on Facebook. Strangers to social media will wonder why four million people would want to read news about coffee every day or why tens of millions of people feel the need to give an energy drink its approval. I also wonder, to be honest. But why spend time pondering over the quirks of humankind? Just accept that people like to “Like” things. And they can “Like” your business, too. And that’s how brand reputation builds.
Other brands you might never have heard of are also using social media wisely. Whole Foods Market have 3.5 million Twitter followers – a number that is surely growing at a pace because of the frequency with which the company posts: 10 to 20 tweets a day, and more than 80,000 to date.
Used effectively, it can put businesses and customers on the same level – the conversation becomes one-to-one, rather than the talking-at-you tone of typical marketing content. It’s a refreshing shift.
But many communicators and business leaders see it as an extra thing to worry about. Or they fear the potential reputational damage; many organisations have suffered notable – though fleeting – embarrassment from rogue tweets. For many, the concern is still that social media encourages comment, and some of this feedback might be – gosh! – negative.
Whether they are in a comms role or not, your employees will already be engaging with brands without realising it – every viral they open, advert they watchYouTube or praise/complain about a brand on Twitter.
A big part of employee engagement is making them ambassadors of the company. You want them to be proud enough of who they work for that they want to share the good news with other people.
While I still don’t think managers outside of communications need to look for social media skills in someone’s CV, it should certainly be on the agenda of line managers to understand how it could improve customer engagement and build brand reputation.
Your next new bit of business could be just 140 characters away.
A starter’s guide to social media
OK, so you’re an internal communicator, but you’re not on Facebook, you’ve never tweeted, and you think YouTube is full of films of kittens and Justin Bieber videos. You have one connection on LinkedIn.
You don’t need to be active on social media, but you at least need to understand it. So, what do you need to know?
Remember your audience. Twitter, Facebook et al might not be for you, but marketing is not all about you. It’s about your customers. What exactly are hundreds of millions of people – 1.15 billion on Facebook and 200 million+ on both LinkedIn and Twitter – doing online? Look for big brands on Twitter and Facebook – direct competitors as well as those out of your sector – and review their messaging, and how social media is working for them.
Use the channels to further your own knowledge about your audience. Look at how your customers and clients are using these channels. What are they “Liking” or retweeting? Analyse your competitors’ use of these channels too – don’t fall behind what they’re doing. Follow back relevant individuals and organisations – not just your peers, suppliers and customers, but relevant news sites and comms and marketing professionals.
Your customers should be fans. They want to hear what you have to say. Be active and post regularly. Don’t set up a Twitter or Facebook account and think this means you have a presence on social media. A live but inactive account suggests you have no idea what you’re doing, which looks worse than having no account at all. The more you post, the more key words in your posts will be searched for – eventually “Likes” and retweets will draw followers.
Remember the “social” in “social media”. People buy in to people. This is your opportunity to get to know your customers on a more personal level. Don’t simply push out links to press releases. Communication can be more informal – be funny sometimes; entertain your audience – and should always be two-way. Make your posts a mix of information about your company and replies to comments and queries. Even a simple “thank you” is enough to show a customer you’re listening.
Don’t be disheartened by bad press. A customer is more likely to write a negative comment about a service than a positive one. Social media allows customers to contact brands directly and is a great mechanism for you to bad reviews. You won’t always be able to tempt back a customer who’s had a poor experience, but replying to say you acknowledge their concerns and will investigate – and ideally respond again later with a follow-up message – shows that, despite any chinks in your service, you still put the customer first.