Social media: what’s your excuse for NOT taking part?

geek_party_3It used to be that the only brands that got involved with social media were tech brands. Brands whose very premise was technology and web. So for them, the very idea of NOT taking part in social media was not an option. If there was a party, they had to be there. Fast-forward a few years, and the party is still alive and kicking, but it’s not only full of geeks. There are some bigger better-known types turning up. After all, everyone is invited; it’s an open door policy. But for some reason, brands are still slow to the party. Lame excuses probably include “…not sure what to say”, “…might look stupid”, “…do I have to?” blah blah blah.

But these excuses are starting to wear thin. There really is NO EXCUSE. A report out last week confirms what many have known for a while; engaging with your audience through the use of social media pays. Oh yes!

Money“… the most valuable brands in the world are experiencing a direct correlation between top financial performance and deep social engagement…”

So now we’ve got that out the way, let’s just get our heads around what engaging really means [clue: it's a lot more than just showing up].

Being seen in the right places

Well as with most things marketing, first you need to find out where your audience is hanging out. Once you know that, you can make a decision as to which channels you want to be seen in. But remember, to take part in a channel doesn’t mean you have to own it. It is OK to just hang out. Let me explain. Blogging might be really important to your audience, whether they read them or write them. But you don’t necessarily need to have your own blog, you can actively take part in their blogs; make comments, give prominent bloggers a preview of new products, submit articles and news. The important thing is to take part, and not just have a presence.

Listening

catjobphase4As I’ve said, just being in your chosen channel isn’t enough, you have to take part and interact (this bit is so important I decided to repeat myself - it’s for you skimmers out there) And most importantly, you have to listen. This is quite new to a lot of marketers, who usually too busy spouting outward. Used to focussing on getting their message out there, now they’ve got to learn to listen and converse. Before I hear too many marketers shout in protest, when I say listen, I mean listen as a daily activity, not an annual one. Listening needs to become part of the fabric of the business and not just an isolated focus group attended by a solitary marketing exec.

Make a commitment

This is really important. For a brand to engage with its audience, it needs to commit to it. Once you’re in, you’re in. So make sure you have a plan and a resource to deliver that plan. Sure, the plan can evolve. But at the very least make sure that someone owns social media in the business and is listening to the conversation. Ideally, social media needs to become part of the culture, right up to the top. But, one step at a time is fine at this stage.

So, what’s your excuse?

state-newspaper-excuses

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Are brands brave enough to embrace social media?

Social media, while it’s been around for a bit now, is still not being truly embraced by brands. The beauty of social media is the decentralisation of the source of the message. Now we all have a voice, and it’s just as relevant and important as the next person’s. So for brands, who are used to being in control of the messages about their brand, that time is over.

Brand owners know all about brand perception. Brand perception is what consumers think about the brand. When a gap exists between where the brand thinks they are and where they really are, there’s a bit of work to do. But in the old days, this was relatively easy. You took out a few ads, used a great PR agency and before long, shifts occurred in the brand image.

But now, there are a whole heap of conversations going on about brands in places they don’t even know about. Sure, they have their own website that pushes out the brand message, but that’s the last place that consumers come to. Typically, Google is where it all starts and the corporate website is where it ends. What happens in between is what is going to determine whether that final visit leads to a sale.

So, why don’t brands get more involved with all that stuff that happens in between? The forums, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook… Do brands even know where the conversations are happening?

The truth is that brands are scared. Most are still trying to work out whether social media is here to stay, while the rest are still working out what it is and how to use it. How many people have you heard say “I just don’t get Twitter”?

In a recent Brand Republic article the top 100 brands mentioned on Twitter were mentioned alongside whether or not they had a presence on Twitter. Less than half of them have a Twitter account. So brands like Gillette, Audi, L’Oreal, Cadbury’s, Tesco, Coca-Cola and Apple are NOT participating in the conversation about their brands. This is the space where decisions are made about brands and it seems like the big guys are getting a bit complacent.

Last year I spent some time with the CEO of Bazaarvoice. These guys are all about making the most out of UGC (user generated content) and using it to drive sales. So if you sell from your website they help you to incorporate UGC to offer a fuller picture to the consumer helping them to make a balanced decision. They can demonstrate that a selection of balanced reviews will sell you more products, even if that selection includes poor reviews.

It makes sense. Consumers are going to seek out those balanced reviews before purchasing, so you may as well put them on your site. Stops them leaving in the first place and buying elsewhere.

So, if we know there’s a conversation taking place out there somewhere between Google and the corporate site, why not encourage some of that conversation to take place ON the corporate site? There is an article that has a clear view about this and it encourages brands to develop their website with their consumers. Instead of being me-me-me, make the website about them and their experiences with the brand. Invite testimonials, good and bad, and create a community. This may all sound like a step too far for some brands. But what the bigger brands need to realise, is that smaller brands are happy jump in here, as it’s their competitive edge.

And who knows, these little guys could be the big brands of tomorrow.

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