This is an extended version of an article that originally appeared in the FT.com. You can read the abridged version here.
Whether you are a large multinational, a small home business or an individual, on social media everyone is a brand unto themselves. It’s a medium that if leveraged correctly can reach nearly 2.1 billion people, many of whom engage on social platforms on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
As with any growing community, it is also constantly changing. With continuously increasing volumes of updates, tweets and videos, there is an opportunity to convince people to let you as a company be part of their personal brand, but it has to be done in an authentic way.
Success on social media is not just about realising the power of these channels but also about carefully navigating the unexpected pitfalls.
Some unfortunate brands have experienced the exquisitely quick, severe and often devastating backlash the social media community can inflict.
It does not take much; a badly timed tweet, an inappropriate image and without warning you can have a social media revolt disseminating across the globe which needs to be contained, yet few brands plan how to prevent or manage such a disaster.
Building the power
In 2016, 50% of businesses will rely on social media as their primary tool to reach customers. It sounds clichéd but building relationships is key.
The challenge is the dichotomy of the communication, on one hand it’s a global digital soap box, whatever is said is for all to hear, and yet at the same time the message needs to be incredibly personal and relevant to the individual.
People are on social media to connect, not to be sold to. Brands need to know their audience, understand their problems, build rapport and provide empathy. This takes time.
Planning and creating quality content that can be distributed throughout the customer’s digital journey is a fundamental part of implementing a successful social media strategy that drives engagement.
Keep it interesting; the form of the content should vary. Video has become increasingly popular with Facebook having over 8 billion daily video views, Snapchat has 6 billion daily video views and it’s estimated that consumers spend on average 66 min a day watching videos online.
The focus is back to creating quality video content that is memorable, engaging and sharable, even it means that it is produced less often.
With the right content, growing your distribution can be done through a paid advertising strategy, such as sponsored updates or, increasingly, through your employees’ network.
There has been a 191% increase in companies getting their employees to share the business content through their own social media channels. Content shared though these social advocacy programmes get 8 times more engagement than when it is shared directly.
Having a social media policy in place for employees can be critical to growing your social media presence but it is also central in avoiding potential pitfalls.
Mitigating the pitfalls
Social Media crises are on the rise, because despite this being one of the most powerful and direct means to build relationships and create new customers, the responsibilities of managing social media within an organisation is often handed off to the youngest member of the team.
These front-line employees are ill-equipped and inexperienced in knowing how to respond to opportunities on social media in real time, while appropriately reflecting brand values.
Understanding the platforms is undeniably important; however, knowing how to communicate your brand values effectively and at the right time throughout the customer’s digital journey should be an integral component of any digital strategy.
Furthermore, multinational brands launching in other countries, need to be considerate of any cultural differences and adapt their communication on social media accordingly. Not having a strategy in place can lead to costly mistakes.
According to a survey conducted by Bluehill Research, a company loses on average $3.5 million from one social media mistake.
It’s not just the cost of reputational damage but the direct financial loss due to loss of revenue, possible loss in stock value, and in some unfortunate cases the cost of litigation.
A small mistake on social media can lead to serious consequences as many brands and individuals have discovered.
Some ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ to mitigate the risk of a social media crisis:
- Use # trend without understanding the context.
- Limit social media to traditional business hours, social media is ongoing 24/7 so be prepared to respond
- Make it all about promotion; users want useful insights, news & information.
- Ignore complaints or questions
- Engage in contentious issues unless you have a clear strategy
- Ask customers to share brand experiences unless you are ready for the whole truth
- Use the same message across all channels; know your audience and what works best across different platforms
- Be personal and engaging
- Have a clear social media strategy with clear measurable objectives
- Establish a corporate social media policy for employees of what can and can’t be shared on social media
- Create an editorial content calendar
- Identify the most relevant social media channels for your target audience and stick to them.
- Post consistently
- Research mistakes other brands have made and learn from them.
Building engagement on social media should be a fun process; one that requires thought of what would most benefit your customers, time to plan, to create and the appropriate resources to implement effectively.
Customers are increasingly discerning about whom they allow to be part of their personal brand; brands have to be authentic to earn this place. Say firstname.lastname@example.org today to know how can your brand improve in social media.