An important part of a companies brand is how they engage their community. Your community can help you climb to new heights, but can also bring you back down to earth. With consumers becoming less receptive to brands that market themselves through traditional forms of marketing such as television and print, companies have begun to embrace social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook as powerful tools for engagement. As the number of companies using social media continue to rise, companies must be prepared to answer the question “how will you engage your community?”
This past week I was able to listen and interact with some of the great minds in social media at the Social Media Marketing Strategies Conference. Some of the big names included keynote speakers MC Hammer and Ian Schafer, as well as Rohit Bhargava [Digital Strategy & Marketing, Ogilvy], Michael Bissell [President, Conquent ], Jun Loayza [President, SocialMediaMarketing.com], Brian Solis [Principal, PR2.0 & FutureWorks], and Shiv Singh [VP & Global Social Media Lead, Razorfish]. From the event I was able to learn about the direction of social media and more importantly, the growing role it will play in a companies success.
Engaging Your Community Through Social Media
One of the quotes that stood out from the event was that “social media connects people with your brand and, more importantly, connects people around it.” An important aspect for a companies brand is giving your fans a chance to be part of your community. While for some that means wearing your logo down the street, it can also go as far as talking to the CEO of the company thanks to social media. According to Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, 52% of those who use social media are a fan or follower of some brand. Take into account also that “by 2010, it’s expected that Twitter will have 26 million users”[Ian Schafer], social media is changing the way brands interact with consumers.
For companies, being able to penetrate this new market can be extremely rewarding and also spark a new direction for their brand. Gap for example revitalized their brand when they launched their digital and mobile campaign for “Born to Fit.” Through Facebook, they were able to promote their 1969 Premium Jeans collection and gain over 400,000 fans. Gap was able to create a sense of personalization with their community by allowing fans to mix and match Gap outfits as well as share their favorite style tips with their friends.
It’s Not All About Money
While it’s important for companies to try and monetize every aspect of their business, social media is what you could call unique. I say unique because as one panelist put it, “social media is not about DR or sales – it’s building relationships with consumer – and, over time, you MIGHT sell products.” While social media might not initially lead to sales, what it can lead to is a creating a positive relationship with consumers/fans.
Community engagement through platforms like Twitter are becoming more and more important because of it being a way for brands to monitor what people are saying about them. A great example of this is Comcast digital care manager, Frank Eliason, who began using Twitter as a way to interact with its’ customers. By monitoring what people were saying about Comcast and interacting with them through @ replies and direct messages, he was not only helping protect the Comcast brand, but also showing others that Comcast cares about its’ community and what they have to say. While this may have started as just an effective way for customer service, in the long-run, many people now identify Comcast as being a friendly and engaging company which has related to an increase in customers.
Is Social Media Right For You?
One of the reasons I’ve heard companies join the social media mix is that “it’s a numbers game. With more and more companies using it, if you’re not part of the ‘group’ then you’re losing out.” While this has some truth to it, companies shouldn’t jump in without first answering some key questions:
What do you hope to achieve through social media?
When Comcast began engaging their community through Twitter, they had a clear goal in mind: monitor their brand and interact/help customers. Without a clear goal in mind, it’s like setting out on your boat with no sense of direction or guidance. You may get back safely, but you have a much higher chance of getting lost.
Are you comfortable using social media?
Jun Loayza had a great line when he said that “if you don’t feel comfortable using social media, align yourself with someone who is.” This is important because if you are not ‘on-board’ with the program then it will show. Your community wants to feel like you care just as much as they do if not more. Even before starting a social media campaign, those involved should play around with Twitter, Facebook and all the different platforms so that they understand them and feel comfortable with them.
Engaging Your Community The Right Way
While there are many ways to engage your customer and community, there are some basics that all companies should know in regards to interacting with their community
- Among the reasons why companies decide to use social media, one of the most common reasons is to advertise their brand. Brand Fiction Factory founder, Helen Klein Ross, addresses this saying that “the best advertising isn’t really advertising.” If a company is using Twitter for example, sending out a tweet to one’s community about the price of their product is poor use of such a powerful tool. Brands need to be engaging with their customer in a way that is creative and will get them to talk and promote their brand for them. A great example that Ross cites is the Mad Men application, “Mad Men Yourself,” that enabled users to create avatars and share them with others.
- Brands must also be aware that everything that they say, whether it’s through Facebook or Twitter, is out there for the public to see. Even if you try and delete it, there will still be traces of it. One of the most highly tweeted out quotes from the event was by Rohit Bhargava I believe, who said that “trying to take something off the internet is like trying to remove pee out of the swimming pool.” Always remember that whatever you post or say is a direct reflection of your brand.
- Have fun and be real. So simple, yet to so powerful. Social media is really all about having fun. People love getting messages and new followers. Don’t be afraid to startup a conversation with a fan or even make a new one. Always remember that if you are just sending out updates that doesn’t mean you are engaging with your community. As the saying goes: “Keep it real.”
As companies continue to find new ways to engage consumers one thing is clear. When it comes to social media, there is no cookie cutter approach to it. Companies must develop strategies that will best represent their brand while at the same time open up the door for their community.
Photo by WillyCoolPics