Many brands are trying to communicate with customers through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The idea is that providing unique content and experiences and participating in relevant conversations online will enable companies to achieve their goals, such as increased leads, brand awareness, thought leadership, or changing perceptions. However, most companies are doing this without a real strategy or plan, which can create some problems. For example, companies may not have regular updates, tone and types of updates may be inconsistent, they may or may not be responding to mentions, or their efforts may be too promotional.
Companies need to have a plan in place for engaging with their customers through social media channels. Without a plan, their engagement efforts will not live up to their potential at best. Or worse, these efforts may damage their brand and not move them towards their goals.
The two most important things businesses need to know when engaging customers through social media are what their audiences value and what they're looking for from the companies with which they interact. According to a recent study by the IBM Institute for Business Value, getting tangible value in the form of coupons and discounts was the top reason respondents interact with companies via social sites. Other popular reasons included:
- purchasing products and services
- reading reviews and product rankings
- getting general and exclusive information
Contrary to what many marketers believe, respondents said that "feeling connected" or "being part of a community" were among the least interesting reasons people interact with companies through social media. This is very important to consider when crafting an engagement plan. Understanding what people are looking for is key.
Once you understand what your audience is looking for, you can start to develop a process. The first thing to consider is how you will engage people (based on what people are looking for and what your goals are). Consider the types of posts you'll be making and the tone you'll be using. Do you want to come across as funny and witty, or would a serious tone be more appropriate for your audience?
Remember that social media offers many opportunities to "surprise and delight" your audience. Also consider the fact that according to the IBM study referenced above, most people are inclined to interact only with the brands they already love. However, people definitely are interacting on these sites with their friends and asking for advice before making purchase decisions.
If you can design a program that motivates people to share their experiences with their friends this can be a great way to get an endorsement from your current customers and reach potential new customers.
Another thing to consider is your monitoring and response strategy. This includes knowing what to monitor for (industry, company, and competitor keywords) when to respond to people who have mentioned you, who will be crafting the responses, and how to respond to various situations. For example, it's important to consider how will you respond to a complaint vs. praise? Consistency is a must; it may be a bad idea to respond to some people, but not others. The people whom you do not engage may feel left out.
After you decide on how you'll be engaging people, you want to think about where to focus your efforts. There are thousands of social networks and communities out there. But that doesn't matter. What matters is which ones your customers are using and care about.
Having a process for engaging customers with social media is crucial to success. It's important to fully consider the implications of your engagement and give people what they're looking for in order to get the most out of your engagement strategy and achieve your goals.
Jason Peck is a social media manager at eWayDirect, where he helps clients implement community and social initiatives and manages eWayDirect's content and engagement efforts.