There is a great deal of hype surrounding digital engagement, but at the end of the day it’s just another form of media to be employed to advance your business goals. But too many organizations wade into digital media with no plan or goal in mind for what they hope to achieve.
The key to using social media for business success comes down to making sure your digital communication activity aligns with your business goals and your communication plan. What is really needed is an understanding of the message you want to get out, what your communication objectives are and who the audience is.
Should your business participate in social media? Social media engagement, because of its interactive capacity, provides businesses with an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate and participate in two-way dialogue. Social media is not a magic solution to a company’s communications challenges, but an additional (and often more immediate) way to reach customers, and everyone else your organization has a connection with or wants to connect with.
On the other hand, social media can also help misinformation and rumors spread easily, increase workload and stress for those inside the organization tasked with participating and discourage face-to-face interaction. Here are a few tips to help manage your social media presence:
Pick social media spokespersons and platform
Every business should designate specific individuals to participate in social media on behalf of the organization. Make sure you provide employees with social media training. Don’t pick people just because they are frequent users of social media. Consumption does not make a person a skillful or strategic communicator. A badly handled post or Tweet can go viral in seconds, and undoing the damage can be next to impossible.
Social media profiles should contain a disclaimer with information about the hours when responses can be expected and the kind of dialogue/behaviour expected. When is the best time to post? Aside from “regularly,” and “respond in a timely fashion when required,” the best time to post is when you have something useful to share. Use social media posts to encourage visits back to your online newsletter, Web site and so on.
General conduct on social media
Ensure your content is interesting, timely and sensitive to user needs. Simple questions and concerns can easily be addressed through social media; others in the user community will appreciate your good customer service and also benefit from your answer. Exchanges that require private information or that cannot be answered easily online should be taken out of social media and into more traditional channels, such as e-mail, phone or in-person meetings when appropriate.
Quality is more important that quantity. If you need to resort to fluff (Throwback Thursday, Friday Funny sort of stuff), are you really advancing your business goals? Social media is a great way to share information others have created: look for posts to share or Retweet to show you agree or endorse another organization’s position. Be careful to only align yourself with third parties that actually resonant with your business goals and objectives. Try not to send followers to links on other organizations’ Web sites.
Dealing with negative comments
Remember that social media is an engagement tool: you should get replies, reaction and response. You can’t control those, but you CAN control how your company reacts, and how you respond reveals your organization’s true character. Do not let a negative question or comment sit unanswered for longer than a few hours during work hours.
Responding to a comment
Comments on social media mean your audience is engaging with you, which is what you want. Before you respond, do these things:
* Do you have the facts right? If you aren’t an authority on a subject, send someone to the expert rather than responding yourself.
* Is the answer something the general public should be able to see? If there’s any reason the answer should not be shared publicly, respond by asking the poster for their contact info so you can respond directly. This shows the rest of your followers that you’ve responded, but doesn’t risk any private information.
* Does the response advance your organization’s communication goal?
Tools for listening
Monitoring tools are constantly being developed that allow better and better ways to follow conversations, track mentions and stay on top of topics in your industry.
Counting followers and likes is the first and easiest way to measure the impact of social media. But don’t be fooled – neither of these actually confirms the quality of the audience you are reaching. Real measurement requires that you use metrics that evaluate whether you are creating action through social media (sales) and what the long-term impact is on audience behaviour (influence).
Create a social media policy
We’ve all heard stories of employees posting inappropriate content on Facebook and Twitter then getting marched to the door. This calls for a crystal clear set of rules and guidelines to help employees understand the appropriate use of social media. The policy should include: the importance of identifying themselves as being affiliated with your company; that sharing confidential company information is always forbidden; and whether engaging online during work hours is permitted.
Rebecka Freels, former CTA and OTA communications director, operates a Calgary-based marketing, communications and events practice with clients in the transportation industry. She can be reached at Rebecka@beyondwordscommunications.com