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Engaging in social media

November 6, 2009

So, you’ve bought in to the notion that social media is the newest greatest thing, and you want to get in there before it’s too late.

The internet has changed the way people talk about your brand, product, and category. Think about it: SideWiki allows people to comment on actual websites, even if that website wasn’t looking for feedback. Facebook allows people to comment on anything in private to do with your brand. We’re at a point where people like to share their opinions about everything on the hundreds of tools in between.

Regardless of the tool, the underlying notion is that people are offering their opinions within their networks. For brands, there is an opportunity to get your best customers to talk about your brand in a positive way. Here’s my advice. 

Don’t if…
It’s long been a marketing cliché: The fastest way to put a bad product out of business is to advertise it. Obviously, a brand doesn’t want to tell people about their offering if it’s crap. But nowadays, the warts won’t be hidden for long. So if you plan to ask people to talk about your product or service, get rid of the warts. If the experience needs to be tweaked, do that first. You can’t control what people will say in social media, you can only control the experience they will talk about. Make it good, and they will accentuate the good.

Start listening.
Scour search engines, blogs, Twitter, Technorati, for everything that pertains to the brand. Then search for everything that pertains to your category. Then look for everything that pertains to your competition. Save everything you find in bookmarks for later use (I recommend Delicious.com since more than one person can add bookmarks).

This will give you a look at the conversations that are happening around your category. It will let you know what people think of your brand, your category and your competition. This knowledge alone is a powerful way to incorporate social media. Don’t run from the bad, learn from it. If many people think of the brand as X, and the marketing or mission is Y, figure why there’s a disconnect and address it.

When you’re ready to engage, start with your best customers.
The words used in social media already imply this: on Facebook, people are fans. On Twitter they are followers. These words describe people who like the experience of the product or service. Start with them, your best customers. That other old cliché about the 80/20 rule – where 80% of business comes from 20% of your customers — applies here. Find the 20% and get them working for your brand.

That means you talk about your efforts on invoices, e-mails, on hold recordings, marketing brochures, etc. Tell people where you want them to talk about you, and they will talk.

Be patient.
Social media isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Unlike traditional advertising that works to create awareness through interruption, social media builds advocacy through participation. Be generous to your best customers, and let them talk about your generosity.

The overall goal of social media is this: turn your best customers into advocates for the experience. If your product or service is more like a commodity, then turn them into advocates for the category. But for the most part, you want them to tell their friends about your thing.

So design your communications to be shared. Design them to work together. Design e-mails to link to a website, which links to a Facebook page, which promotes a Twitter feed, which promotes and event that’s promoted everywhere.

Always think the message in terms of how it might be shared. Are you giving your best customers the simple tools to share your message? Are you rewarding them for compliments?

So that’s my advice. What do you think?

(P.S. Even though I’ve written about this before, a tip of the hat to Armano, who inspired this post)

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