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Calling All Social Media Virgins: Taking Your First Steps Into Fast-Paced World Of Social Media

01/07/09

By now, most businesses are aware that social media is here to stay and is not simply a spur of momentary madness nor is it a passing fad; but for a business with little or no experience in this powerful new medium of brand exposure, the prospect of ‘dipping your toe in the water’ can be pretty daunting if not completely alien. But you realise you can’t avoid it. You know that you need to take the plunge to retain competitive edge, but you don’t know where to begin. What should be the first steps you take? Rob Marcus, director at Chat Moderators offers some help and guidance…

Step one - do not panic: It may come as some comfort to you to know that you are not alone. A recent study has found that two-thirds of marketing experts admit they do not understand social media despite acknowledging it is here to stay(1). The fact is many businesses are still very much at the bottom of a steep learning curve, so now is as good a time as any to take the necessary leap into experimenting and hopefully better understanding - social media. You won’t be alone.

Step two - adopt a multi-platform approach: Although there are numerous third party platforms within the social media sphere such as, Facebook, Flickr and Bebo, recent figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) have found that just five per cent of people had joined branded groups and communities on social networking sites. On that basis, one shouldn’t put all one’s eggs in one basket — your own website can probably make a great home for social media initiatives too.

Rob Marcus, director, Chat Moderators comments, “Third party sites such as Facebook and Bebo are mainly used for keeping in touch with friends and sharing pictures, so any business that believes it can sell to this community effectively may be setting itself up for disappointment. Your own website is where brands should be interacting with their customers and whilst it will do no harm to have a presence on a third party website, it should not be the only method of engagement. If you can get people to your website, introducing a social networking platform will help keep them there for longer; and it will also boost your SEO rankings, which in turn creates more hits to your website.”

Step three - to blog or not to blog: Many businesses immediately think ‘blog’ when considering Web 2.0 initiatives - after all a blog is quick, inexpensive and relatively pain-free to set up. The oft-overlooked problem with a blog is the constant demand it will make on your time; for it to work effectively it must be updated on a regular and ideally frequent, basis. Are you ready for such a high-maintenance initiative? Can you share the burden - perhaps by creating a rota for staff to ensure that one blog is posted every day - without misleading your audience?

Step four - audience engagement is the priority: Blogs are not particularly interactive and for B2C organisations with large audiences there could be mileage in offering a platform such as a discussion or picture/video area on your website. Such features may take a bit longer than a blog to establish themselves, and they’ll need managing, but once up and running you’ll probably find that large amounts of content is being created by your audience. Such content will be highly engaging, excellent for brand exposure and a fantastic way of understanding customer issues and clarifying misunderstandings, as well as up-selling and cross-selling.

Step five - keep your eyes peeled: An important component of a successful community initiative will be moderation. Monitoring what people are writing about on your forum at all times is your responsibility and one that should be taken seriously. Without sufficient moderation your business could suffer if it allows brand damaging, illegal or plain abusive content to be published for very long. The likelihood is that most of the comments you review with be completely harmless but you can’t afford to be complacent when your brand’s reputation is at stake (as many high profile cases have highlighted). You can outsource a moderation team to monitor your forum 24/7 or you can train someone in-house to moderate each post to ensure a good brand fit.

A final word: Your forum members may not necessarily be discussing your company and products, but simply having them conversing on your site may give you competitive advantage. If they are not on your site they will certainly be on someone else’s. Although it is a less direct marketing strategy, it is not completely fruitless; anytime they visit the forum they may stumble across a new product or service on your homepage that they are interested in. In conclusion, social media really is here to stay; companies now face an important decision to embrace it or risk losing out on huge opportunities long term.

For more information about Chat Moderators, please visit www.chatmoderators.com or to read further about how to set up a social networking initiative, please visit: www.chatmoderators.com/initiatives

(1) Study by McCann Erickson Bristol, May 2009