“The good thing about social media is that it gives everyone a voice – the bad thing is…it gives everyone a voice!” -Katie Couric
The thoughts below are from my own on-going observations, conversations, as well as readings, including those I’ve taken from a number of blogs, on the use and impact of emerging social media practice for engaging closer relationships with clients and customers of one’s business or organization.
Many organizations and businesses are now reaching out beyond their online websites to connect and engage closer relationships through the emerging and ever-changing world of online social networks. Such an engagement process is fraught with various challenges. Many important considerations should be kept in mind before an investment in financial resources, time, and considerable energy is applied to the effort. And one aspect is certain – effective social media practice cannot be seen as simply an add-on to conventional website activity.
The first step in thinking about how to implement a social media strategy is to understand the differences between the various popular current social media platforms and their user profiles.
Consider the following U.S. based profiles from the recent 2012 Pew Report.
- Facebook: 35% of users are under 35, 50% are 35-54. The average age is 40.5 (an increase of 2 years over 2010 figures).
- Twitter: 45% are under 35, 35% are 35-54. The average age is 37.3 (a decrease of 2years under 2010 figures).
- Linkedin: 21% are under 35, 62% are 35-54; average age is 40.1. Half of all social media users are between the ages of 25 and 44.
- Facebook: 40% male vs. 60% female.
- Twitter: 40% male vs. 60% female.
- Linkedin: 45% male vs. 55% female.
- Pinterest has the largest gender discrepancy of all social media, with 21% male and 79% female.
- Facebook: 34% make under 30k; 26% make 30k-60k; 24% make 60k-100k; 16% make 100k+.
- Twitter: 34% make under 30k; 25% make 30k-60k; 24% make 60k-100k; 17% make 100k+.
- Linkedin: 21% make under 30k; 24% make 30k-60k; 28% make 60k-100k; 27% make 100k+
Though the above profiles are U.S. based, I believe they closely reflect the Canadian experience. The profiles for each platform reveals that, depending on the attributes of your clients and customers, you may find that either concentrating on a specific social media platform will bring you the most reward, or you may need to engage individuals on several platforms in order to have the greatest reach. Thus, it’s important to understand how each platform is different and how customizing your networking efforts to each platform will produce the engagement levels and positive outcomes you are seeking. For example:
On Facebook people often join to connect with family, friends, and schoolmates – though it also supports businesses and organizations of interest as well.
On Twitter, it is all about perception – sharing your point of view, or ‘retweeting’ points of view that interests you with others.
On Google+ it is about circles of interest – be it professional, or specific to personal interests or even a specific issue, etc.
LinkedIn is seen as place to promote yourself professionally, network with others, and/or provide a current profile of yourself, or your business or organization.
Other sites like Pinterest are about expressing yourself, where you can save and share all of your favorite photos related to various interests. This can also be aligned with business or organization interests – for example, passengers posting travel photos from a cruise they took, where the cruise-line on which the trip was taken hosts an account to post the photos.
Social media consumers and followers demand a steady flow of reliable information. The credo of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ can happen very quickly if an organization or business cannot maintain steady contact with followers within a social media network. Social media is about the now, and staying in touch!
Participants and followers of social media activities expect to grow personally, professionally, and possibly monetarily as well – even emotionally and spiritually through the information you provide.
However, just spewing out product and service information, as one would see on a website, no longer cuts it. Your audience wants stories, or lessons learned, or compelling data that engages their attention, and maybe (depending on the value that is generated), a longer-term relationship to your business, or organization.
So determining how the information you want to share aligns with the information needs of the various target group interests and needs, as well as to where and how they want it, is critical to understand if you want to be part of their primary providers in their social media network.
Here are some related elements to consider that make up the cornerstone for how to think about communication processes in the social media sphere:
- Be informative – in other words, posting regularly and make it intentional.
- Be genuine – a responsive social media strategy authenticates, doesn’t spin.
- Be consistent – make sense in the sea of information and choices.
Many social media tools are available and accessible (from current desktop tools, to free online tools) to create and distribute messages to your clients, customers and supporters. But here are some further points to consider when beginning a social media strategy:
- Have clear goals in terms of end results and the expected timeframe – and be patient!
- What are your target group(s) and where do you find them in terms of the outlets they follow, and the content they are looking for?
- What is the existing knowledge of your employee base have in order to participate in terms of experience, contacts, strategy, timeline and available tools? How will they be organized and monitored to ensure consistency?
- Do others want to hear from your organization, and are your clients, customers, partners and supporters willing to share their knowledge and experience with each other? It is not about controlling this process, but rather encouraging and monitoring an informed dialogue and a regular exchange of information. This can be very challenging for micro managers who like to control all communications within one’s business or organization – maybe they’ll have to move on if they can’t handle this fluidity.
- What is the budget for a specific allotment of time for a person (or a team), and the available resources to create and deliver the social media strategy in a consistent manner?
- How much activity and contact is needed to maintain your social media network, establish influence?
- Utilize various outlets to see what garners higher levels of engagement and response, and adjust your activitiy accordingly.
- What your targets groups want to know will shape the creation of content as much as what your organization wants to share. Again, this can be challenging for micro managers as it’s not about control, but about listening and responding.
“…would you rather take advice from someone you know, feel you understand and respect – or a stranger that abrasively shouts their ideas and “knowledge” into your face in the form of a verbal drive-by.” – Erin Nelson, Social Media analyst
I like what Erin asks above in terms of doing some personal reflection about how we take advice, look for information in the work we do, and the choices we make when we purchase products or services. Why should your customers be any different?
When it comes to communicating through various social media platforms, Erin also points out; “Tell people who you are, what you do, what you know, how you can make their lives easier – and they will begin to trust you. There few better ways to do this than by writing a thoughtful, engaging and informative article. You don’t have to be a journalist; you just have to have an innovative perspective, fervor to share it, and a platform to publish.”
And she might’ve added: You have to deliver! Just saying how you can make their lives easier and not deliver on service is not going to earn any credence from your customers.
As you begin to tell more and more people who your business or organization is, the products and services you provide, you begin to establish your ‘brand,’ as well as begin to shape a perception of your enterprise’s value. This however, goes beyond just promotion. As mentioned above, the process must also have a highly hone ability to listen, to pick-up signals and intelligence, determine motivations and maintain a dialogue with the followers of your organization.
As you can probably tell by now, content-based social media requires a significant commitment of time, energy and fiscal resources to communicating with various communities of interest, clients and influencers that have an impact on your business or organization. As one example, storytelling is an important piece of creating and maintaining the sense of value and relationship in the eyes of your customers, clients and partners.
How to begin a story? For example, present the challenges your clients or customers faced; the approach your service took, or the product that was offered to address the challenge – and the results that was experienced. Or pointing out through staff profiles (with their buy-in) their commitment, passion and skill in the work they do to ensure better customer service or product creation, etc.. This is not rocket science, but it is carefully thought through, created, and delivered.
Lastly the whole social media strategy and process must be evaluated on an on-going basis.
Effective and meaningful social media practice for an organization is a process of creating and maintaining relevance, becoming a trusted source for information, offering advise, leveraging the expertise within your organization, listening to feedback and queries (being accessible in a human voice!), and beginning a process of consistent and direct contact with your targeted audience(s).
Social media is not advertising and it isn’t public relations spin either. It is well beyond the website, aimed at creating and maintaining a consistent and valuable on-going communications process that humanizes your business or organization, and informs the people who value your service or product.
As you begin to think about social media strategies for your organization in 2014, ideas can emerge from your current professional reading, be it in print or on various blogs, as well as from one’s staff, or those following your current online initiatives. Out of that ideas will take shape, possibly for new services or products. New projects and opportunities will also emerge as you strive to establish closer relationships to clients and customers in the New Year. Throughout it all, be inspiring and be patient – there’s twelve months in the year. So take it one step at a time, and start now!
Leo J. Deveau
LJD Social Media Relations & Development
 The Demographic of Social Media Users – 2012, Maeve Duggan and Joanna Brenner. The Pew Research Centre. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Social-mediausers.aspx