Why social media can't be ignored

Posted by News desk on 29 Mar, 2011 / Features

By Diane Charton, MD of Acceleration Media

By now, most SA brands that sell products and services to people in the mid-to-upper LSMs understand they can no longer ignore social media as a channel.

With many South Africans using Twitter and Facebook to connect with people and companies that matter to them, brands ignore social media at their peril. If you’re not on these channels talking about your brand, you can be sure your customers are, and that they expect you to respond to their questions, complaints and compliments.

Unfortunately, many marketers make the mistake of believing they can control social media as they did the mass-marketing media of the past. They assume they can carefully roll out a Facebook campaign at their leisure, tweet what they like from their Twitter accounts and that their customers won’t want to talk back.

The truth is that you need to be ready for anything once you start engaging with customers using social media. Ask the likes of Cell C, which experienced a range of unintended consequences from its social media efforts last year. Marketers can no longer carve their strategies in stone at the outset of a campaign. Instead, they must be ready to monitor what is happening in real-time and then respond appropriately, even if the campaign isn’t unfolding the way they expect it to.

Online reputation management (ORM) tools can be invaluable aids in this process. They allow you to easily track and analyse what people are saying about your brand or product in real-time so that you can respond appropriately. With your finger on the pulse of the social buzz, you’re empowered to capitalise on any opportunities that arise and to counter any threats before they turn into crises. The key is to operate in real-time, keeping up with the quick ebb-and-flow of social media.

For example, if you’re quick, you can catch and address a complaint from someone who found your TV ad offensive or had a problem with a product you are selling on special, before it goes viral. Equally, you could pick up users who have turned something from one of your ads into a tribute and do your best to encourage it to spread.

This doesn’t mean that all planning has to go out of the window, but rather that your planning must be a lot more fluid to accommodate the uncertainties of interacting with your customers using social media. The phrase we use to describe this is “planned spontaneity”.

It’s all about anticipating the responses you will generate through your brand and campaigns in the social media world, and then responding rapidly to drive further interest and engagement. It’s also about staying visible when things are not working out the way you hoped they would.

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