Like dating, communicating with your online audience can be fraught with unseen dangers and faux pas. When it works out it can be the best thing in the world, but when it goes wrong it can leave you feeling lonely, sad and down on your luck.
Everyone is banging on about social media, but some brands continue to fall short when it comes to engaging with online communities. It is true that brands have a lot to gain in the space, but they can also end up creating problems for themselves if they get it wrong. And when that happens the problems can be huge.
The combined potential eyeballs of every user of the internet is a terrifyingly big audience. Things worked out for Justin Bieber, but others, such as Rebecca Black, have not been so well received. Which is why you must go in prepared. Learn the lessons of those who have worked and operated in the space and make sure you feel social media savvy. The information you put online is in permanent ink.
It is no time for flying blind and “seeing what happens”, there are unspoken rules, and you really need to get a handle on them. That’s why B&T, together with 15 social media experts, has put together this ‘how to’ guide for operating online. It’s all you need to know in 50 easy dos and don’ts.
DO know why you're doing social media
Yes, your competitors are doing it, but it takes time, resources and energy to grow and curate a community. Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve and why will help justify the time spent, and keep you on the right path. It is really important to have a clear strategy on how you will convert your followers into clients.
DO have a crisis management plan
Social media can quickly turn against a brand. The key to dealing with such a crisis is to develop a crisis management plan with your corporate communications team. Community participation elements, such as user-generated content can expose a brand to risk. So always have a risk mitigation strategy in place for content submission.
DO understand the consequences of your actions
Anything you write in the public domain can not only be seen by the general public, but can be used in news articles, blog posts and even in court. Just because you delete something, it doesn't necessarily mean it's gone for good. Google's got a memory like an elephant.
DO make house rules
If you have house rules on your Facebook page, fans will be aware of what they can and can’t post. But more importantly it gives your community manager a clear comeback for when they need to remove comments.
DO moderate conversations One of the biggest challenges with social engagement is “colourful” responses that come from users. In the instances where unsavoury and inappropriate comments are posted on walls, be honest yet respectful with the user in question and let them know why it is inappropriate before taking down the offending comment.
DO understand who owns what
While it may be exciting to have three million fans on your Facebook page, or one million followers on Twitter, it’s not the same as your own customer database because you don’t own it – Facebook and Twitter do. Part of any well developed social media plan must include a migration strategy that ensures you will eventually own your audience details in the future.
DON’T replace all digital activity with social media
Out with the old and in with the new is not the mantra of an experienced marketer. Despite the often repeated calls that email marketing is dead, it is still highly successful and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.
DON’T treat social media like a silo
Make an effort to integrate it with all the other marketing and advertising you're doing. Get it integrated on your website, on your eDMs, and in your email signatures. Don't expect people will just find it on their own. Give it every chance you can by making it an important part of your planning 1process and you'll be rewarded.
DON’T place financial gain above your community
If the community want a rich media ad removed as it is interfering with their user experience, it is in your best interest to remove it before a 100-strong thread builds condemning the advertising brand.
DO set clear guidelines for your staff
Make rules that are appropriate for your organisation. You need to ask questions such as: Can everyone in the company have a voice? Is it their voice or do they represent the company? Make sure staff are comfortable with engaging, and provide tips on different channels and channel language. Also, provide escalation guidelines in preparation for potential issues as well as moderation guidelines.
DO hire the right manager
If your community acts as a customer service channel, get a customer service person on there. If it’s a fun place where people like to hang out, get fun people on there. Your community manager needs to encourage communication, not hinder it, so choose staff wisely.
DON’T put the intern in charge
Just because they've grown up with a mobile in their hands, it doesn't make them qualified to manage your brand online. Managing communities takes experience, professionalism and brand knowledge – and the ramifications of someone messing up could be harmful to your business.
DO use different types of content
Aside from standard Facebook status updates, video and images provide your followers with a richer experience and help keep the relationship fresh with the community. To spice up your status updates, ask relevant questions or get suggestions from the community to instigate discussions... the responses could inspire you to do other things with your brand.
DO localise content
Fans will be much more likely to comment on or share a piece of content if it means something to them. Making sure this happens can be as simple as changing a US-sounding term or call to action such as “Coming in Fall 2011” to “Coming in Autumn 2011”.
DO use appropriate language
Use language that your followers use. Remember you are speaking to real people and not robots. Online lends itself to being conversational and social, not mechanical and regimented, so avoid jargon or sales speak.
DO have a unique social media persona and voice
You don’t need a mascot or character, but you should cultivate a voice and personality for your interactions. Make sure all members of your team are aware of the persona and that they adapt their writing accordingly.
DO entertain people
A great way to engage with your social media followers is by showing the fun and energetic aspects of your business, and some examples of this are to post images or updates from company outings, such as sports days, awards nights and dinners. But, make sure that these types of updates are outweighed by information. Where appropriate use content that makes people laugh.
DO share third party content
It’s not always about your brand. Sharing third party content shows social maturity. Yes people have signed up to hear about your brand, but you get serious brownie points for finding other relevant or fun content to share with your community. The only caveat with this is: make sure it’s not offensive.
DO tailor your message
It is essential that you tailor your message to the audience and different channels. Imagine you are sending an email to someone of the target demographic. Your tone and language should be approrpriate when speaking to younger audiences, for example.
DON’T recreate your homepage in social media
Consumers want to see something new, fresh or different from brands – not a rehash of the same information they can get on the brand’s website. Research shows getting it right will deepen both brand equity and engagement.
DON’T self promote
It is great to share updates about your products or services, but it should not be overtly promotional. Self-laudatory statements can come across as arrogant and result in disengagement. Only tell visitors about new products if they’re of interest and don’t repeat your marketing material – make the message personal.
DON’T forget about character limits
This seems obvious, but it is one of the most common mistakes made by businesses. With Twitter, communicate your entire message in a single update rather than splitting them up. With Facebook, it is important to not make your update too long. If it is too long, your fans will need to click on ‘expand’ to see all of the information, and this can affect the click-through rate of people reading your updates. Twitter has a character limit of 140 and Facebook, 420, including spaces.
PROMOTION & MONETISATION
DO tell people about your Facebook fanpage
In the midst of implementing Facebook community activation, critical elements such as promotion and driving the‘likes’ of the fan page, can be overlooked. Paid-for ads can help kick-start strong ROI.
Alternatively you can buy your own Facebook ads if you are trying to increase the number of fans for your brand. You can buy these ads on cost-per-click basis and set your own daily budget of as little as $5.
DO build an audience
You are kidding yourself and potentially ruining any chance of success if you believe that commercial brands need to build “communities of brand lovers” that actively engage in everything the brand says or does. The imperative for brands as they migrate to digital is just to build an audience. Why are celebrities the big winners in social media? Because they build audiences. Brands too need to build audiences.
DO use analytics to build better interactions
Understanding what your community is interested in, as well as the types of content and the time of day, or day of the week, that garner the most responses provides insights that can improve not only the volume of engagement but also the quality.Integrate search learnings into your social media strategy. Keywords used for search provide insights about what to include as tags or text.
DO remember your profits
Evaluating your brands based on the number of fans or engagement rates is dangerous. The real measure of success is what dollar value your community generates. Profile your fans and don’t fear asking the tough questions to determine whether your seeing any value from your activity. We’re all awaiting a case study that goes beyond industry praise and demonstrates tangible business results as a direct consequence of social media activity.
DO invest in a social CRM platform
Managing a social media presence can be a complex and time consuming job. Every community manager should have a dashboard to monitor their social media activities rather than ad-hoc administration through individual platforms. There are plenty of good platforms out there, such as Vitrue and Conversocial, which provide detailed reporting and analysis and also allow for multiple team members to manage each presence efficiently.
DO test, learn and refine
What works for one brand doesn’t necessarily work for others. Trend reports and tips should not be taken as best practice and each brand needs to define its principles for success. Test initiatives to see what generates passive involvement (likes) vs active involvements (commenting, contributing content) and track what delivers business results over the long term.
DO think about getting help
Consider partnering with companies that make their living via content, such as film producers or magazine publishers, to work with you to weave art and science into your content strategy. There are a lot of hungry TV production companies and publishers out there who could make you a star.
DON’T rely on blogger outreach
Blogger outreach is good for SEO but not much else. Blogging in Australia is still a very small industry with most blogs outside the top 50 struggling to get over a 100 views a day. Don’t expect big things. It is really good at creating bespoke editorial content for your brand but will not get you large amounts of views.
DON’T solely rely on social media sites
Brands should look to build their community credentials by establishing their own platforms where appropriate. Vodafone Australia has recently opened a forum which supplements its Twitter and Facebook presence and brings a greater level of control and depth to customer service that can’t be achieved through a wall post or tweet. Ultimately, platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are largely free environments which is a peril that should not be overlooked.
DO reward fans that help moderate your community
If a fan is quick to answer other fans’ questions and encourage certain types of behaviour on your page, reward them. That could be in the form of a 'like' or a comment thanking them. You can consider giving them a community title or special access privileges.
DO offer exclusive content and deals
Millward Brown’s ‘Value of a fan’ study shows consumers are more likely to respond to brands that offer them something real and tangible, preferably without wanting something in return. Exclusive content, deals, and inside information on new products and services are valued by consumers (often more so than discounts).
DO encourage fans to be your advocates
Brands achieve more kudos when consumers become advocates for them. The Coke Facebook page was originally created by two Coke fans, was embraced by Coca-Cola, and has now become the official fan page. The original founders continue to be recognised within the page and both positive and negative user generated content is posted.
DO respond in a timely manner
It’s important to ensure you are continually monitoring and responding to queries via Facebook and Twitter within a certain timeframe, with the general rule of thumb being within a 24-hour period. Don’t leave your followers hanging as they will feel like they are not being heard.
DO post regular updates
Social media consumers expect a regular conversation flow and content that is interesting and relevant. Consumer conversations themselves can become a springboard for discussions and demonstrate a brand is actively listening.
DO find out what your community expects of you
As brands increasingly pile into social media, consumer expectations will change as will the number and types of brands they’re prepared to connect with. Encourage your community to express their thoughts through polls or questionnaires and listen to what they say.
DO listen to your community’s reaction to advertising
They are your most important asset. Without them the advertising would have nowhere to be placed – your community members should always come first.
DON’T get upset
It’s essential not to make conversations personal or become openly agitated. If the conversation does take a tone that is uncomfortable, ask the person to message you directly so you can resolve the issue in private, and aim for a positive outcome. Never respond with emotion. Your reply should be aiming to diffuse negativity and encouraging the forum and the users’ progression.
DON’T push personal or political opinions
Companies should not be seen to be supporting political or personal views – it’s important to remain impartial as you run the risk of offending people. If you’re not sure whether to get involved in a conversation it is probably best not to.
DON’T listen to what everyone says on Twitter
All too often the comments of a select few can influence whole campaigns. Twitter is a very niche group of people, mainly white-collar office workers. If this is not your target market then there is probably no good reason to be on there or to be influenced by what they are saying.
DON’T pursue customers, let them come to you
Social media consumers want to seek out brands on their own terms and expect brands to give them the time and space to allow the relationship to evolve. Romance them, rather than being pushy.
DON’T sell too much on social media
Think community not product push. Be responsive to what your fans want to talk about and balance the product pushes with other content. Consumers are turned off by brands and companies that talk at them instead of with them. They want a conversation where brands listen to what they have to say.
DO be transparent about facts
When posting facts or stats, always try to attribute the source to give credibility to the conversation. Never fudge or distort information - this can work against you. Controversy spreads like wildfire.
DO admit mistakes
Transparency breeds trust. Consumers want companies to be honest about their products and services. If this means admitting your failings, then so be it. When you’ve made a mistake or been caught doing something you shouldn’t – say sorry. When people know that you are accessible and willing to respond, you gain a level of respect.
DO use real names
If people know there is an actual person responding to them, not just a faceless business, they’re going to be more inclined to interact. Where possible when responding to a comment, sign off with your name or initials.
It’s important that you don’t delete content from your Facebook or Twitter pages. Make sure the links you share work and your grammar is correct before you post. Also don’t delete any negative comments from your followers unless they are slanderous, racist, promotional or discriminatory. As soon as people see they are being censored, you can bet they’ll come back twice as hard.
DON’T ignore technical issues or criticism
Consumers frequently use social media, especially Twitter, to criticise and point out any technical issues they may be experiencing. Instead of taking this as a negative, turn this into an opportunity to nip issues in the bud and publically acknowledge the problem is being fixed.
DON’T abandon your community
The advertising world runs on short-term campaigns but social media engagement is a long-term commitment, so it’s rude to set up a community for a short term tactical campaign if you’re just going to abandon it. At least if you’re only going to get into it for a short while, let people know when the activity will end.
DON’T leave inactive pages online
There's a graveyard of pages on Facebook, profiles on Twitter which have been set up with the best of intentions only to be left without updates for weeks or months – sometimes with terrible consequences.
More and more, consumers are going to these profiles and venting their concerns, their gripes with customer service and their opinions about the brands, all of which go unattended. Inaction paints a horrible picture for customers looking to connect with you.