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Hypnotized by the Headlines

Category: Social Media Published on Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Social Media – A Company’s Friend, Foe

 Figure 1 - Millions Waiting – The reach of the Internet has opened the door for companies to be in direct touch with millions of individuals who want to obtain information and discuss your company, products, services and your capabilities.   They have thousands of online outlets to research virtually anything – and anyone – who exists on the planet.  The challenge for companies is how to participate with these people, win them over or neutralize their issues. 

There’s so much information and misinformation surrounding the power and magic of social media, company management and marketing probably feel like a deer hypnotized by the headlines of a semi on the highway. 

Everyone “knows” social networking is going to change the face of company/product marketing.   

It will reshape the relationship with a firm’s partners and customers.  

It will potentially reshape the consumer’s impact on the company. 

We all know that word-of-mouth “advertising” is the most powerful – good and bad – promotion for a company that exists. 

As a result, companies, departments, individuals are setting up social network pages, signing up for microblogs like Twitter, establishing management/marketing blogs on their Web site and establishing customer forums on the Web. 

The challenge is to see the true value of social media for your business, your activity.

   Tackling the Unknown

Most managers are (understandably) uneasy about social media activities because it turns the conventional idea of marketing, brand image management upside down. Today’s customers don’t want to be advertised at; they want to research products/services in their own time, in their own way. 

 They want impartial opinions from other consumers and product experts about the promises made by the company/product.  

The shift of control to customers is a major concern by company executives as they read about the bad publicity that has spread like a wild fire for other companies, executives, products. But a recent study by Cisco, a worldwide networking company, suggests that being overly cautious is not only short-sighted, the control paradigm has shifted and there is no turning back. Social media and social networking are here to stay.    

The tools, outlets, opportunities and complexity are still in their infancy and will continue to evolve and influence the way “business as usual” is conducted. To ignore the influence and power of social media as well as the internal guidelines, which must be established, can only lead to misuse by members of the organization and accidental disclosure of company/product information, misinformation/misrepresentation of the company/products/services, its policies, its image.

 Forget the Experts

There are no hard and fast rules, recommendations.   

In truth, there really are no “experts” you can turn to to deliver “safe,” reliable, guaranteed social media approaches, activities.   Anyone who makes that claim is blowing smoke.   

The most we can do in this series of articles is help you understand how you can get started, what they – consumers – are doing, explore/recommend how you can get started, what are the customer’s options and reasonable responses and activities you can consider implementing to enhance, improve, profit from your consumer relationships.  

No company, no individual in this industry sets out with the idea of doing evil. By carrying out a strong, proactive social media activity the company will gain the consumer’s trust, product/service support and their ongoing loyalty.   

This is because there are extensive benefits to the company’s marketing, sales, product development and service/support activities.  Figure 2 - Social Media Marketing – The challenge for an organization – public and private – is to leverage their online relationships--develop sound relationships and meaningful one-to-one discussions to deliver world class, market-leading products, services, customers support.

 Before you begin any social media activity, some level of internal governance – usually ad hoc – must be exercised including:-         

Which social media initiative – The Web offers a wide pallet of social media activities and you need to determine which one(s) you want to start first, when, how and who will be the “owner(s)” of the initiative(s).-         

Employee social media activities – everyone in the organization can (and probably does) have some social networking activity they are already pursuing – Facebook, LinkdIn, blog, Twitter.  Controlling these activities is a practical impossibility, so you have to respect/trust the employees, giving them basic ideas and guidelines on what can/can’t be done and who they can turn to for assistance/answers when questions arise.-         

Third-party management – Every management team relies on outside experts/assistance – public relations/communications, support/service, product design, manufacturing.  They need clear guidelines on who can speak on behalf of the company, on what subjects.-         

 Enabling technologies – Most people don’t involve their IT experts when social media activities are initiated because the efforts are conducted outside the company’s IT infrastructure. However, ideally/ultimately you will want to incorporate some of the information, findings into your business applications and activities.  Plan for the long-term because social media marketing will be with you forever. 

Building a relationship with customers can turn loyal customers into strong extensions of the company, its marketing, its products.  They can become key figures in recommending, promoting, defending you online and off.   

Social media can be your worst enemy and your best friend.  Doing it right isn’t just “nice,” it is important to your organization’s and your success.

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