Social media networks going beyond social

You’ve seen kids in the playground right?

They play, fight, participate, sulk, skulk, share, unshare, befriend and bully.

You know, sorta’ like today’s social media.

In the social media playground, folks check their numerous site pages and Twitter accounts, sometimes before they’re out of bed and several times during the day. They constantly check on events, grab coupons, share club/sports/things stuff, find/chat with new friends around the globe and vote on/grade news, information, ideas and products.

They’re part of a worldwide set of communities that talk about products, services and ideas in a never ending stream. No wonder companies, product managers, bosses want to reach out/touch them, get them to like them, get them to buy them.

With Facebook going public, companies, marketers are paying even more attention to the power, reach, impact of social media.

And, while you might think they “own the world,” they share the online global community with a lot of sites.

While a lot of people believe social media begins and ends with Facebook, it’s far from a fact. In some parts of the world, people haven’t even heard of Facebook. And while it has grown very nicely, others like Sina Wiebo, Tumblr, Badoo, Twitter and LinkedIn have shown dramatic growth–if not dominance–and can’t be ignored.

The fastest growing sites have been Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with an increase of 181 percent; Twitter, with more than a 59 percent increase in new visitors and relative newcomers; and Pinterest, which reported worldwide users spent an average of 72 minutes plus checking things out.

Social media for regular folks around the globe hasn’t grown so rapidly for marketers who want to advertise, publicize, promote their goods and services. People are attracted to worldwide social media sites to stay in touch with friends/family, connect with new/old friends and share information/news. Marketers have to understand they are guests in these people’s online home.

And along the way, you pony up so much neat information; it almost brings a marketeer to tears.

Visibility Abounds

For a lot of different reasons – fame, shame, new/some/any relationship, get/give help, entertain yourself/others, learn/teach – people post their information.

Men and women have different comfort levels regarding what they are willing to share online and that comfort level changes by age group. Even when they share the information with people in their communities, there is a growing concern over privacy and being followed, contacted by companies.

But as we all know, males/females, young/old are different; and what they’re willing to share is also different, such as these four examples:

1. Women don’t like to share contact info.

2. Men are willing to share their political affiliation.

3. Females 18-24 are willing to share race/ethnicity, but that falls off as they mature.

4. Men are more comfortable with privacy protection.

That stockpile of information – now called big data – makes it easy for marketers to find out what you want, what you need, what your aspirations are and what you want to be when you grow up.

No wonder companies are increasing their digital marketing budgets.

The growth, reach and influence of social media hasn’t escaped the watchful eyes of companies, management, marketers, communications folks. It has become such an effective and focused means of reaching prospects and customers that there is a growing community of social media experts and specialists who sometimes even know how to reach, educate, influence, defuse, refute folks on the Web.

Sign up at a site, buy something online, make a mild inquiry, take a passing interest and BAM!!! Suddenly you’re their long, lost friend. Their ad/publicity folks spring into action and send you emails (if you were thoughtful enough to give your address), post to your site, Tweet you.

After all, social media was invented so companies could engage consumers, start a conversation, build brand awareness, sell stuff.

Right?

Of course, if you have a question, issue, problem…ferget about it!

A lot of social media practitioners are quick to explain that their job is to help the company reach out and connect with customers. Unfortunately, all too often, it is a one-way conversation because even the slightest question frequently goes unanswered. Ignoring folks online can produce unwanted results in an Internet minute.

A study by SocialBakers found that 95 per cent of the brands that had questions posted on their walls didn’t respond. Oh, but if you “like” them, that’s information they can take to their boss and show them how well they’re doing.

O.K., that’s unfair because some folks really do get it.

They know that listening, engaging, responding may be tough to take sometimes, but it is the best way to track what people really think about their company, their products.

In fact, despite some early stumbling and failed – read they got ripped up – pitch efforts, Dell has become a poster child for executing a rock-solid online, digital marketing effort.

The great thing about social media is that people leave behind so much tracking information that it is easy for pro-active digital media marketers to not only ensure that their messages are being received and understood but that they are also producing the right image and results for the company, management, products.

Forrester Consulting reported back to Dell that key performance indicators (KPIs) show that firms that take listening and engagement seriously benefit the company – even when the initial engagement is negative.

They found that 63 per cent of the companies reported that their proactive efforts had a positive affect on brand awareness, 57 percent said improved their brand sentiment and 50 per cent said it improved their business success.

O.K., so listening and an honest, open engagement isn’t some previously unknown business strategy, so why don’t more companies, social media “experts,” publicists do it?

Are you serious???

Some of the folks out there need to take a course in anger management!Questions like “do you still beat your significant other?” are pretty tough to handle.

People with their fingers on the send/ post key can instantly tell the world they don’t like the company’s new logo, think the boss makes way too much money, the product is difficult to use because it didn’t install itself or that the service/support people were insensitive to their needs (sometimes whining).

Customer Relations

True, there are a lot of legitimate problems/issues; and a good company will do all they can to assist the customer and resolve the problem.

That’s because social media now empowers people who are mildly irritated to voice their issues and come together. Suddenly, you have a worldwide viral protest that makes news everywhere.It’s not that companies are stupid, callous or out to rip you off; it’s just that seemingly logical, well-thought-out policies can quickly snowball into major PR debacle.

True, Spirit Airlines refusing to give a veteran dying of cancer the price of his ticket back because of policy, is a little stupid.

But a lot of really, really smart lawyers give stupid counsel and normally good folks are vilified as Satan’s right-hand person.

In the pre-Web days, the company’s decision probably wouldn’t have made it past a page 10, three-inch news column in the newspaper.

The difference is the world of business has changed and what might have started out as a dissatisfied tweet can now create a firestorm of negative publicity, turning a relatively minor complaint into a global incident.

The biggest problem is that senior management and seasoned personnel don’t interact enough with customers – online and face-to-face.

Except for really savvy companies/management, the day-to-day social media is usually handled by a junior publicist who monitors, handles tweets and posts who don’t have the experience or expertise to grasp how to put himself/herself in the customer’s shoes and empathize with the consumer.

Bosses Who Get It

It takes a person who really understands the meaning and impact of true customer relations to come to grips with the customer’s sentiments.

One CEO we know recently said he doesn’t answer to the board of directors; he answers to the customers.

That kind of management focus filters down to even the newest member of a company and makes firms view customers not just as sales targets but as an extension of the organization and its success.Good people who are there for, listen to, enjoy people make great companies.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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