Communication between companies and customers has changed significantly as social media has provided new tools for your company image and delivering important news. Used correctly, these tools are an asset for public relationships – used badly they can severely damage your reputation. Here are some guidelines to make sure you’re getting the most out of this revolution in communication.
Be where your audience is
There are plenty of options to raise your visibility online – but it is important to choose the right social media platform for your audience. Instagram, for example, is a must for promoting a fashion brand but wouldn’t be much use to an accountancy company. 80% of Pinterest’s users are woman so it is not the best platform for a company which focuses on men’s products. Different countries also have different trends for social media, which you must understand when entering a new market. Social media platforms are used very differently in Russia than the UK, for example.
On top of choosing the right location for your online presence, you also have to speak in the language of the audience. What is acceptable and expected on one platform may be frowned upon on another – meaning you must understand how to interact as well as where to do it. It is perhaps a given, though, that sharing valuable information and encouraging conversation is the most likely way to get your content shared on any site.
Provide important news immediately
Social media is a great tool to inform people about company news. This does not just mean engaging your customers – it has significant practical implications for dealing with the media. Journalists actually check company tweets rather than inspecting press-releases, making the process easier and quicker. PR professionals now have direct access to journalists and can make contact with them in a more personal manner, instead of clogging their inbox with impersonal emails.
Social media also provides a buffer if your other communications channels experience problems. If there is a problem with a company’s website, customers usually go to a SM account to find out what’s going on. This can be a great way to manage a crisis – or it can compound the problem, if customers check your social media and find nothing of use.
Indeed, frequent updates to your social media are a must, to avoid people thinking your company has stagnated. It is now a measurement of genuineness and sincerity of your company – and it would be better to have no social media account than one that is rarely used.
Every word counts
We live in a time where every word from a company or its employees may be scrutinised online. Your online presence can therefore be a great promotional tool or a potential pitfall. One misstep can greatly damage your reputation. It’s become increasingly common to read news about people who have been fired because of tweets that don’t “represent what the company believes nor what it stands for”. This article contains numerous recent cases of this problem – including an example of man who lost a social media contract for Chrysler and forced the company to apologise to the city of Detroit for a single mistaken tweet.
Listening, talking and learning
Social media creates a feeling of personal connection between companies and customers, thanks to the increased number of communications channels available, and the real-time nature of interactions. This provides excellent opportunities to receive direct feedback from your audience — if there is something wrong with the product, people will share it immediately (and the effectiveness of this can be seen in how companies such as BT, Halifax and LA Fitness have developed Twitter customer support strategies).
Yes, there will be negative reviews too, sometimes unfairly, but it is the company’s duty to reply to and try to understand the situation. The quicker your reply (and the more effectively you deal with the problem) – the better your reputation. People don’t want to deal with an old-fashioned 48 hours reply policy.
This new reality has created a new position in organisations – the online reputation manager. This comes very close to PR and involves listening and monitoring conversations on social media to provide insights into what customers and prospects are talking about and how they feel about brand and products.
It is a two way street – the more you put into social media, the better your audience will respond to your company message, and the more engaged they will be. This engagement can be used to not only bolster your position, increasing opportunities for publicity and sales – it can be used to provide valuable insights into who your audience are, and how you can better serve them.