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Friday, 12 March 2010

Friday Guest Blog: Social Media - Risk or Reward?


By Angela Workman, LEWIS PR

It could be argued that social media represents equal risk and reward to business. One thing is certain though – it shouldn’t be overlooked

With mainstream media outlets declining in readership and influence, and the ability for anyone to use the web to create their own publishing channel, social media can represent a massive opportunity, as well as a threat.

Communications is more global than ever. It is faster, more prolific and more direct. In the fight to be first, information can be less accurate and the impact, wether positive or negative, will be more acute for a company.

One of the most extreme examples to date where accuracy has been compromised in the name of speed, is the 2008 case involving United Airlines, in which a six-year old story about the company’s bankruptcy was incorrectly identified as a ‘new’ story. The rapid dissemination of this ‘news’ caused the company’s share price to drop by 75 per cent in a matter of hours, before the error was detected and share trading halted.

More than 1.5 billion people, or a quarter of the world’s population, have access to the internet. According to research company Nielsen, two-thirds of internet users visit social networking or blogging sites. With web technologies now empowering people to communicate, collaborate and consume in new and revolutionary ways, it’s no surprise that companies and brands are looking to get involved.

As the web gets more social and diverse, and stakeholders increasingly move online, social media will become a critical part of achieving business goals. Organisations will need a proactive, yet measured and controlled mindset, to drive and maximise its social media strategy. Here are ten steps to get you started on the road to social media success:

1) Do your homework – the more time spent on research, the more value you will get from a social media strategy. The most important influencers might not be the biggest bloggers, for example. Spend time researching the area, including forums and Twitter feeds, before you launch your campaign. Set up RSS feeds to monitor the conversation about the company, person, competitor or issue(s).

2) Don’t forget best practice – despite social media appearing a less formal communication medium, the same regulatory and legal constraints typically apply. The mechanism may need to be faster, but the rules of engagement still need to be in place. Elect a social media ambassador within your company to ensure consistency of messages and professional standards are adhered to.

3) Become one of ‘them’ – Social media etiquette is such that newcomers, rightly or wrongly, are often rejected – particularly if they try to join in the conversations that are already happening. To be accepted, try some of the technology, read blogs associated with your area of expertise, post comments on forums and articles, and follow Twitterers from your industry. Above all, always try to add value to conversations, rather than extract value. The creation of value is in the exchange. You give something, you get something back… eventually.

4) Be selective – there are some great services out there in the social sphere that will help you spread your message. Choose the channels that are going to add the most value to your campaign, and make sure you mix text with audio and video. Think about whether you need to monitor and respond or proactively engage. Not every social media tool suits every company or individual. Always keep your objectives and target audience in mind when deciding which ones to use.

5) Integrate – web-based marketing deserves a place at the heart of your strategy. If you decide to launch a blog, video or online influencer strategy, it should be in line with your wider corporate messages. At the same time, any marketing outreach should tie back to your web-based properties, as well as your offline campaigns.

6) Be realistic – human nature dictates that people are more driven to communicate a bad experience than they are a positive. Expect online conversations to be in part negative, but view this as an opportunity.

7) Pick your battles – ask yourself if the issue you are concerned with will impact your core business. Only argue with facts, not opinions, and never engage with the anonymous. Those that don’t admit who they are often aren’t credible sources, and love a drawn-out fight.

8) Be honest – don’t try to ‘spin’ the truth. Apart from being a poor practice, you’re far more likely to be found out online. Be helpful, polite and frank. If you don’t know the answer to something, be up front about it and make a commitment to find out and come back.

9) Build an online community – one of the most compelling ways to transmit your message is for others to do it on your behalf. Achieving this is marketing nirvana, and as such it’s not something that is going to happen overnight. Foster your community by involving people in your cause, asking for opinions, seeking feedback, circulating links and being responsive to requests.

10) Measure outcomes – measuring the success of your marketing campaign is often the hardest part. But with social media, you can often track outcomes right back to the tactic that started the process. Regularly measuring the impact of a social media channel and responding to successes will result in a swift return. Decide on key criteria that are aligned with your objectives and use these to measure against. Don’t try to use every metric tool available.

Chances are, your brand or company is already being discussed on various social media channels. Don’t believe me? Just type your brand or company name into the search box on Youtube, Facebook or Twitter. This simple act can be most illuminating, with many people underestimating the volume and depth of discussion and insight about their brand or company taking place online, right now.

Whether your strategy needs to be one of reactive defence, or pro-actively fostering a brand-advocating community, your move into social media is just a mouse click away.

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