Technology changing the way companies, customers interact
By John A. Lahtinen
Social media — Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter — has taken the traditional business PR model and turned it completely on its head.
Firing off poetic press releases and dumping thousands of dollars into glitzy advertising campaigns are no longer the norm as dwindling budgets continue to force businesses to do more with less.
But, the really seismic change surrounding the social media trend is that in addition to promoting and selling products and services, companies are now being asked to engage their customers like never before.
Today’s consumers not only expect top quality, but also demand personal attention and unprecedented access to the companies they do business with on a level never seen before. The era of social customer relationship management has arrived.
Traditionally reluctant to “share” much of anything, many companies are embracing social media and realizing the benefits of developing a new relationship with their customers.
A 2010 study of Fortune 100 companies found that 66 percent used Twitter; 54 percent had a Facebook page and half managed a corporate YouTube channel.
The truth is that customers are talking about everything — the good, the bad and everything in between — and businesses should be listening.
But, with so many options — from heavyweights Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to rising challengers like Google+ — choosing a social media platform can be daunting for a business.
“Facebook isn’t the only game in town, but it’s the most popular,” says Andrew Kaplan, who owns Walden Pond Design, a digital marketing firm in Madison. “I recommend companies focus first on Facebook. Once they are comfortable with Facebook, they can explore other technologies.”
A major advantage of social media is accessibility.
“It’s good old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising on steroids,” said Kaplan. “The beauty of social media is that a small business can compete with the big guys.”
One of Kaplan’s clients, TheWhisperofGod.com, quickly attracted more than 300,000 Facebook fans with a daily advertising budget of less than $10.
But, can the likes of Google+ really mount a sustainable challenge to mainstays likeFacebook?
Some feel it is too early to tell.
“It feels like Google is pretty much making this up as they go,” said Alex Halavais, associate professor of communications at Quinnipiac University.
“They’ve got a pretty nice platform, but it isn’t well suited (yet) to group interactions. The key strengths of Google+ seem to center around networked individual interactions. And it’s not clear that it has, yet, the sort of audience that would encourage heavy investment.”
Many Connecticut companies are dipping their toes into the Google+ waters which Halavais says is a good thing as it allows them to keep up to speed on the updates and changes the platform undergoes.
Halavais believes the future of social media rests in integration.
“I think we will see more and more of our devices talking to one another and creating models of our behavior — as individuals and groups.”
The first and most important consideration before starting to implement a social media campaign is to make it a priority, says Caitlin Thayer, owner of Barefoot Media, a social media consulting firm in West Hartford, adding that once companies make the decision to incorporate social media and devote the resources to it, they also need to make certain that they have properly-trained staff in place.
“Social media has become a huge part of our society, so whether a business decides to have a social media presence or not, it’s important for them to be keeping track of what’s said about their company online,” said Thayer.
“The most important thing for anyone and everyone to be doing on social media is listening; a company can learn a lot about their customer service skills, their products and their services by listening to what people say about them.”
Seeing the value in utilizing the social media skills of their increasingly tech-savvy employees, businesses are now training them to become online brand stewards.
For many employees — for whom social media is already a critical part of their personal lives — using the tools at work is not only welcome, but often expected.
Many businesses are faced with the challenge of gaining corporate buy-in to actually implement a social media plan. Often, if decision-makers don’t think that social media will result in increased profits, they don’t see the potential.
The key, according to Thayer, is for management to take the time to fully understand what social media is — and what it isn’t.
“It’s hard to overcome, particularly for managers who are laggards when it comes to media, the impression that social media is somehow ‘trivial’ and therefore not worth their time,” she said. “Many think that social media is free, and therefore can be simply ‘tagged on’ to a ‘real’ media strategy.
“Just because many social media platforms are free to use does not mean that it’s cheap to mount a social media campaign. Unlike some forms of ‘fire and forget’ advertising, social media strategies require a continuous and concerted effort to maintain over time, and expertise and time do not come cheaply.”
Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) worked closely with Barefoot Media to develop a more strategic approach to the management of its social media presence, learning effective strategies for developing and sharing relevant content on a more consistent basis through its Facebook and Twitter channels, and blog.
As a membership-driven organization, HYPE is dedicated to making personal connections.
“We want to help young professionals find what it is they are looking for right here in Hartford to increase the likelihood that they will stay here,” said Julie Daly, HYPE’s executive director.
“Social media is increasingly one of the most effective ways to advertise and engage your constituents, you just have to get past the fear that you’ll mess it up. You may have a typo here and there, you may even get a complaint now and then, but nothing is worse than being absent when a potential customer/member/client is searching for you.”