Social media has changed the way we consume and interact with information. It’s not just a change in the way we write and read using short bursts of information that match our attention spans. It’s also a change in the way we interact with brands online.
Consumers want to understand, from a storytelling perspective, the value a brand might bring to them. They’re not interested in getting pummeled with white papers and marketing materials alone. Instead, they’re interested in putting together their own story of what a company means to them, and sometimes even telling a piece of that story themselves.
What does this mean for brands? And how are we seeing it play out? It means that brands have to change the way they operate online, especially in the five areas I’ll cover here.
1. Look at how you’re trending on social media channels
Social media gives you a daily pulse on how well your corporate values are perceived by people outside your organization. It offers an opportunity to react and change direction based on customer feedback. This represents the opportunity to tap into a focus group 24x7.
We ought to be paying attention. And we should be able to adjust our marketing mix and our messages in reaction to what we read, as opposed to launching marketing programs that are locked and loaded with very little opportunity for change.
2. Implement a monitoring and response plan
What are you doing in real time to respond on social media? Are you answering questions online? Sharing content that your audience asks for? Responding to requests for new features in your products? It’s not just about listening to what people are saying on Twitter. It’s also about responding quickly – and making sure the answers are coming from people in your organization with the domain knowledge to respond. You can’t expect an intern to answer complex questions about your products. Only the engineers and product managers can do that, so they need to be responding too.
3. Integrate social media into the fiber of the company
The future is having social media more deeply ingrained in more aspects within an organization, not just in the marketing function. I ought to be able to walk down the hallway at SAS and find anyone in Product Marketing or R&D and ask, “What did you see on social media today?” and not have them say, “Uhhhhhh ...”
As we look to build more of a social media culture at SAS, we’ve looked at everything from training to hiring practices. We ask, do we have people in place in every department who are embracing social media, and understand what it means and can put it into practice? Are we committed to keeping those people current?
During new employee orientation, for example, we don’t just say, “Here’s your badge, your phone, your desk and your computer.” Instead, we say, “Here’s our brand values, and here’s how you can participate with the external community.”
4. Loosen your standards around your brand image online
This is hard, but you have to let go of the fear of what people might say. When social media first became popular, people created all kinds of standards. Employees were told not to expose anything about the company or give anyone an opportunity to say something bad. Now, we’re more open. Brands are asking for feedback, and they’re open to hearing the good and the bad.
You need somebody who can establish standards and set guidelines so nobody strays too far off brand. At same time, the beauty of social media is trusting employees to represent your brand and let them loose. If you have the right people in place, you should give them leeway to participate.
It's important not to overreact to negative comments from critics who are often just looking for a reaction. We have some very loyal employees at SAS. If somebody sees something negative on social, people want to react, but you have to let these things play out. More often than not, the community will self-moderate, and your customer champions will come to your defense.
5. Develop a closed loop measurement system for social media
The marketer’s role has changed significantly in last five to seven years, and not just from a social media perspective – but from a digital and analytics perspective overall. Marketing has become much more of a science and less of what the Mad Men TV series portrays, where creative people drank scotch, scratched their heads and magically had an ad campaign.
Today, you can’t survive as a marketer without an understanding of technology, digital channels, social media – and how can you quantify it all. If you look at where we’re headed, a few organizations get it. A lot of organizations know it. But only a few have really put it into practice in a closed loop fashion. The brands that get it understand that social media is not just about listening and tweeting but also about measuring the impact of communications out in the market and then, based on that impact, refining how you communicate and how you do your business. If you can get that right, you will be a truly social organization.