By Doug Stephens
Despite the continued momentum of social media, some retailers are still ambivalent about embarking on their own program. We’ve noticed some recurring excuses for holding off. Here, in no particular order, are our top three worst excuses for NOT engaging in social media now .
If this excuse was valid, companies would also avoid advertising in magazines for fear that their employees would do nothing but read Vogue and Sports Illustrated all day. Your foray into social media is not an invitation to your staff to sit back and relax and it likely won’t spawn a torrent of latent tweeting either. Also, keep in mind that with the number of smart phones being carried today your employees are Tweeting, Flickring and Facebooking at work already, whether you like it or not.
The reality is that launching a program may enable you to harness some of your employee’s social energy to get the word out about your great store or chain. Best Buy for example, has done a great job of engaging their employees and tapping their social horsepower to actually drive the brand.
Things to Consider
a. Build a policy with your employees. Set sensible, realistic boundaries and guidelines regarding use of social media at work. Also set clear ground rules regarding privacy, confidentiality, content and language. As with any policy, focus on the benefits of following it, not simply the penalties for breaking it. Rather than shutting down staff use of social networking, try to focus their at-work social media to benefit your business.
The fact is that people will talk about your business whether you’re there to hear it or not. The benefit to being involved in social media is that you now have an opportunity to curate or respond to feedback on your business. Negative comments are truly opportunities – not only to solve the problem but to publicly demonstrate your high customer service standards. It takes courage to step up and be a part of the dialogue and customers respect that.
Home Depot for example, does a good job of directing traffic, positive and negative on its Twitter profile. It serves as much as a customer service tool as a PR engine.
Things to Consider:
a. Free services like Tweetbeep and Google Alerts will notify you when your brand or store is mentioned on Twitter or elsewhere on the internet and there are other programs available that will help you aggregate mentions of your brand from all corners of the internet. Also keep close watch over your Direct Messages on Twitter – customers may be contacting you directly and responding within a reasonable period of time is crucial. You will have a chance to hear what (if anything) is being said about your business and where it makes sense, enter the dialogue and respond.
b. Never, ever get into a shouting match online. Even if it feels like you’re winning, you’re not and things on the internet have a long lifespan. Best to stay cool and calm. If you can’t solve someone’s problem reasonably, then it probably can’t be solved – move on.
I think you may be surprised to find a remarkable degree of mutual respect online. Social networks seem to have an uncanny ability to govern and moderate themselves.
Today is a later date. If you look at the time-lines for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, all three surged in popularity at about the same time in 2008. Here we are almost two years later and their growth hasn’t slowed down at all. According to research from I.T. research firm Gartner, social media will be adopted by more than 60 percent of Fortune 1,000 companies with a web site by 2010. Expect that figure to be closer to 80 percent or higher in 2011. As for small businesses, a recent study by Sage Software and AMI-Partners found that a rapidly growing percentage of small businesses are also adopting social media as a means to build consumer awareness and connections.
The time to begin a program is NOW.
Things to Consider:
a. Start small. Begin with one tool. If you choose Twitter for example, gradually increase your activity as your comfort level improves. As you master one channel of social media, build your program from there. Your Twitter activity can eventually feed into a Facebook fan page, which can eventually link to a blog. The master-plan can develop over time but the key is getting started now.
b. Listen first. Once you enter into the networks where your customers are active, sit back and listen for a while. Their questions, problems and stories will tell you a lot about what they’re interested in or frustrated by. Look for opportunities to provide helpful, non-promotional information.
c. Don’t feel the onus is on you to broadcast. That is not at all the case. Social media is not a commercial, it’s a conversation.
d. Reach out to someone who can help. The world of social media is changing so rapidly, even the experts are challenged to keep up. There’s no shame in reaching out for help, advice or guidance.
Having said all this, there are a few legitimate reasons why it might also make sense to wait before embarking on your social media program. I’ll cover those in next week’s blog. Until then… tell us what you think. Are you aware of any other excuses businesses are leaning on for not leveraging social media?