Why Does My Business Need Social Media?
I get a lot of clients feeling the pressure of incorporating social media or community into their existing business practices. The most basic question is “Do I need it?” Well the answer is “it depends.” It depends on a few factors. Is your business the type of business that involves customers or clients. Do you want to grow your business and become more “valuable” on the web? Can you afford not to participate if your customers are talking about you on the web?
Before making a decision about your business’ role in social media, you need to some sniffing around. This is a great opportunity to find out what people are saying about your or the competitor(‘s) product. I am always surprised when people say they never thought of that. There are a number of obvious reasons why this is a great idea. If customers are complaining about your product/company it will give you an opportunity to publicly address or even proactively correct those issues and show the customer and all those that are listening that you are paying attention. It can even help with some old fashion R&D. If your customers are making recommendations or providing you with product wish lists, this is invaluable market research. So search, Google, Yahoo, look up Facebook pages and search Twitter feeds.
Now, if you are lucky enough to not have anyone making negative remarks about you but they are completely and publicly slaying your competitor(s), you have a choice. You can just wait in the wings, listen and not dip your toe in the pool, or you can take the opportunity to start revving up to enter the social media space. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “You can’t please all of the people all of the time.” So be prepared, because with out a doubt someone will complain or say something mean about you or your product(s). So in my humble opinion, I would get started slowly.
So now you are saying, how do I get started? Well, there are three different scenarios to consider. If you website supports it, you should start by creating an online community on your own site. This gives you an opportunity to write down your own thoughts, respond to your customers directly and enforce your own set of rules when it comes to people posting on your community site. Having the blog/community with in your own company website also adds a bit of authenticity too. Customers have the perception that they are talking directly to you.
Option two is to open social media accounts like Facebook or Twitter and start communicating through those channels. Create your own Facebook page and respond to customers directly through there. Facebook and Twitter both have become direct lines and a way of facilitating mass distribution of media in the most simple way. It will take the same amount of vigilance when it comes to monitoring your customers but it is a simple and quick way of getting your feet wet.
Finally, option three is communicating with customers through a third party website or community. I think sincerity and authenticity are two of the most important values when communicating with your customers. Unfortunately, trying to calm a situation or put out a virtual fire through comments and posts on a site not related to your business can make it difficult to convey these values. This is another great reason to create a play ground for your customers before a situation arises. Remember, on third party sites (even Facebook) you have to play by their rules.
In summary, listen first and then start exploring ways to set up your own customer playground. Being prepared and evaluating your social media choices and community options before a PR nightmare is smart. It is a lot easier than it looks – just look at your competitors.