2009 is supposed to be the year more companies finally decide that social media is not just for the kids, but as integral a part of business as having a call centre, buying ad space, sending out news stories, etc.
But how should the bigger companies and brands – often steeped in a particular way of marketing themselves – make best use of the new tools and ways of working?
First things first: while there are new tools (Twitter, Facebook, et al), many of the ways of working are not so new; they are just being delivered in a different way. Listening to customers and meeting their needs – it’s been going on a lot longer than we have.
Valeria Maltoni’s Conversation Age blog gives a good appraisal of how companies should be responding to the “diminishing returns from traditional marketing”.
She talks about being able to read “digital body language” – how consumers behave online – and how business needs to recognise that control of the buying decision is now very much in the hands of the buyer.
Maltoni also highlights the importance of the impression companies make online, creating compelling content, measuring interaction and being willing to give to online communities rather than aspiring to control them.
One of the comments on her post, from social media monitoring firm, Radian6′s David Alston, emphasises that the principles that work online have been present for some time offline. He cites the example of an effective clothes shop salesperson who reads the customer well enough to know when to approach and how to be helpful, so heightening the chance of a sale – or, at very least, a conversation.
In its simplest form, effective online interaction with your audience could be deemed as “kindness”. BBC Radio 4′s Start the Week debated a new book on the subject – “On Kindness” by psychoanalyst, Adam Philips - which suggests that, in our society, being kind has become a sort of guilty pleasure rather than an instinctive response. The book says the preferable route is having a “sympathetic identification” with others.
Without wanting to – heaven forbid – come over all touchy feely, isn’t that the essence of social media? And when companies grasp that, is it not a more commercially beneficial approach to the “non-engagement policy” mentioned in some recent PR Media Blog comments?
Whether you are at the point of unravelling the myths of social media or not, it’s certainly time to participate.