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Social Media Marketing, Nothing In Life is “Free”

Today everyone is conditioned to get communications in real-time.  Parents do not leave notes for their kids anymore, they just text them.  Want to know what your kids are up to, just take a peek at their Facebook page.  More Brands are using sites like Facebook and Twitter to connect with their target consumers than ever before.  Some brands even feed their third-party social media content to their commerce or corporate websites.  Some brands have even gone as far as having “social communities” built into their corporate sites.  What happens to those when something goes wrong?

Imagine if your customer service issues were posted for the world to see?  What happens when your Brand is involved with a global crisis?  You have already made the commitment to engage with your consumer, and even if you do not engage, your target consumer is using social media and likely talking about you.  When you begin to use Social Media tools you are hoping to increase your brand equity.

While not all businesses are Social Media savvy and some have even opted to not participate, the brand itself can have it’s brand equity and virtual footprint affected or altered forever with or without their involvement.  Today’s media outlets are less about spin and more immediate reporting of issues with the fact-finding coming afterwards.  So what should you do when your brand, product, or service comes under attack?  Putting your head in between your legs and hoping it will go away simply will not work.  You need a plan or a team in place managing your social media so they can handle these issues as they arise.  Your Brand, Executives, and Brand Equity is all at stake.

A great example of how social media can alter a brand is British Petroleum or more commonly known as BP.  Everyone knew of BP as a major petroleum company servicing our need for fuel.  That was up until the oil spill in the Gulf and the subsequent mishandling of the crisis.  Greenpeace was able to turn to the Internet and affect BP’s brand equity forever.  A simple search on Google images for “British Petroleum” returns a lot of imagery and none of which are the Company’s logo.  They are all negative images dedicated to BP’s oil spill.

These images are a permanent part of BP’s cyber footprint and no matter what they do this event will follow them.  A great comparable would be a Google search for Exxon Mobile.  You will not see the same negative results, but the two crises have similar issues and the main difference is the lack of social media platforms when the Exxon crisis took place.

While these are extreme examples, it clearly shows the power of social media and how not having a plan for crisis control is a recipe for disaster.  Nestle is another top brand that mishandled it’s social media and they did so on a platform in which they had no real control or value of engagement.  So their risk out weighed the reward.  As consumers toyed with the logo, the Nestle Moderator fought back, eventually forgetting he was representing a Brand and was soon insulting the very same customers his Brand wanted to attract through social media.  Again, a lack of planing or understanding leads to negative brand equity.

Remember that by joining in social interactions, you open yourself up to hearing the way others see your brand.  Unlike a forum on your website, you have a lot less moderation and protection.  You are giving up Brand Protection for real Brand Interaction. Since you are giving up some control of your brand for this direct engagement, you need to establish a plan for when things go wrong, and to be honest they almost always do.

Make sure you have a clear Social Strategy and make sure it is not about “making sales.”  Social Media is an extension of your web presence, but it is an organic extension that you can moderate yet can not control.  You need to have policies in place for Human Resource issues, Marketing Issues, Brand Integrity and Customer Service issues.  Make sure you (as we have discussed previously) know your target consumer and where they are.  Reach them and communicate with them the way they want to be communicated with (text, email, etc).  This identification can save you thousands in wasted ad spending and enhance your social engagements.

Have a plan for the positives and negatives.  Be prepared.  Know that brand haters are out there.  Tech savvy companies have “allegedly” hired paid posters that attack the competition on Social Media.  Be honest with your followers and understand that emotion can rarely be read through text, especially when text can be limited to 140 characters.  If you have established an engaging relationship with your desired consumers, they can help fight back during these attacks.  What Greenpeace accomplished with BP was done with 2,000 followers.  BP could have aligned itself with “green” social influencers once it embarked on it’s social media campaign.  This would have at least shown the perception that they had a goal of being environmentally focused.  In the event of a crisis hitting they would have had a track record with the same people Greenpeace used against BP.  Having no plan is largely what led to certain failure for BP and it’s online image.

Be responsive and not offensive.  You can not avoid some crises so do not try to change the tides, simply explain your position in the crisis and follow your plan.  Not every issue requires a response and sometimes due to legal issues you cannot respond.  Sometimes your response can fuel the fire.  These are all issues that need to be discussed in the planning stage and coordinated with your Social Media Team.  The Team should never interject their personal views into your Brands position.  They are not speaking as Social Media Manager Jeff Black, they are speaking as the Brand and what they say or do will affect your brand equity.  The best place to start is to hear, investigate, and elevate issues that begin on Social Media.

You must remember that you should be engaging and speaking with your consumer on a personal level.  You need to treat every follower like a customer.  Never insult your followers.  If you are going to censor posts on your site you need 24/7 monitoring and the deleting needs to be handled quickly and according to your plan.  If you do not have anything nice to say do not say anything at all.  Last but not least, you cannot please everyone in real life, and when people have a certain anonymity they tend to be harder to please.  Some comments are okay to ignore if you know they are not factual.  It could be a competitor drawing you into a heated conversation.  If you are angry, have another individual not in the “fight” read your response, or just do not respond at all.  You must stay positive and instill the positivity into your timeline.  You set the tone and if you are angry or bitter your followers will see it and react .  As they say on the Internet ‘don’t feed the “trolls”’.  It is also important to remember that when you are given suggestions, thank the person giving you the suggestion.  Even if the suggestion is not helpful, this is a meaningful engagement and your potential consumer walks away thinking that this Brand listens to it’s consumers.

Finally, remember that having a Facebook Page does not make you social.  As a matter of fact, take a look at MySpace for what Facebook could look like in the future.  Engage with your target consumers on your own social platform.  Use Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter etc to find the consumer but try to bring them to your own platform.  So when you engage you get contact information and the ability to interact without the third-party influence of these other social platforms.

Jason M. Genet


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