For many businesses and organizations, the advice surrounding social media is often loud and clear – “you need to engage or die”. The thinking behind this type of advice is that companies not already on social media are living on borrowed time and are already falling behind their competitors.

The problem with this advice is that it approaches organizations from a one-size-fits-all mindset.

It implies that, no matter what your goals are and how finite your resources may be, you need to be on social media now and interacting, engaging, responding, etc. While that’s true to a certain degree, it’s not necessarily the right approach for you.

In fact, the smartest approach for any organization today is to take a three-pronged approach to their social media involvement and make strategic decisions based on that.

Step One: The Research Stage

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, and how niche or mainstream your product or service is, you’re putting up your own barriers if you don’t implement a strong research program first.

Despite what everyone may be telling you, you don’t need to be on social media – your clients or customers determine that for you.

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to social media is the “we need be everywhere” mindset that’s encouraged by consultants and social media gurus that should know better.

Being on social media is like any other business decision you make – you research and validate, and then strategize on what the implementation will look like. Some ways to research your own presence there include:

  • Ask your email list. If you have a strong email database of your clients or customers, ask them if they’re online and how they use social media. Base your own strategies around their responses.
  • Learn from Point-of-Contact. Following on from your email list, you can learn from your existing contacts if they’re on social media. A Social CRM platform like Nimble, for example, will look at the email addresses of your database and find their social profiles elsewhere. This gives you an instant idea on whether social media would be a worthwhile investment for you.

Step Two: The Intelligence Through Listening Stage

If there’s one area of social media that is sorely underutilized by the majority of businesses and organizations, it’s gathering intelligence through social listening.

While it’s true social media allows for a fantastic forum for interaction and customer-to-brand dialogue, it’s the part before that – listening – that offers the biggest opportunity, especially when listening with goal-driven intelligence.

– For organizations, intelligent listening is perfect for sales, lead generation, competitor contract renewals, new hire opportunities and more. Social CRM platforms like the afore-mentioned Nimble can be integrated into your existing CRM or pipeline funnel, along with social listening tools like Hootsuite, Salesforce and Pulse Analytics to offer a holistic view of opportunities for different arms of your organization.

– The culture of the organization can be improved, as you identify first-hand not only what your customers or leads are saying about you, but also your company overall, as well as your competitors. From an HR angle, for example, intelligent listening can highlight public perception of how you treat your employees, and you can address that internally to attract the top talent externally.

– Brand reputation can be repaired before it even takes a hit. One of the biggest fears many organizations have when it comes to social media is that of brand reputation and how to cope when a crisis erupts. Using tools like TrendSpottr and Lymbix, you can identify those conversations  – positive or neutral, as well as the actual emotion around them – that have the potential to become viral and an issue for your brand. You can then use this data to identify the external friendly voices that could partner with your organization to defuse a situation before it even becomes one.

Step Three: The Influence Stage

With the data and insights the combined Research and Intelligent Listening stages provide, the final piece of the intelligence-driven approach to social media can be initiated – utilizing the strengths of influence, in all its multi-faceted opportunities.

For many businesses, influence can offer the traction and trust that would take a brand new to social media months and years to grow.

Customer influence and advocacy

However, for many brands, influence is seen as a promotional tool, that can help drive brand awareness, product launches, etc.

The intelligent business sees the bigger picture, and where influence can come into play:

  • Competitive analysis. How does your marketing or ad campaign(s) impact your competitor? How does a product review from an influential media source or blogger impact their shares? How do news stories impact your competitors, and how can you use influencers to benefit your business?
  • Customer retention. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, or what size your organization is – without customers, you won’t survive. Influencer outreach can be used to identify who your customers are and who influences their decisions at any given moment in the purchase life cycle. From a retention angle, influencers can be crucial at smoothing the after-purchase emotional cycle – “did I make the right decision”, “this isn’t living up to its promise”, “should I have compared more”, etc. Meeting and answering the customer’s after-sales needs is just as important, if not more so, than providing them with pre-sales answers.
  • Crisis communications. One of the most underused areas of influence today is that of brand reputation and managing a crisis. When your brand comes under attack on social media, often the first line of defense is PR-driven output. Yet this often comes across as company spin. Instead, working with influencers that are respected in their field, which also happens to be your industry, is a far stronger solution. Allow access to the issue, be transparent about the cause, and share what you’re doing to correct and improve, and use their audience to drive that improvement. It’s crisis comms taken to a whole new, and much more authentic, level.

Influence can also be used from a consumer level to impact B2B organizations and their purchase decisions. In the Influence Marketing book, we share the story of MV-1 Canada and how we used influencer outreach to impact the RFP process of a provincial government and their allocation of contracts around mobility vehicles.

By targeting the very people that mobility issues impacted – the “sufferer”, their caregivers, their doctors, their families, their physiotherapists, etc. – we were able to measurably impact provincial finance decisions based on popular as well as care-led emotions and logical decisions.

The Path Forward

As you can see, there are many ways to be active on social media, without being “truly active”. Your own implementation will be defined by your goals, resources and – ultimately – buy-in.

By placing the customer at the heart of all you’re doing, you’re building a massively important and effective persona-led database that will drive all your campaigns, that will help you move from the short-term mindset that campaigns are known for, and building a longer-term advocacy model that benefits everyone.

However, even if you’re fully active or not, one thing cannot be ignored – social media and all that comes with it, including influence, is truly one of the most important toolsets in any organization’s strategic armory today.

Implementing a solid listening campaign, and knowing what to do with the intelligence gathered, will set you apart immediately from your competitors who are still in the consideration phase.

What you do next is up to you – but the fact you’re doing something is what will set you apart and improve your organization internally as well as externally. That alone makes the next step an easy one to make.

image: Kristina Alexanderson

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