Part 3: Social Media for Business – What on earth is it?

social_media_iconsI have approached this series first looking at “Why bother with Social Media”, now we move to “What it is”. Social Media is not a single product nor is it a one size fits all process. Social Media is less of a thing and more of a “way” of engaging with your stakeholders.

To appreciate the full benefit of this medium you need to take a step back and review the way that you approach your business communication at every level. There are plenty of reasons why Social Media and Social Networking need to be considered with some urgency for your business but there is one that stands out and should be reason enough;

“The way your customers are talking and listening has changed so if you don’t want to loose them to a savvier competitor you’d better keep up.”

There has been a paradigm shift in the way we access information and make our purchasing decisions both domestically and commercially. This has been the result of our relatively recent access to the internet at high speed (broadband), access to reliable sources of up to the minute information (Social Media) and real time collaborative discussion with our peers (Social Networking).

No longer are we at the whim of the PR and advertising executives who traditionally influenced our spending by coming up with clever slogans, catchy jingles or by dominating the premium media spots on TV, magazines and newsprint. In today’s highly competitive consumer society, when we want to purchase, to engage professional services, to travel or to be entertained we will ask our friends online and consult with our virtual networks as to what they would recommend and suggest. The key point here is if you are not part of that conversation you cannot be an influence to its direction and relevance to your own business.

There are many definitions of Social Media; here are a couple that I think are adequate for this conversation:

  • Social Media: are collections of data and information that is developed collaboratively and/or shared interactively amongst individuals or groups. Examples include Blogs, Wikis, and shared Bookmarks.
  • Social Networking: is the use of process and technology to support the discovery, formation and maintenance of personal and professional relationships. Examples include Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter.

From a business perspective Social Media is a double edged sword. The majority of platforms are free and yet to get the best out of them there is a significant time investment required which comes at a cost to internal resourcing. There is a good argument for external outsourcing of this service but that will have to wait for a later post.

There are a few don’ts that have to be considered from the outset to avoid a very costly mistake made by many before you. Your brand and its values have been built up over many years so do not hand your most precious communications opportunity to the office junior just because he/she has a thousand Facebook friends and “knows all about it”. Your brand image must be maintained and communication made to a standard that reflects your goals, this can be undone and turned against you with poor judgement and business inexperience.

Don’t be too hasty to engage but engage you must. First watch and listen, in time you will be in a position to contribute and ultimately benefit. This needs to be approached as a long term strategy that takes planning and sound business advice that aligns directly with the existing goals of your organisation.

Here we expose the essential key to success, “strategy” and “planning” are fundamental to an effective social media campaign. The sad reality for many businesses is they have done little, and sometimes nothing in the way of formal planning making its application confusing, ineffective and potentially demoralising to all involved.

The best approach to any strategy session is to engage someone external who knows how to facilitate the entire procedure, to guide the conversation and bring out the most in every rank and personality that has anything to do with your operation.

Engagement and participation of the entire team is important, they all have something different to offer and if engaged in the process will take ownership and be a valuable contributor and active participant in the organisations future.

What does this have to do with Social Media you may ask, have we steered off subject? If you think we have then you are not in this for the long haul and will become quickly disillusioned with Social Media as a serious communications and promotional platform. Once you have a clear direction on what it is you want to achieve for your business only then can look to what products will suit your needs best.

, ,