You may have noticed the way we communicate and engage with each other has changed. In no small part it is because of technology, though it’s less of a technology revolution and more of a communications evolution.
Better computers and high speed broadband connectivity has had a big influence on how we access the Internet. As if being wired wasn’t enough we have stepped into the science fiction realms of our own lifetime and taken broadband with ubiquitous wireless and digital cellular to the streets and beyond, it’s gone mobile. Smart phones and iPads are not only communications devices they give us access to email and internet, are entertainment centres, video recorders, cameras, satellite navigation systems, music players, word processors, and that’s just some of the features of the basic mobile phone. Try an iPhone on for size – 225,000 applications available and counting.
We have discovered in recent years getting information from online sources increasingly convenient because it was faster and reached further with a little help from a search engine known as Google. We expected more from this resource and it didn’t disappoint so we have made the World Wide Web integral to both our personal and business lives. No longer the domain of the technical elite and “other life” geeks it is now something that all the family regard as a must have rather than just a fashion accessory or passing fad.
We now use video and discussion forums, we share our experiences and concerns in real time and voice our opinions for all to see in a very public and global online community in an activity labelled as Social Networking. This shift in the way we think and use the internet is known as Web 2.0, the platforms like Twitter and Facebook are household names and known collectively as Social Media.
Social Media is redefining the way we share ideas, build trust and make our purchasing decisions. These rapidly expanding online platforms are able to provide users with a forum to get and to give real time feedback. Reviews and recommendations are fed instantaneously to our communities of influence, tribes, friends, fans and followers via Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wiki’s, YouTube and Blogs. Because of this high level of interactivity, real time information sharing and self-publishing of video, images and blogs which are now considered mainstream media, there will be – and can be – no looking back.
Our customers are no longer relying on traditional methods of broadcast marketing to be influenced; they are listening to each other and to engage as businesses or brands you have to be part of this conversation. Not engaging in Social Media for fear that someone may criticise your product, complain about your service or copy your ideas is counterproductive. If they have a complaint they will be complaining anyway, you just won’t know it, and worse can do little about it. If you don’t want your ideas heard and discussed, by not engaging you will get your wish, they won’t. Your customers will move on to those that have open dialogues, share their expertise and ultimately with whom they form a trusted relationship. As businesses trying to compete in an increasingly competitive and global marketplace we either keep pace with these changes, or we will become irrelevant to our existing and potential customers forever.
No-one said this was going to be easy. This article cannot create a one size fits all explanation because there just isn’t one; no form of human interaction and idea exchange could, or should be that straight forward. What we need to do as business people is plan. Many businesses have done too little planning as it is, so if nothing else this is a great excuse to start the ball rolling. It’s time to think seriously about whom we want to reach and for what purpose and engage all our team from senior management to the shop floor in the process.
What Social Media is not is a mechanism to sell or to broadcast, if used badly it does have the potential to create a negative impact on your brand, product or service. We must rethink how we are to communicate and how we will engage and how to encourage our customers to talk about us, as advocates and ambassadors. It is only then that the true value and potential of Social Media will be apparent.
It’s almost unimaginable how far we have advanced with communications technology alone in the past century. Yet philosophically we have almost come full circle since Napoleon Hill gathered the thoughts and ideas of the great business minds of his time and wrote the now legendary book “Think and Grow Rich”. Published in 1937 at the time of the great depression he talked about the importance of values, of knowing your customer and having a meaningful relationship. It also emphasised the importance of planning and setting achievable goals. It’s good to know that some things haven’t changed.
Use Social Media to communicate and build trust with your target market. Apply some strategic planning with common sense, and getting some professional help to better understand the technical and strategic implications before taking things too far would be highly recommended. Apply the same rules to your online engagements that you would to any real-life conversation and relationship and you are on the right track to transferring the return on engagement to a return on investment.