How to Set Sail on the Seas of Social Media
Social media is as easy to control as the ocean. Some days are so calm you wonder if the world has taken a day off. Others are filled with activity that sends customers and prospects clicking to your site. And some days bring hurricane-force winds that threaten the foundation of your business.
It's hard for cross-channel retailers used to managing every aspect of their marketing programs to adapt to the free-flowing social media world. There isn't any way to control it. Positive comments can yield negative results, all led by one disgruntled person. Negative posts can rally customers to your defense.
We're in the early stages of a new marketing world. Some people are sitting on the fence, trying to decide if they should participate. The question shouldn't be if, but how.
Your customers and prospects are participating in social media. They chat about things they like and things they don't. Customer service issues are often posted online before companies are even made aware. A quick response and resolution keeps negative forces at bay.
Before diving headfirst into social media, make sure you understand the four levels of social media participation and where your company fits in.
Level One: Basic
Every company needs to participate at this level. Start by constructing a social media policy for your company, employees and vendors. The corporate portion should detail how the company will participate, including specific guidelines. The employee and vendor sections should specify expectations for protection of proprietary information, and consequences for activities that hurt the company. Begin monitoring, responding to and measuring the online conversations taking place about your company and products. Every comment doesn't need a response, but use the opportunities provided to enhance your reputation or resolve problems. Success measurements for this level include:
• social media guidelines completed;
• team members educated about social media participation; and
• consistent implementation and documentation of responses to online conversations.
Level Two: Participating
Complete your strategic plan before you move to this level. Establish your presence on one or two platforms (e.g., Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Foursquare). Begin attracting and inviting consumers to join your community by starting conversations about things of interest to your target group. Invest time in learning how to use social media's tools to maximize your productivity and effectiveness. Document everything you do and your results. Then identify what works and what doesn't. Success measurements for this level include:
• initial strategic plan completed;
• accounts created and configured on one or two platforms;
• customers and prospects joining your community;
• daily conversations;
• integration of productivity and measurement tools;
• documentation of tests with cause-and-effect details; and
• revision of strategy as needed.
Level Three: Engaged
Expect wrong turns between levels two and three. The path is filled with distractions and challenges, but it's worth the journey. That journey begins with building relationships. Your efforts to connect with fans and followers will receive responses, and they'll start initiating some conversations, too.
This is the point where social media crosses the line from theory to practical reality. Success measurements for this level include:
• revenue directly attributable to relationships established on social media platforms;
• growth in customer and prospect participants (be sure to qualify this before celebrating increases);
• reductions in incremental marketing and operational costs; and
• increase in customer-driven conversations and referrals.
Level Four: Integrated
The top level is when everything starts working together. Social media is a tool that provides access to new customers, conversations and customer-care solutions. It facilitates opportunities for improved relationships and long-term loyalty.
Marketing becomes a loop that includes every contact point from introduction to order fulfillment. Employees from all channels and departments work together to provide consistently excellent customer experiences. Success measurements for this level include:
• interdepartmental meetings focus on improving the customer experience without animosity;
• resource allocation based on customers' needs;
• customer satisfaction is at an all-time high;
• employee turnover is minimal;
• a systematic approach to matching service with customers; and
• all channels, departments, tools, systems and employees working together for the common goal of serving customers while generating profits.