Social Media Rules for Brands: The 10 Commandments

Ten-commandments

Social media for brands dos and don’ts, the social media rules to know

Fleeting as social media exchanges may seem, they can have a pronounced impact on business and their influence can echo far beyond a simple post or retweet.

While the anonymous, public and often informal nature of Internet dialogue often leads corporations to relax their guard, it’s important to note: Managing a brand’s social media presence is a tricky balancing act. The key to being successful? Keeping things polite and professional, and constantly acknowledging your audience’s voice, while adding value or insight to customer exchanges.

Looking to enhance your corporate social media efforts? Here are

1. Thou shalt be patient and considerate.

While many campaigns seem to go viral overnight, it’s important to remember that businesses rarely experience instant breakthroughs or meteoric audience growth on social media. More important than chasing huge follower or subscriber counts is to consistently and meaningfully engage an audience by creating helpful and insightful content that addresses key concerns or speaks to consumer needs.

Over time, through constant two-way dialogue with users, this commitment will help your business build a loyal and involved following, the influence of which may far outstrip that of larger, less engaged audiences.

Be relevant, generous and sincere. While doing so may not seem as sexy or instantly gratifying as posting a viral video or infographic, it will help you build trust, empathy and, most importantly, relationships, the currency of the modern social realm.

2. Thou shalt not be indifferent to the voice of thy customer.

When you engage in social media, you commit to playing a role in very public customer conversations. This entails consistently having to acknowledge other parties’ opinions, and embracing both the good and the bad, including harsh or critical feedback.

Instead of looking the other way when someone posts something unflattering, take a moment to objectively assess the feedback. Constructive criticism not only presents opportunities to improve our efforts to serve end-users; it also presents a chance to engage in human exchanges, and apologize and appease the situation.

In other words, the goal is to create conversations, not critiques, and optimize the level of customer support and service provided to your audience. Sometimes, simply taking a moment to acknowledge others’ voices, or answer questions directly can bridge gaps that threaten to build a gulf between you and end-users.

3. Thou shalt be true to thyself.

You’ve spent ample time crafting your brand’s mission and values across your website, marketing materials and advertising efforts. Now is not the time to abandon the positive image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate, or forsake professionalism or propriety in the name of popularity.

Given the medium’s more personable nature, social media exchanges should certainly be more human than formal. But all should be respectful of customers, audience needs and the positive image you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. It’s important not only to respect followers’ time and intelligence, but also to be consistent with your branding and messaging across all platforms. That way, fans and followers know both who you are and the values that your business stands for.

4. Thou shalt think before you post.

Trade secret: Every post or status update you share should add value for your audience, regardless whether that value comes in the form of enlightenment, entertainment or an uplifting exchange.

Therefore, make every share unique, and think about how to ensure it counts – i.e., what can you add to the conversation that others can’t? As a simple example, retweeting posts of note is an excellent way to share information, but adding your own opinion or links to further resources is an even better use of time. Likewise, if you post every single little detail or update about your brand, industry and products, fans may become fatigued. Respect your audience and think about how to make posts superlative, singular and of notable worth before sharing.

The key question to ask yourself: What’s in it for them?

5. Thou shalt be brief.

Remember to keep it short and sweet on social media. You have only a few seconds to catch someone’s attention, and even less time to keep it. Therefore, make sure your posts have an immediate impact and utilize concise language, links, references or (better yet) visual assets, such as photos, videos and inforgraphics. These quickly convey key information at a glance.

Look for ways to distill an idea down to a single statement or elevator pitch that clearly and quickly communicates subject matter, tone and target audience, and provides further points of reference should audiences wish to dive deeper into the topic.

6. Thou shalt not hog the conversation.

In many ways, social networks serve as the world’s largest cocktail party. But no one wants to be stuck with a self-centered conversation hog.

The same rule applies to your social media presence, where it’s important to listen before speaking – doubly so, as the dynamics of conversation and rules of online behavior differ depending on context and parties in attendance. Dedicate the majority of your time proactively engaging your audience, then split the remaining time between content your audience will care about and promoting your brand.

7. Thou shalt do good.

Think of social media as the world’s largest megaphone or amplifier – it can project your online voice louder, farther and faster than ever before.

Always be engaging and upbeat (negativity never reflects well on the poster, especially online, where conversational subtlety and nuance are often lost in translation), and take advantage of the opportunities presented to promote positivity. Material you post online should be less promotional than beneficial in nature, designed to help viewers save time or money, enhance learning and awareness, or offer key opinions and insights. From securing support for charitable ventures to offering deeper looks at evolving trends to helping fans and followers make valuable connections, consistently look for ways to aid, assist and uplift your audience.

8. Thou shalt keep it strictly business.

While color and personality are always welcome online, business and pleasure seldom mix well in social media contexts – personal and corporate accounts are best kept separated. Remember: Users following business accounts do so because they identify with the brand, and expect content in keeping with its core image and focus. Posting anything outside of this realm may prompt confusion, surprise or indifference, and has the potential to reflect poorly on your brand.

Communications should universally be polite, professional and on-topic. Where the risk of misinterpretation or controversy exists, play it safe and skip posting. Keep your tone and voice upbeat and respectful – avoid complaints, negative comments and stabs at the competition at all costs.

9. Thou shalt respect the hashtag.

Twitter hashtags are great vehicles for highlighting topics of relevance, drawing audience’s attention and fostering fan engagement. However, they can also be dangerous when used incorrectly – i.e., too frequently or in inappropriate contexts.

Oftentimes, brands overuse hashtags or place them in unrelated posts to drive added visibility. But doing so may leave viewers feeling cheated, especially if those hashtags add no relevant context to conversations or potentially alienate readers. This can cause a negative reaction to your online voice and ultimately your business, which will not only hinder fan acquisition but potentially detract from your brand.

10. Thou shalt not lie.

Skip the temptation to embellish, fib or inflate the truth online, especially since it can easily backfire or even lead to potential legal repercussions. Likewise, be honest with your audience. If fans and followers have questions about an evolving scenario – e.g., a potential PR crisis -– sometimes, the best answer is simply a prompt: “Apologies, but we don’t know. However, rest assured we’re working on it, and will let you know as soon as possible.”

Trust is the foundation of any relationship – real or online, and its loss can have a marked impact on both your brand and customer perception. As Benjamin Franklin once pointed out, it takes many exchanges to build a positive reputation, but only one mistake to undo it.

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Do CMOs Have The Wrong Priorities?

A recent study by Forrester Research show that CMOs are more interested in launching new products and acquire new customers than keeping the ones they already have.

CMOs ranked customer retention 5th, increasing customer lifetime value came 8th and increasing customer satisfaction and advocacy 9th, which is surprising since retaining customer and increasing their lifetime value is a lot cheaper than gaining new customers. The same goes for increasing customer satisfaction.

In addition, studies have shown that satisfied customers are easier to turn into evangelist is a lot more effective than traditional marketing at generating revenues.

The study begs to ask, do CMOs have the wrong priorities?

CMOs top priorities

Social Media Helps Life Technologies Improve Business

Life Technologies’ global senior e-marketing manager for search and social, Robin Smith, explains how the deep relationships the company makes with its fans help influence the products the company makes and how it does business. Their approach is a sustainable way to actively make business better with social media.

Some of her key points:

  • Customers relate to a person, not a company. Making real, human relationships with individuals, as individuals, is key to earning your fans’ trust and opinions. Smith says Life Technologies works hard to let employees have their own voice in social media.
  • A lot of employees shy away from engaging online because they’re afraid of screwing up. Smith explains how the brand helps anyone from an executive to a product manager feel comfortable contributing
  • Social media can change how you do business. Smith talks about how social helped the company launch a product and even come up with a name for it. She explains how your social media fans can be a great resource if you take time to cultivate great relationships.

Social Interactions Affect Brand Perception

If brands want to improve their customer perception, having a well-rounded social communications practice that serves both as a marketing outlet and as a place for consumers to solve service issues will help.

In a new study, J.D. Power and Associates measured consumer experience working with companies through their social platform for both marketing (such as receiving a coupon or some other offer through a social channel) and service (such as answering questions about a product or service or solving specific problems) needs.

The study was based on the responses of more than 23,000 consumers and covered 100 brands in six industries: airlines, auto, banking, credit card, telecom and utility. The bottom line: very few companies doing both marketing and service particularly well.

Hardly any companies are doing equally well on social marketing and social servicing,” Jacqueline Anderson, director of social media and text analytics at J.D. Power, tells Marketing Daily. The discrepancy, she says, has a negative impact on brand perception.

The study found a correlation between a company’s overall social communications and a consumer’s likelihood to purchase and overall perception of the company. Among highly satisfied consumers (those with satisfaction scores of 951 or higher on a 1,000-point scale), 87% said their online interaction with the company “positively impacted” their likelihood of purchase from that company. Meanwhile, 10% of consumers with low satisfaction scores (less than 500) said their experiences with a company’s social communications “negatively impacted” their likelihood of purchase.

According to the study, nearly a third of consumers ages 30-49 and 38% of those over 50 interact with companies via social marketing (compared with only 23% of consumers 18-29). However, 43% of the younger demographic use the channels for social media interactions, while only 18% of those over 50 do.

Understanding exactly which consumers are using social media channels to what end will go a long way in helping companies improve their overall communications, Anderson says. Companies will have to evaluate how consumers are using their social media channels and then develop a strategy to address those patterns. This may require some of them to reorganize.

“It’s kind of a failure to understand why consumers are reaching out,” Anderson says. “Many companies are still organized around servicing on one side and marketing on the other.”

Among the industries evaluated, the auto industry is the only one that performs particularly well when it comes to marketing and servicing via social media. The wireless industry scores well when it comes to social servicing interactions, while utilities perform well in social marketing.

Healthcare Company Kaiser Permanente Leverages Video

Healthcare company Kaiser Permanente’s director of digital media and syndication, Vince Golla, talked about how the company brought its fans’ genuine, unscripted stories to a bigger audience without hiring an expensive production company.

Some key takeaways from his presentation:

  • You can’t sample healthcare. Kaiser Permanente needed to show people in compelling, honest ways reasons customers love the brand. So the company turned to video testimonials and spotlighting the people who make it great: its staff.
  • Your videos don’t have to be perfect. Golla says to keep the video blog sustainable, the company had to pull production off on its own. So the company hired an indie filmmaker to show the staff some basics and an intern to teach them how to edit it.
  • Make your great content usable everywhere to get the most out of it. Kaiser Permanente didn’t stop at posting videos in social media. The healthcare company played them in waiting rooms, at meetings and on its internal channels to build pride in the content, while still spreading the word.

Websites Still an important piece of the content marketing landscape

Are brand websites still relevant? Brands are spending more time—and money—engaging with consumers outside of their brand sites on the likes of YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook and many other channels. As marketing efforts move to social networks and to content sites such as BuzzFeed, what happens to the brand’s website?

Brand pages, although they are not very heavily trafficked as a rule, are still a primary resource for consumers seeking information about products and the companies that make them, according to a new eMarketer report, “What’s a Brand Site For? Engaging Consumers Across Multiple Channels.” An October study by nRelate found that 48% of online shoppers said they trusted content from brand websites. No other content type approached the trustworthiness of corporate sites, according to this survey—not even mainstream news sites.

In a separate survey of internet users in the US and Canada by marketing services firm Epsilon, the percentage of respondents who named company websites as a trustworthy source of information was much lower—just 20% of US internet users and only 16% of those in Canada—but those relatively low results were still higher than those for TV, radio or email.

Still, for most brands, traffic is unlikely to be very high. A joint study by Accenture, dunnhumbyUSA and comScore suggested as much. It showed that 64% of the top 25 CPG brands averaged less than 100,000 unique visitors per month to their brand websites. But ignoring this traffic could be costly. The study also found that, on average, visitors to CPG brand websites spent 37% more than non-visitors on those brands in retail stores.

Across Channels, Retailers Push to Keep Customers Happy

The rise of the internet has meant big changes for customer service, according to a new eMarketer report, “Multichannel Customer Service: Best Practices for Building Retail Loyalty.” Consumers today have an array of digital customer service tools at their disposal, the newest of which include live chat, social networks and smartphones.

 

And the stakes are high for retailers trying to keep up. Consumers are quick to punish retailers that do not meet their customer expectations—and reward those that do.

Findings from a Q1 2012 study by the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm, showed that customers are loyal to businesses that provide good customer service. Some 86% of survey respondents who reported being very satisfied with their most recent customer service interaction with a company were likely to repurchase, as opposed to only 9% who said they would likely purchase again after being very dissatisfied with their customer service experience.

et another benefit of good service is that satisfied customers become brand advocates who refer other people to the company. A 2012 American Express study found that 48% of internet users told other people “all the time” about a good customer service experience with a business. The survey also found that people were roughly as likely to share their poor customer service experiences.

But consumers have different expectations and preferences for customer service depending on where they are in the purchase journey and the types of questions they have. A 2012 global customer experience study sponsored by Capgemini found that social media was most important in the awareness stage (learning about products and promotions), while smartphones were most valuable in the delivery and after-sales care stages.