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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Local Marketing Not So Local

According to the CMO Council and Balihoo, brands still struggle with local marketing. Between keeping control over the brand, compliance with corporate directives and the necessity to adapt their effort to local markets only 7% consider their local marketing effective.

Driving customers into store locations is an essential step in the path to purchase, and local advertising is one of the best ways to reach consumers “on the ground.” A February 2013 report by the CMO Council and Balihoofound that local marketing is increasingly happening at the digital level, with the greatest percentage of respondents (27%) reporting that increasing digital investment was the biggest change in their local marketing strategy in the past year. But the study also found that brands are at very different stages in terms of their integration and execution of local marketing.

Just over one-third of those surveyed thought their local capabilities were growing, while 15% of marketers reported struggling or underperforming in their local efforts. Only 7% considered themselves highly evolved in their local outreach.

As brands make a greater push into local marketing, one of the major difficulties they face is executing at the regional level while keeping a corporate focus and quality control on local efforts.

Half of US brand marketers surveyed managed local sales and engagement efforts at the corporate level. In addition, one-third reported a combination of corporate-level monitoring of local efforts, along with franchise and outside network management. To develop local marketing strategy, three out of five marketers said that the CMO or corporate marketing team set local priorities.

Local marketing not do local

Communicating the message of the brand at all levels remains a top priority: 81% cited uniformity of the brands’ values and promises as a goal for the year, and 64% wanted to eliminate customer confusion that conflicting execution caused. This suggests that brand consistency will continue to be more important than incorporating local-level insights and ideas into marketing efforts.

Statistics on Social Media and Purchasing Habits

Social media is not a replacement for traditional marketing; it is only another tool in your marketing toolbox. You might ask the reason you need to engage with social networks at all. Some statistics on social media and purchasing habits:

  1. Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals. (HubSpot)
  2. 49% of consumers use Facebook to search for restaurants. (Mashable)
  3. 58% of Facebook users expect offers, events or promotions when they become a fan. (HubSpot)
  4. 81% of U.S. survey respondents say friends’ social media posts have directly influenced a purchase decision. (Forbes)
  5. 15.1 million consumers go to social media channels before making a purchase decision. (Knowledge Networks)

What does one take from all of this? First, you do not control your brand anymore, not in the traditional sense. Consumers are talking about your brand (your restaurant) whether you like it or not, so it is up to you to engage the “community.” Even if you are not using any social media channels, check out your business listing on websites such as Yelp and Local.com. You will see reviews of your establishment, and, yes, some of them are negative. Knowing the above statistics, you need to engage the community. If a user gives you a rave review, thank the person. If the review is negative, you need to address it and not arbitrarily dismiss it. Show the consumer you care!

What will be the big social media trends for 2013? Let’s start with mobile. More than 100 millions users have a smartphone. Mobile Internet is due to overtake wired use by 2015. Are you ready? The second big trend is video. This is such a no-brainer, especially when combined with the growing use of mobile devices.

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Responding to Negative Online Comments

12 basic principles for handling difficult questions, comments and statements on the social web. These apply to communications, marketing and customer service issues as much as they do HR and other activities.

Move fast. The longer you take to respond to comments, the more you risk appearing unresponsive, uncaring or, worse, secretive. According to NM Incite (pdf), users of Facebook pages expect to be responded to within 24 hours and Twitter users within 2 hours. In social media, it often pays more to be quick than 100% accurate.

Be accurate. Despite the pressure on speed, try to be as factual as possible – angry customers and bloggers love to highlight, question and poke holes in wooly or cagey responses. Make sure to double-check the facts with your sources and it you’re not confident about the answer, at the very least acknowledge the question, comment or statement, express concern and say you are looking into it. This can help buy you more time to find the appropriate solution.

Be flexible. Don’t assume that either the complaint is 100% genuine (consider carefully its motivation) or that you are 100% correct in your response. If you don’t have the full facts, say so publicly and communicate updates thereafter regularly. Appear anxious to help, as opposed to desperate to please. Backing yourself into a rhetorical corner can prove awkward when you have to extricate yourself publicly.

Be transparent. Admit if you have made a mistake. Denials, evasions insincere apologies as a means of quietening a community are often quickly spotted by the community and may simply inflame the issue. And while the tactic of trying to take a conversation offline can help diffuse difficult situations by buying you more time to assess the situation and/or find a solution, it can also be seen by the customer as a sign of weakness or withdrawal and lampooned as such.

Be sincere. If the complaint is genuine, apologize sincerely and with humility and in language appropriate to the audience. And yet an apology will mean nothing unless the problem is resolved in a reasonable manner. Sharing what you as an organization have learned through the experience is also a good way of demonstrating that your empathy is genuine.

Be human. As The Cluetrain Manifesto pointed out, ‘conversations among human beings sound human’, and are ‘conducted in a human voice’ that is ‘typically open, natural and uncontrived’. Look to use language that is accessible, engaging and empathetic while remaining at core professional and objective. Avoid jargon and respond direct to the individual or group using their actual names. ‘Dear valued customer’ doesn’t wash it with customers increasingly expecting personal attention.

Be focused. Not all customers are equal, and while social media is leveling the playing field, some – the 1% – are most active in the community. You need to identify your top influencers, make sure to understand their interests, requirements and behaviors, and make sure your PR, marketing and customer service teams understand when and how to interact with them. This is not to say you should ignore the rest of the community which, clearly, must not be allowed to feel unwanted or ignored, but be aware that complaints from highly socially engaged customers, bloggers and other influencers may impact not just the community itself but can also make waves beyond it.

Follow-up. Once you have acknowledged the issue and responded, find ways to engage direct with the customer in question on an ongoing basis. Encouraging deeper discussion on the topic will show you are willing to listen and learn, and help make them feel like you care. Equally, walking away once you have responded can make it appear as if the customer is no longer a priority.

Add value. Following up also provides you with additional opportunities to add value to conversations and hence deepen relationships and re-build trust. Look to be helpful by providing options rather than just a single solution, or be seen to go the extra mile by pointing people to useful or relevant information. People will notice – and may comment on the fact – that you are bending over backwards to help them.

Take control. Negative comments on your community should be actively managed – it is after all your channel. Proactively rebut statements that are demonstrably untrue or misleading and, above all, don’t run away from your page in challenging times as it will only make your detractors appear as victors. Ensure discussions remain within the parameters you have set in your Community Guidelines and enforce your terms regarding offensive posts, the sharing of confidential or personal information about company executives or other members of the community, third party advertising, repeat/verbatim comments etc. And remember that it is within your rights to ban members who consistently flout the rules, though you may want to explain why you are doing it both to the individual and to the community as a whole.

Avoid fights. Don’t antagonize your audience or get into online arguments: as Nestle discovered to its cost in the wake of Greenpeace’s palm oil campaign, David usually wins against Goliath in the court of online public opinion. If the situation is volatile, step back and wait for the right opportunity to engage with the customer in question, meantime work closely with the relevant internal stakeholders – often Sales, Public Relations and Legal – to develop a reasonable solution. Appearing thin-skinned will only make you appear weak and vulnerable.

Don’t censor. Nothing conveys a failure to listen and understand better than censoring or removing criticism from your official online communities or elsewhere. Realize that critical voices are a price of entry to the social web, and that deleting or demanding changes to negative posts can provide detractors with a powerful rhetorical weapon. Rather, always try to maintain the high ground, be seen to be responsive and listening and deploy a strong legal approach only as the final option: deleting content or threatening bloggers may simply result in the so-called ‘Streisand effect’ as complaints escalate and go viral.

It is essential that the teams managing official channels as well as interactions with third party online communities understand these principles and are properly trained in the art and science of handling negative opinion.

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Google+ SEO/SEM tool or social media platform?

Since its launch 15 months ago, a big question still remains: Is Google+ a SEO/SEM tool or a social media platform?

Google+ has grown tremendously in the past year (400M users as of September 2012) but the lack of engagement has led to comparing the platform to a ghost town.  Is the comparison fair, if you look at the figures, it certainly seem so.

A study from RJ Metrics shows that

  • The average post on Google+ has less than one reply, reshare and +1.
  • 15% of users will not post publicly again even after posting publicly five times.
  • The average time between posts is 12 days for active users.
  • The average number of public posts per active users declines steadily month after month.

In contrast, a the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 52% of Facebook users and 33% of Twitter users engage with the platform daily and a ComScore survey shows that Google+ users spent an average of 3.3 minutes on the site in January vs. 7.5 hours for Facebook.

In response to these dismal figures, Google decide to flex its muscle and leverage its strength in searches by weaving Google+ in their search results, forcing businesses in Google+ by shelving Google places and integrating Google+ and +1 in their search algorithm and the approach seems to show some results

According to an August 2012 survey by SEOMoz,

  • 54.9% of online marketers worldwide said Google+ was one of their top five most-used sites for social media marketing, compared to 87.7% who cited Facebook and 82.7% who cited Twitter. Google+ did, however, come in above YouTube, which 48.9% of respondents cited.
  • 63.8% of respondents stated that they had set up a Google+ business profile, compared to 75.8% who set up or ran a Facebook business page.
  • 89.5% cited changes in Google’s algorithm, like Google Panda, and Google+ as likely to make authorship, site and author ownership of content more important in the coming years
  • 56.4% said Google+ was likely to become massively influential in search engine results pages. Adoption and use of mobile and Facebook’s domination were also mentioned by 81.7% and 69.1% of online marketers, respectively.
  • 56.1% use Google+ for SEO
  • 65.9% use Google+ for branding,despite the lack of user numbers and buzz

In that respect, it looks like the arm twisting is working, boosting the numbers in terms of new accounts, but the growth in new account still has not translated into engagement.
The question still is:  Is Google+ a social media platform or a SEO/SEM tool

Small and Medium Size Businesses Struggle to Adopt, Integrate Social Media

Small and medium-sized businesses still lag behind when it comes to using social media and integrating it throughout the business.

In a March 2012 study from SMB Group, only 24% of US small businesses, those with between 20 and 99 employees, said they used social media to engage with customers and prospects in a strategic and structured way. An additional 20% said they used social media, but in an ad hoc, informal way. US medium-sized businesses, with 100 to 999 employees, were slightly more active, as 33% said they used social media in a strategic way and 19% in an ad hoc way.

Current Use of Social Media to Engage with Their Customers and Prospects According to US SMBs, by Business Size, March 2012 (% of respondents)

When it comes to the specific social channels SMBs are using, Facebook, not surprisingly, tops the list, with 26% of small businesses and 38% of medium-sized businesses saying they used a company Facebook page. Additionally, 20% of small businesses and 32% of medium-sized ones said they also engaged and posted content on relevant Facebook groups. Small businesses were least likely to use geolocation services, with only 3% saying they used them. But for medium-sized businesses, only 6% said they used social bookmarking sites like Digg.

Social Media Channels Used by US SMBs, by Business Size, March 2012 (% of respondents)

Integration of social media within company processes is one of the latest trends, as larger companies work to incorporate social beyond marketing and into customer service, sales, and research and development. SMBs are also working to do so, but still have a ways to go. Of those respondents that used or planned to use social media, 37.7% already integrated social media into the company website and 22.2% did so within marketing processes. However, more than half (55.1%) of respondents had no plans to integrate social media into the product development process, and 43.9% said they had no plans to do so within a company mobile-friendly website.

Integration of Social Media With Their Company Processes According to US SMBs, March 2012 (% of respondents)

A separate May 2012 study from Constant Contact found the majority of US SMBs (60%) were holding their marketing budgets steady in 2012, and that social media marketing was considered effective by only 49% of US small businesses. These smaller companies are holding out, on budgets as well as social media integration, but they would be well-served to follow in the footsteps of larger companies and get involved.

Reviews Are Key To Build Consumer Trust

Gaining consumer trust is an important issue for marketers seeking to ensure that they’re not scaring prospective customers away. In fact, a March to June survey of US adults conducted by About.com found that 84% of respondents felt that brands needed to prove themselves trustworthy before they would interact with them or other information sources. Moreover, the study found that there were 10 primary trust “elements,” or cues, that brands must establish in order to engender trust, including accuracy, expertise and transparency.

In a social media context, customers wanted to see that brands had a significant number of positive reviews, and that they didn’t go out of their way to hide the negative ones. The survey found that 41% of respondents said the ability to see reviews on social networks added to their feeling of trust in a brand. Reviews played a bigger role in cultivating trust than seeing that friends had “liked” or recommended a brand, or that the brand had accumulated a large tally of “likes.”

Video was found to improve trust the most when it served as a complement to other types of content. This ties back in to consumers’ hunger for useful information. Brands can build trust with potential customers by demonstrating expertise through quality owned content that is also devoid of a hard sales message.