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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Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram Differing Social Media Demographics

Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram are popular with differing demographics

eMarketer estimates that by the end of 2013 there will be 163.5 million social network users in the US, and unsurprisingly they are a diverse group.

A December 2012 study of social networking demographics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that Hispanic internet users were most likely to identify themselves as social network users, at 72% penetration, vs. 68% of black and 65% of white internet users. Pew also found that higher concentrations of women than men were social networkers by a margin of nearly 10 percentage points: 71% vs. 62%.

Social networks such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest seem to be attracting a particularly diverse coalition of users. Black internet users, for instance, were significantly more likely than average to use Twitter—while 16% of internet users overall said they used the service, 26% of black internet users said they did so. Hispanic internet users were also slightly overrepresented: 19% reported using the service.

Twitter US demographics

Pew found this phenomenon even more pronounced on photo-sharing service Instagram, now owned by Facebook. Black internet users were nearly twice as likely to use it as the average internet user: 23% vs. 13% overall. Hispanic internet users overindexed as well, while whites were slightly less likely than the average internet user to be found on the site. Pew also found Instagram’s users skewed slightly female: 16% of women said they were on it, compared to 10% of men.

Instagram US Demographics

The study confirmed Pinterest’s reputation as skewing largely female: Fully one-quarter of female internet users said they were on it, compared to just 5% of male internet users.

Pinterest US demographics

Pinterest is also diverse in another way: While most emerging social networking sites skew heavily toward younger users, Pinterest attracts internet users in a broader range of age groups. With its friendly interface and visual orientation, Pinterest is popular with the 18- to 29-year-olds that frequent most social

 

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Companies’ Approach to Advertising on Social Media

Since the arrival of social media platforms, companies have tried to figure out how to best use them to get their messages to consumers, often with mixed results. Some brands have embraced the notion that social platforms like Twitter allow constant interaction, for better or worse, with their customers.

Others have turned away from some strains of social media, as General Motors did last spring when it stopped advertising on Facebook while raising questions about the return on its investment. The move had a ripple effect in the advertising world, with many brands questioning whether the costs of being on social media were worth it.

A new report issued Tuesday by Nielsen and Vizu, a research company owned by Nielsen, shows that brands think they might be turning a corner, specifically when it comes to paying for their use of social media.The report examined the opinions about social media marketing among more than 500 digital media professionals — including brand marketers, media agencies and advertisers — from September to October 2012.

The study found that that

  • 89% of advertisers continued to use free social media products. Nielsen did not release the names of specific social media platforms mentioned by the respondents, but they are likely to include Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Twitter.
  • 75% of the companies surveyed said they were also spending more for social media content, which could include paying bloggers to write posts about a product or using third-party technology to push videos on to the Web in the hope that they become viral.
  • 70% of the advertisers surveyed said they dedicated up to 10 percent of their budget to paid social media advertising, while 13 percent dedicated more than 21 percent of their budget. Those numbers are expected to increase in 2013.

The results come as companies like Twitter and Facebook are making more diverse advertising options available to brands. Last year, Twitter announced a number of advertising and media initiatives, including a survey product that enables marketers to ask Twitter users a handful of multiple-choice questions. Facebook began testing a new advertising mechanism using a technology called real-time bidding, which allows advertisers to place bids on ad space at specific times.

“Advertisers are starting to look at social media as an integrated part of their advertising strategy,” said Jeff Smith, the senior vice president of product leadership for advertising effectiveness at Nielsen.

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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.

Visual outperforms text when it comes to social media engagement

According to a new study from M Booth and  Simply Measured, visual content is not only taking over the digital and social media landscape, it’s also outperforming all other mediums when it comes to engagement!

  1. Videos are shared 12X more than links and text posts combined on Facebook
  2. Photos are liked 2X more than text posts on Facebook
  3. 48% of all Tumblr posts are photos.
  4. On YouTube, 100 million users are liking, sharing or commenting on videos every week.
  5. Pinterest refers more traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, and Google+ combined
Graphics and videos drive engagement in social media

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.

Social Media Marketers Must Provide Disclosure

Advertisers who make claims about their products on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest need to be mindful of the fine print they use, or forget to use, in their postings and provide disclosure.

Last week, the National Advertising Division, an investigative unit of the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, reviewed photographs that Nutrisystem had “pinned” on Pinterest boards and determined that the photos were testimonials requiring disclosures. The photographs in question showed people who said they had lost weight by using Nutrisystem, but there was no disclosure that the people had been paid or that the results of their weight loss were not typical. Instead, the photos simply said, for example, “Christine B. lost 46 lbs on Nutrisystem.”

The self-regulatory council conducts independent reviews of marketing and advertising on all platforms, including social media. The group often responds to complaints brought by competing marketers who accuse others of violating advertising guidelines, like making unsubstantiated claims. Following a review, marketers often comply with requests to modify or settle the claim. If they refuse, the claim can be sent to the Federal Trade Commission for further review.

Andrea Levine, the director of the National Advertising Division, said the organization tends to monitor advertising in categories like health and nutrition, dietary supplements and cosmetics closely. “Those are categories where companies are not watching each other as closely and bringing their own challenges,” Ms. Levine said.

In the Nutrisystem case, the company immediately agreed to add disclosure statements to its photographs, Ms. Levine said. “As long as their stories are truthful and as long as the advertiser discloses what is the normal weight loss range, which is 1 to 2 pounds a week, that lets the consumers put the success story in context,” Ms. Levine said.

Advertising on Twitter and Facebook is also monitored closely by the investigative units in the Advertising Self-Regulatory Council. In November 2011, for example, 1-800 Contacts challenged claims made on Facebook by a competitor, Coastal Contacts.

Coastal Contacts encouraged Facebook users to “like” its page and in doing so, promised them a free pair of glasses. It also promised discounts of 70 percent on contact lenses. The rival, 1-800 Contacts, said that Coastal Contacts did not disclose the shipping and handling fees associated with the offer for free glasses and that not all styles of glasses or lenses were available in the offer.

In addition, the company contended that users who “liked” the Coastal Contacts page in order to get the free glasses were inadvertently endorsing the company.

The National Advertising Division ruled that all claims for free merchandise must clearly disclose any hidden fees and conditions at the outset of the offer, including increasing the font size of the message that “conditions apply.” Facebook likes can be interpreted as “conveying a message of general social endorsement,” the ruling said.

“If what you are offering them in exchange for likes is not real, then those likes were obtained through deceptive advertising,” Ms. Levine said of the ruling.

One of the first social media cases taken up by a related organization, the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program, involved Twitter. In July 2010, the program recommended that Liquid HCG Diet discontinue using testimonials that it made on Twitter — such as, “Becky and husband lost 14 lbs in 2 days!” — and claims on Facebook that said “Lose around a pound a day” and “Lose 30 lbs in a month, it’s easy and quick!”

Twitter now offers advertisers options like promoted tweets that make it more clear to users which posts are advertisements and which are authentic content.

“It’s kind of a reminder to advertisers that even though the medium changes the rules stay the same,” Ms, Levine said.

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