Social Media – A Company’s Friend, Foe

Marketer extraordinaire Andy Marken begins a series on social networking.

Robert Dow

Millions Waiting: Thanks to the internet companies can reach millions of individuals with news and information. There’s so much information and misinformation surrounding the power and magic of social media, company management and marketing probably feel like a deer hypnotized by the headlines of a semi on the highway.

We all know that word-of-mouth “advertising” is the most powerful – good and bad – promotion for a company that exists. As a result, companies, departments, individuals are setting up social network pages, signing up for microblogs like Twitter, establishing management/marketing blogs on their Web site and establishing customer forums on the Web. The challenge is to understand the true value of social media for your business, activity.

Tackling the Unknown

Today’s customers don’t want to be advertised at; they want to research products/services in their own time, in their own way. They want impartial opinions from other consumers and product experts about the promises made by the company/product.

The shift of control to customers is an obvious concern of company executives who read about bad publicity that has spread like a wild fire for other companies, executives, and products thanks to mis-managed social networking. But, a recent study by worldwide networking company Cisco, suggests that being overly cautious is short-sighted. The control paradigm has shifted and there is no turning back.

Social media and social networking are here to stay, but the tools, outlets, opportunities and complexity are still in their infancy and will continue to evolve and influence the way “business as usual” is conducted.

To ignore the influence and power of social media as well as the internal guidelines, which must be established, can only lead to misuse by members of the organization and accidental disclosure of company/product information, misinformation/misrepresentation of the company/products/services, its policies, its image.

Forget the Experts

There are no hard and fast rules, recommendations and there really are no “experts” you can turn to to deliver “safe,” reliable, guaranteed social media approaches, activities. Anyone who makes that claim is blowing smoke.

The most we can do in this series of articles is help you understand how you can get started, what they – consumers – are doing, explore/recommend how you can get started, what are the customer’s options and reasonable responses and activities you can consider implementing to enhance, improve, profit from your consumer relationships.

The challenge for an organization is to establish and leverage online relationships (source: Marketing Executives Networking Group)
Before you begin any social media activity, some level of internal governance – usually ad hoc – must be exercised including:

  • Which social media initiative – The Web offers a wide pallet of social media activities and you need to determine which one(s) you want to start first, when, how and who will be the “owner(s)” of the initiative(s). To get started review the different social media outlets just as your would a magazine or a web site to see if they are compatible with your aims.
  • Employee social media activities – everyone in the organization can (and probably does) have some social networking activity they are already pursuing – Facebook, LinkdIn, blog, Twitter. Controlling these activities is a practical impossibility, so you have to respect/trust the employees. You also have to give them basic ideas and guidelines on what can/can’t be done and to whom they can turn to for assistance/answers when questions come up.
  • Third-party management – Every management team relies on outside experts/assistance – public relations/communications, support/service, product design, manufacturing. All those people need clear guidelines on who can speak on behalf of the company, and about what subjects.
  • Enabling technologies – Most people don’t involve their IT experts when social media activities are initiated because the efforts are conducted outside the company’s IT infrastructure. However, ideally/ultimately you will want to incorporate some of the information, findings into your business applications and activities. Plan for the long-term because social media marketing will be with you forever.

Building a relationship with customers can turn loyal customers into strong extensions of the company, its marketing, its products. They can become key figures in recommending, promoting, defending you online and off.

Social media can be your worst enemy and your best friend. Doing it right isn’t just “nice,” it is important to your organization’s and your success.