Can Marketers Do More With Social Media?

I think we all can agree that social media marketing is now a fact of life. But how a company chooses to use social media is still open to debate —and it seems everyone has an opinion to share.

Starting the conversation versus listening and responding

Marketers are used to choosing channels to push out messages. Traditionally, we use the channels our target audience responds to and push out the messages that work well within those channels. When a new channel emerges, there’s always a period of adjustment before best practices float to the top.

Social media is still in this debate stage, though savvy marketers have settled on a few key imperatives:

  • Listen to customers before you say anything.
  • Influence the conversation—don’t attempt to control it.
  • If you’re going to use a channel, monitor it regularly.
  • Have protocols in place to make responding easier.

All of these things can be tied to the reality that customers —not companies –“own” social media. Even if you delete comments or complaints on your own pages or accounts, you can’t stop folks from talking about you everywhere else. This is why many companies fear “starting the conversation” via social media. “What if no one wants to respond to us?”

And worse… what if the response is negative?

Sharing marketing messages via social: How far should companies go?

So, should companies simply respond to customers, or can they push out messages and perspectives via social channels, too? Many companies worry about looking like they’re “broadcasting,” megaphone-style, if they share advertising or marketing pitches… or even just fun content (albeit with a marketing twist).

The “no social marketing!” advocates often suggest that social channels work better for customer service, crisis management, market research, listening for concerns and overall customer sentiment. All of these are good things—but do they need to be the only things?

While the warnings against pushing out too much marketing undoubtedly saved a few companies from coming off like bullhorns, I feel the pendulum may have swung a bit far in some cases. Many studies have shown consumers don’t mind being marketed to if the pitch fits their particular needs/aesthetic and offers them real value.

And why miss out on the chance to communicate about your business when someone is listening?

Well, it depends.

When it comes to deciding how to use social media channels for your business, all the following factors need to be a part of the discussion:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • How are they using social channels?
  • What social channels are they using?
  • Which of your competitors are using social channels?
  • What are they doing that garners a great response?
  • What mistakes are they making?
  • What are people already saying about you on social channels?
  • How much time and effort do you have to give to these platforms?
  • How well can you integrate social media into your other marketing initiatives?

That’s a long list of questions! But giving each question some thought is the best way to ensure you use social media effectively.

Great examples of social media for customer care

Some of the first social media “success stories” came from companies that used social channels to reach out to unhappy or concerned customers.

One of the most famous of these stories started when Frank Eliason of Comcast launched a Twitter handle devoted to reaching out to customers. @ComcastCares was an organic decision based on a clear need, and it made Eliason something of a digital celebrity—after he had helped thousands of customers.

@JetBlue remains one of the most responsive companies on Twitter or Facebook, and some might say they need to be, given the amount of chaos and concern their customers face on a daily basis. The reality is that air travel is unavoidably subject to delays, malfunctions and errors. So why would a company step into the fray, knowing it going to face a bit of a firestorm.

Because companies like JetBlue earn a tremendous amount of customer goodwill for being willing to step up and face the music —and in the process, they help customers become more open and responsive to their marketing efforts, too.

Great examples of social media for marketing—and influence

Plenty of marketers also do a fantastic job of pushing out marketing initiatives their customers love. The “secret sauce” to getting a good response via social media, again, is knowing your market and providing real value—which, of course, is precisely what makes any kind of marketing garner a better response.

Video game company EA shows a deep understanding of what its audience loves by using a YouTube video channel. This platform shows off customers’ creativity alongside the release of EA’s Spore game. The Spore Creature Creator not only celebrates the best aspects of the game, it puts fans in charge of creating content (something any marketer could grow to love).

The “Whole Story” blog from Whole Foods is another example of great social content—but with the capacity to influence, not simply entertain.

Whole Foods’ mandate to be one of the most responsible corporate chains in the world lines up nicely with the stories shared on the blog: posts from product producers and dedicated employees, others that cover issues customers care about . . .and much more.

Not only does this content contribute to Whole Foods’ positive reputation, it positions the company as a thought leader on multiple issues—a powerful way to influence the conversation on social media.

When it comes to deciding how your company can best use social media platforms, consider first how you can use them to benefit your customers. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll be on your way to effective social media marketing.