It is the current mantra: Be in social media or perish!
The social media come in a number of categories: Social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagream, and LinkedIn; social chat apps such as Whatsapp, Telegram and the new audio chat app Clubhouse; and micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, Blogging and YouTube. While many marketers want to use social media to help capture voice of consumer, most SMEs not doing this well today. They probably use social media as a medium to reach out to customer rather than as a research tool. The reason for this is mainly the poor reach and size of social media activities at a company level.
There are tremendous benefits from the proper use of social media.
1) Opportunity to have a dialogue with consumers. For most marketers, this is the important aspect today. They want to open up a channel for a two-way conversation. You can get comments going back and forth. You can get a feel for what it is they are looking for.
2) Feedback in real time. You can ask a question and get an almost immediate response. The feedback is instantaneous.
3) Captive audience who are interested in a category. You can reach out to consumers who have a strong interest in your product category. So rather than trying to carpet bomb everybody, you can talk to people who are really interested.
4) Complaint handling is easier. Performing service recovery is easier. Helping a customer sort out a negative experience is easier and it saves you a lot of flak later on.
There are also a few limitations such as commitment of time and resources, for instance. Financial investment may not be high but the time and efforts of quality people will be necessary. It evolves to take on time without a clear strategy. You can get feedback instantly but the problem is if the consumer needs a response from you, you have to be on it so that you can respond quickly. Another limitation is on the actual ROI from this initiative. Many find it difficult to quantify their return on investment on social media. The trouble is even the best of the agencies that advise marketers ask them to be in print and TV too.
Another limitation is on the true nature and truth about a feedback from social media. How can one verify the identity and the agenda of a social media participant? It could be a competitor spreading bad news about your product. At best you can take the feedback as a qualitative input rather than base your major decisions on it. Finally, in the social media space, you hardly have much control over the messages. You just have to hope your customers will say good things about you. Another issue with social media is the lack of security. When you share information in social media, your competition is also having access to the same and so you need to be careful about what you post. Even on Facebook, you will not know who your fans are. The last thing you will want is sending your “secret sauce” out to them.
Creating up a bunch of raving fans or followers takes time and effort. Unless you are very lucky or adopt some viral marketing gimmicks it is unlikely to happen. One needs to be patient for the organic growth. There is no point in “buying” followers or use bot fans.
What companies should consider is whether social media can be used in lieu of traditional market research for consumer insight. Today not many companies and marketers think this is possible. Due to some of the major limitations as cited earlier, no one is very enthusiastic in the SME sector. They are more interested in using it for input than for testing. They do perceive it as being helpful in raising issues and alerting management to problems and opportunities. Most marketers believe the social media is a bigger threat for replacing focus groups because one can do much of this stuff via email or different links where one can go through a series of questions.
Here are a few pointers for companies thinking of getting involved with social media:
Plan and recruit qualified employees. If you want to succeed with social media you must have adequate staffing in place to monitor the sites and respond to any questions or complaints. Having a dialogue with the consumer means having someone there to listen to the consumer and to represent your company in that dialogue. You will need someone exclusively for managing blogs and other updates. Once started you can have a blog once in a quarter and then once in a week or month.
Have quality content. Having interesting content is important. You have to offer content that will encourage people to return to your Facebook page or to follow your tweets. You have to be engaging and entertaining, without being obvious for selling something. You have to keep the content fresh. If you go away and you don’t talk about it, then they are not going to come back to your site. You have to keep feeding them with information even if its just little things.
Advance planning with content. It typically makes sense to prepare content for the next four or five cycles in advance so that you are ready for the future needs. Some companies prepare this for a year in advance.
Disclose your affiliation. To avoid PR disasters it is essential that you be honest, and disclose who you are and what your affiliations are. The reason people are out there is because they don’t feel like they are being sold to. They feel like they are interacting with other like-minded people. You don’t ever want to come across as trying to sell them something.