If you’re (relatively) young and a bit media-savvy, social media already seems like old news to you. It’s easy to forget that for most businesses – and your dad – Twitter sits at the bleeding edge of the modern world. Most of the planet is still trying to negotiate the potential minefield that is online communication, writing the rulebook as they go. It’s no wonder that companies often misunderstand Facebook, Twitter and the people who use them, resulting in some horrifying PR blunders. This one by Moleskine leaps instantly to mind.
At the less disastrous end of Twitter misuse, there are plenty of companies costing themselves a pretty penny in lost revenue and royally pissing off their target market, simply because they don’t understand how it all works. Brighton & Hove Buses, for example, treat Twitter as a service update news feed, while miniature-gaming behemoth, Games Workshop – whom you’d expect to have a fully functioning social media department – seems to ignore the vast majority of feedback, good or bad, from their loyal fan base – even going so far as to disable the comments section of their YouTube channel.
It’s not surprising that businesses like these are getting it wrong, though. Their marketing people tell them they must have a social media presence in order to keep up with modern business practices, but they don’t give them fair warning that they’re about to deal with a totally different form of customer service than they’ve ever experienced before. Most of the people playing the game don’t know the rules – and the rules are pretty fluid anyway. And we all know that marketers and media bods like to make what they do sound a lot more complicated than it actually is; we’ve got to justify our fees somehow.¹
So anyway, rather than just having a good old moan up, I thought I’d give you something you can actually use. Whether you’re advising a company on updating their business practices² or are, yourself, a business that wants to join the social media world and get it right first time, here are my top ten tips for using social media without making an arse of yourself.
10 Things You Need to Know About Social Media for Business
- Social media is not a news feed, despite the terminology. If all you do is bang on about your latest products or whether your service is up and running today, people will switch off to you. Just appearing in someone’s feed doesn’t mean they’re reading and digesting your updates. You need interesting and engaging content for that.
- Social media is a two way communication channel. Be prepared for your customers to get a lot more vocal, because you’re easy to connect with. You may think you’ve been talking to your customers all these years, but that’s nothing compared to the level of contact social media gives you.
- Answer your tweets and comments. This is an obvious thing that a lot of businesses fail at. Having a policy of “Twitter silence” only serves to frustrate your customers and make you look like a stubborn old man, shaking his fist at the sky when it rains. Companies who respond to messages quickly and positively get ahead in the game.
- Look after your reputation. On Twitter – more than any other place on the planet – news travels like wildfire. Put your foot in your mouth and, before you know it, the world and his dog is boycotting your product. Prepare to be open in a way that companies have previously never been: make sure your business ethics are clean, your tone is polite and positive, and you think before you tweet.
- Remember to keep personal and business social media very separate. Linking your own controversial opinions with your company’s brand is a dangerous and tricky game to play. There are some benefits, but a lot of dangerous pitfalls (if you Google my name, for example, you will find an angry tweet about vaginas on the first page. Interesting PR tactics.). When starting out, I’d always recommend keeping your own Twitter account well away from your business one. Remember, too, that if you are well known as working for a certain brand, just saying “…but all opinions are my own” in your profile isn’t enough to stop people making the link.
- Be positive! You’ll notice this word cropping up a lot in my writing on social media, and that’s because it’s the single most important thing you can do to protect your company’s reputation. When you open a two way dialogue with your customers, you’re inviting them to criticise as well as compliment you; you have to take the rough with the smooth. Contrary to what a lot of businesses out there seem to think, public criticism isn’t bad press. If you respond constructively and politely with a deferential manner and a can-do attitude, you’ll look like the fantastic company you actually are. If you take it personally, though, and bitch and moan in the public glare, you’ll be seen as small-minded, backwards and stubborn – and that can quickly escalate into bad press.
- Get your internal communications in order. If you’re a small company, this is easy peasy, because the left hand pretty much always knows what the right hand is doing. But larger companies with different departments need a plan in place for passing social media feedback to the right people. Your social media team – who know Twitter but don’t know websites – are going to get plenty of feedback on website issues, so make sure that information gets to where it can be used.
- Have a personality. In order to engage with your customers, you’ve got to show them that there’s a real person behind the tweets. This is for two reasons. Firstly, social media is informal. Nothing turns a person off more than a company-speak robot. You can still be professional without being soulless. Secondly, people are more forgiving when real people make mistakes. Social media guffs turn into PR disasters a lot faster if people feel they’re dealing with a faceless corporation.
- Give people real value. That means: not just stuff you want to give them, but stuff they actually want. So keep your sales-related, look-at-how-clever-we-are updates to a maximum of 25%, and spend the rest of your time giving away things that people value: unbiased information, interesting articles, topics for debate, art, news, how-tos, and all sorts of other free, good stuff. Social media kudos is about what else you can offer people besides what you can sell them.
- If you don’t have the resources, don’t just jump in. Getting social media right takes a significant time and skill investment. It’s not rocket science, by any means, but you need to know your stuff if you’re going to avoid the pitfalls. If it really isn’t your bag, get someone in to do it for you – someone who knows their stuff will pay for themselves many times over in increased revenue. Above all, don’t do a half-arsed job; it’ll do more harm than good.
¹ I’m joking, clearly. It’s really very complicated. My cat, for example, doesn’t understand it at all.
² As with all articles on the Charlee Says blog, feel free to use this list as a resource for personal or business use. You’re welcome to print it (or any excerpt from it), distribute it, link to it or, indeed, use it as toilet paper, provided you acknowledge the original source (me) and don’t edit the actual content, except to annotate.
In other news from the Tall Designer/Charlee Says camp this week, it turns out we’re having a boy! Our second baby – currently referred to as Bunsen, but no doubt due to be the recipient of a suitably Brightonian, lefty name – is due on 5th September. Thanks for all your kind tweets and messages.