I am sure many people would have me hanged for even asking the question but as we go along the bumpy road that is social networking perhaps we have to stop off along the way and check the destination and why we want to head there.
It is very easy to get swept along on the tide of Twitter, Facebook, Linked In etc without questioning why we are doing it and what we want to achieve through it. This is both in a personal and a business sense.
Over the past week I have had a chance to assess why businesses would want to step into what often feels like the murky world of social networks. Often companies ask for help from PR or social media consultants without really understanding what they want to get and the rush to get onto social networks is done just because the business opposition is doing it. It is an understandable position for people to get into – rushing to keep up with the competition. But there has to be more if social networking is going to have a significant impact.
Behind all the engagement and conversation has to be the primary aim of increasing sales and doing this through raising awareness of the product that is on offer. There are subtle ways of achieving this through building up a network of followers and friends who are interested in what you have to offer. The less subtle way of doing this is just to keep posting or tweeting about how good your product is – an easy way to quickly turn people off. Swift unfollowing and deleting of profiles will take place as people get frustrated by the hard sell approach. Hard sell just doesn’t work on social networks. It is like someone continually knocking at your door and shouting about the product they are selling.
Research and surveys have shown that more people are using social networks for guidance on products to buy. If you have a good product and have built a following and reputation it will be a benefit for future sales. For me there is a real tension here, some of the work that companies and businesses need to do now is about building for the future. There may not be an instant increase in sales if you create a Facebook page or Twitter feed but there will be a long-term benefit from creating a virtual network.
Back to the point at hand. Why should a business bother with social networks? If it isn’t to build a long-term base of support for the product and look to boost sales then it should be to improve customer service. Many customers are doing business online and enjoy the freedom and access to more products through the Internet than are available on the average high street. These customers shop online, rate products online, and will be discussing your business online. If they have a problem with the service or product they now have the ability to broadcast to millions of people instantly. It is a long way from the irate customer who appears at the shop and creates a scene – this scene is being played out on a global stage.
Knowing what people are saying about your business good and bad is important, as is being able to have conversations taking place online. Social networks are an essential way to gather information and customer insight hopefully to continue to develop and improve the product or service you have on offer. All this work has to take place alongside traditional PR and marketing activity.
In short, businesses and organisations need to be positioned to take up the advantages that social networks can offer to them. But they need to do it with their eyes open, without expecting instant results and without wanting to employ the hard sell.
Any business thinking of moving into social networks needs to have a clear and sensible answer to five key questions:
1. What do I want to achieve?
2. Do I want to open up global dialogue with customers and potential customers?
3. How much time am I prepared or able to invest in this?
4. Am I able to fund specialist help to move into social networks?
5. Have I got the patience to nurture my online presence?
Armed with the answers to those questions you will be some way to being able to effectively work with a communication or social media agency and plan the move into social networks.