Engaging customers online through social media is a hot topic these days and for good reason. Twitter just passed the 75 million mark and Facebook continues to add 10’s of thousands of users each month. Thanks to my friend Steve Gaines for tweeting this story from eMarketer:
Most marketers say they are at least “prepared enough” to take advantage of new techniques in digital and social media, but more than one-third felt minimally prepared. Staff education and training was a substantial concern.
The largest group of respondents said some of their marketing staff had the skills to implement new customer engagement strategies, but that knowledge was generally restricted to personnel in digital roles. Only 17% said most or all of their staff was prepared, although 37% planned further investments in the area.
“Engaging with customers is becoming paramount and the yardstick by which we measure those brands that survive and those that don’t,” said David Eldridge, CEO of Alterian, in a statement. “Marketers now need to appeal to the individual and engage with customers on a one-to-one basis.”
In my experience working with small to mid sized companies, I sense the need from companies to leverage social media to connect with customers and prospects but often the concern over time, resources, and company policy stand in their way.
The misconception is that social media requires an exorbitant amount of time. In fact, with the proper strategy, process and tools in place this is not necessarily the case. The problem is most companies sign up for individual social media platforms and learn as they go, often using the native UI, such as Twitter.com. Some take it to the next level and leverage a tool such as Tweetdeck, but at the end of they day they feel frustrated with the lack of results from their social media efforts.
Start with Strategy
I recommend that businesses start with a strategy for social media. What’s the goal? What’s the call to action? What’s in it for our customers? What tools, processes, and systems can we implement to drive ROI? How will we define and measure success? How can we not only participate, but lead the discussion within our niche. How will we scale our efforts over time? Who is in charge and how will we manage employees’ authority to engage customers online on behalf of the company and brand?
These are not easy questions and the answers will vary greatly based on the size, culture and resources within the company.
I encourage you to look at social media from a broad perspective. Don’t spin your wheels on a Twitter strategy or a Facebook strategy at first. It’s much bigger than that and the tools and platforms will change (remember MySpace?). Consider each platform as a piece of the overall strategy and outline individual initiatives for each community as it relates to the big picture.
Ask for Customer Feedback
Finally, ask for feedback from your customers early and often. Social media is a great way to empower your fans and build your brand on their terms. Loyal customers that buy-in to your strategy will help deliver your message, but you must engage with them in a meaningful way first. Asking for their help is the most sincere form of respect and they’ll happily provide feedback and support if they value your company’s products and services.
What do your think? What does your social media strategy look like and how will you drive customer engagement to lead your market online?