By Karl Reed, Chief Marketing & Solutions Officer at Elingo
Published 1 June 2012
Social media: Be careful what you wish for...
On the one hand, social networking can be a monumental time- and resource-waster as employees immerse themselves in imaginary lives. It is this view of social media that has led some companies to bar Facebook, Twitter, even LinkedIn from their corporate networks. But some organisations have recognised the power of the medium and are looking at ways to embrace social networking to improve employee productivity and burnish their corporate reputations as well. Bette Kun takes a look at how your company could do the same.
I cringe when I hear CEOs and senior managers say we going to ban Facebook in my offices - it’s a waste of time", or "I'm only allowing general Internet access for one hour a day".
The ignorance this attitude shows is often confirmed when paying o visit to the company's website (if they have one), as they are often lacking in any benefits for the customer. It also shows a complete lack of understanding that staff will find a way to access their private e-mail and Facebook pages at work.
As a manager, it is frustrating to see a Farmville page close as on employee's desk is approached, and some staff do get addicted to various media - Angry Birds, with over 600-million downloads (and counting), is evidence of this.
Employees will bring their own tablets and access the wireless networks on their smartphones. University graduates are choosing companies that show a willingness to adopt new technology, and have less restrictive practices in their IT policy. If a business does not have a firm grip on current technology, the company could miss out on attracting exciting new talent.
The issues are, however, centred on using social media effectively for a business, and not on whether managers can impose restrictions on their staff. The question of using social media goes hand in hand with a PR and marketing strategy.
Quite simply, social media should be part of the whole strategic marketing plan to reach business goals. Surprisingly, today there are still business executives, whether for small, medium or large businesses, who simply don't 'get' marketing and PR; the value they add and where they fit into a business strategy.
For those who do understand marketing communications, then adding social media to the mix brings its own challenges. Just how pervasive is social media in the industry?
The Eurocom Worldwide survey this year, in association with Johannesburg-based Watt Communications, reveals that while nearly half (49%) of technology executives say that their firm will increase their expenditure on social media in the next 12 months, over half (57%) say they are unable to accurately measure the impact of the investment. By contrast, only 23% say they can measure it.
The survey finds that 74% of respondents consider online PR to be very or quite important for their company's search engine optimisation (SE0), with 37% saying it is very important.
Respondents were also asked about the primary source of social media content and messaging for their company. The majority (78%) cite in-house sources, with PR agencies the second most important source at 12%. Digital marketing agencies and advertising agencies combined account for the remaining 10%.
Of those respondents who work in companies that publish a blog, 57% say that it is done in order to raise profile or create thought leadership. Nearly as many (55%) state that the blogging aims to improve interaction with customers, while 37% say the aim is to boost SE0 and 36% say it is to participate in industry debates.
According to the responses, the main reason for not blogging is that it is "too time consuming", cited by 42% of those who don't blog. One in five doesn't see the value of it, while 14% fear a negative response.
The most popular social media platform for technology companies is LinkedIn (74%), while 67% of technology firms are on Twitter, 64% have a Facebook presence and 56% are on YouTube. Only half of respondents surveyed say that their company has a formal process for listening to what is said about them in the social media.
Should companies do it?
According to Di Bayley of infORM Online Reputation Management, companies need to realise the value of both offline and online PR.
"Those who see the added value that PR brings to the table, may be confused about social media," she says. "It's not something you can just launch and hope people write nice things about your products and services. It must be monitored constantly both for negative and positive comment and, most importantly, monitored by a human being that understands marketing, your business and business principles in general."
Negative comment, she stresses, should be acted upon immediately. "A timely response says 'I heard you and you matter to me'. If the reaction is to ignore a complaint then, South Africans being as they are, other readers will jump on the bandwagon and add their complaints. It's a pack- dog mentality. We complain about everything, but rarely have we had such o ubiquitous and effective platform."
Bayley says blogs, Facebook and Twitter are the main networks to monitor; companies should focus not only on their own pages, but on any media in which their brand is mentioned.
"Monitoring mentions of your brand, negative and positive, is not only the responsible way to keep abreast of your online reputation, but also gives you valuable marketing information through a monthly analysis. We include demographics in our reports which enable your marketing deportment the ability to tweak messaging, spot the weak spots in your company, and even play a real role in production development."
As Toby Shapshack, editor of Stuff magazine, said in o recent debate at GIBS: "Of course companies have to do it use social media), but they have to do it the right way and monitor it."
"Companies need to do it in order to be relevant, but more importantly than keeping up with the times, they need to take it seriously," says Fred Roed, CEO of World Wide Creative, a digital marketing agency based in Cape Town, Johannesburg and London.
"Many marketing managers see social media as a second rote channel, yet increasingly customers and clients are having their first contact with companies through social media. This first contact needs to be handled by someone who understands the objectives of the role."
Bayley speaks passionately about the positive role the correct use of social media can bring to the company's marketing bag.
"Uniquely, social media allows the company to have one-on-one discussions, not only in the general posting, but in follow ups for complaints, praise and comments. Live, real-time monitoring, by an informed and experienced respondent, can turn complainers into brand ambassadors, and praise and recommendations into sales."
Think first, then think again
Karl Reed of Elingo, the local accredited reseller partner for Interactive Intelligence, explains why strategy should supersede implementation for brands introducing social media into their contact centre channel mix.
"In 2012, it would be shocking indeed to see a communications plan that doesn't feature social media. In the contact centre environment, most brands are rushing to expand their contact channel mix to include social media, such is the pace of adoption across the global economy.
"The irony, however, is that for many brands there could be more benefits in strategically throttling bock social ambitions, rather than accelerating. Opening up new social media channels without the support of a very clearly articulated strategy can expose the brand to a new world of communication they are unable to manage effectively. Steady caution should be the social media watch word," he says.
Sharing Bayley's thoughts on the benefits of social media, Reed continues: "Brands like Facebook bring interactive elements such as video chat into the mix; social media is less o technology-specific paradigm than one defined by the notion of instant, face-to-face communication.
"This communication can take place in any number of ways, including status updates, instant messaging, video and so on. Ultimately, what really matters is the highly transparent, face-to-face nature of the conversation itself - and increasingly these conversations range from the virtual world to the real world and back again."
"The bottom line is that social media is a real-time, 100% response interaction tool. In the social world there is no time to go away and find more information, or to carefully construct appropriate brand narratives. This is, per force, a very honest environment - one where there is no room for evasion."Twitter currently offers the clearest example of this paradigm. People tweet and replies emerge within seconds, while hype grows within minutes. The speed and directness of the interaction poses significant challenges to brands seeking to manage consumer conversations.'
"Ultimately, brands that try to hide behind a virtual facade are misunderstanding the basic drivers powering conversations in the social media world," Reed explains. Reed also cautions about the need for constant vigilance of the company's social network presence.
"Look at most banks' Facebook walls - they become public pin boards for complaints. Angry customers will often find an easy route to making a noise on social networks. The Web doesn't sleep, so it's also a 24/7 job to maintain a company's social profile online. If something goes wrong, it can become major news very, very quickly."
Commenting on the most common mistakes he sees companies make, he says: "The single biggest mistake that companies make is to abdicate the role of managing their social profiles to a junior intern or to an agency community manager that doesn't have his or her finger on the pulse of the company.
"As above, managing the social interactions online is an increasingly important role within a company. In my opinion, social media management needs to be on internal function of the company. Outside agencies can provide direction and strategic input, but the actual interactions should be managed by a card-carrying, t-shirt wearing member of the company."
So the message is pretty clear - yes, companies should have a presence on social networks, and it should work hand in hand with, and complement, the company website. Pick market segments carefully and attune messages accordingly.
But users must monitor, monitor, monitor - 24/7. And the "monitor" or watchdog must be someone who understands the company, its objectives, products and positioning.
Make social media a strategic part of the PR and marketing mix and keep it fresh and current. If a company can't manage this, either get professional help or don't do it until they can devote the resources to do it properly.
An online reputation is conjoined with that of the company and its products and services. The next time users rush to compliment or complain about something on Facebook, feel the power.
Socially unacceptable or perfect for the job?
Almost one in five technology industry executives say that a candidate's social media profile has caused them not to hire that person.
The 2012 annual technology market survey, conducted by Eurocom Worldwide in association with Johannesburg based Watt Communications, revealed that almost 40% of respondents' companies check out potential employees' profiles on social media sites - but this is the first evidence that candidates are actually being rejected because of them.
"The 21st century human is learning that every action leaves an indelible digital trail. In the years ahead, many of us will be challenged by what we are making public in various social forums today.
"The fact that one in five applicants disqualify themselves from an interview because of content in the social media sphere is a warning to job seekers and a true indicator of the digital reality we now live in," says Mads Christensen, network director at Eurocom Worldwide.
Other executives are using sites like LinkedIn to check out people looking for jobs, read their CVs and view their experience. With job histories now public knowledge on these sites, references can be checked before person applies for the job or goes for an interview.
South African executives ore realising there's a pool of talent locally that may be open to being head hunted (called executive recruitment these days), and that their search for ideal candidates can be honed before even posting a vacancy.
It then becomes very easy to Google a candidate's name and see what they may have written, blogged or naively commented on. Writer beware!