As the social media frenzy spirals on, the challenge for businesses trying to incorporate social networks into their overall marketing strategy intensifies.
Fuelled by mobile devices, which give users access wherever they are and whenever they want it, social networks will continue to become an integral part of our lives. And with it, our expectations will grow. Consumers will expect a unique experience, offers, rewards and games in return for their engagement with a brand through social networks. Although this presents a challenge to organisations, the opportunities to reach their consumers and target them with relevant communications at the right time, opens up further. Facebook is already allowing retailers to offer customer promotions specific to location when users “check-in” via facebook places. Not only does this make the offer more significant to the consumer’s location, the message is far reaching, as users also broadcast the offer to friends through the network.
However, the downside of consumers being able to share and talk openly with friends about your brand is that they are only too happy, and often more likely, to share the bad experiences with each other. Organisations need to keep on top of these too and respond to the criticisms so they are seen to be doing the right thing. Many hotel chains are doing this by monitoring holiday review sites and responding immediately with an apology if a customer leaves a bad review. Taking this further and rewarding those who have had a bad experience could help to retain these customers and encourage them to talk positively about the brand through the social media channels. However, to ensure this works, organisations need to invest significant resource to monitor social media feeds and respond to the consumers before the damage is done.
As more organisations build out their marketing presence in social networks, the importance of developing a clear social media strategy becomes evident. Organisations need to establish what role they want a social media platform to play, how this can be achieved and how success will be measured. Is it to be used as an advertising tool, to direct targeted offers to the right customer at the right time, or to provide a customer service function? What resource is required to make it work in this way, and how will we know it is working?
Each area of the business should define their own objectives and be committed to making the social media strategy work for them. Marketing will want to use social networking to find new ways to reach consumers, operations can use it to reduce the time spent answering queries as consumers seek advice from social network friends, product development can use it to generate new product ideas from the consumers themselves. If each area has its own clear objectives, forming the basis of the overall social strategy, everyone will be focused on making it a success.
As organisations attempt to get this right, ultimately it is the users of these networks who hold the key to its success. If organisations listen to what their consumers have to say, respond and reward, they will create an engaging online experience, which will turn even the biggest brand critic into a brand advocate. The organisation that can make this a success, and have social networks in their marketing toolbox, will have a distinct advantage from the competition.
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