Tuesday 12 July 2011

Social/Work - a guide to using social networking for your business

Firstly a little side note to say I'm sorry I have been absent on my blog for so long. Hopefully everyone has been enjoying the great posts from Evie Kemp. I've had personal and business issues, which have been distracting me and taking up a huge amount of my time. Thankfully over the past few weeks everything has been resolved. Also I just need to say, I couldn't have written the following article without the help of Emma McCleary an artist, crafter and friend who happens to have a grown up job, which involves being the social media voice for a big New Zealand company. Thank you Emma.

This is a guide to using social networking as a business. This is nothing more than my own personal take but this post is the result of over three months research, involving talking to businesses who use social networking, talking to members of the public and reading online articles as well as real books. This is not an academic paper, more highlighted notes of what I've discovered and personally found relevant. Plus I have included some insider info that I gained
from my time working with big brands in design houses here in New Zealand and the UK.

I couldn't write a piece on social networking without also covering engagement. Engagement is one of the main buzz words in branding and marketing circles at the moment and is always linked into a business's social media strategy. This post will explain the basic principle of engagement, it's connection to social media and why these things are important. This is a long article but I have tried to keep it as brief as possible well covering everything I felt was relevant. I have broken it down into four lists that cover a basic explanation, what not to do, rules of conduct and good examples. Once again I will say this is a personal take so if you feel I've missed something out or disagree with any points please leave a comment below and share your views. I'm taking a liberty and assuming you understand what social networking is. There are many social networking platforms but the two most used currently are Facebook and Twitter, click on the links to read their own explanation as to what they do.

So Lets get down to brass tacks, customer engagement, social networking and your business
What is engagement:
Well as you might have guessed we're not talking white doves and diamond rings. The term engagement in the marketing world is actually pretty straight forward, it simply means to form bonds with your customer base so they feel a personal investment in your business - so they engage with you.

Why is engagement becoming an important marketing tool:
There are a few main reasons, firstly the public are becoming overwhelmed and immune to broadcast advertising. Broadcast advertising is the more traditional type of advertising on telly, posters, billboards, etc. Broadcast advertising on the whole tells you to buy a product and the reason why. The reason might be something obvious like it's cheaper than brand x or something subtle, for example David Beckham drinks this soft drink, you can be like him if you drink it to. Either way you are getting told. I've hear Broadcast media explained as standing in the street shouting until someone pays attention.

However marketing campaigns fail quickly on social media if they use the broadcast approach. If broadcast media is shouting in the street, engagement is all about whispering softly in someones ear. Social networking platforms such as Twitter or Facebook are akin to sitting round the pub having a chat with your mates rather than going to a lecture. Just imagine if you were hanging out with a friend and all they could say is 'I've made an awesome bag, you can buy it on my website and here's the link' then added nothing else to the conversation. I'm guessing you wouldn't want to hang out with them for very long! The same is true of that person in a social networking setting, they will be deleted or ignored. Good engagement marketing creates a dialogue between the business and the customer allowing both voices to be heard, this means a business can't be talking about it's self all the time.

Secondly, good engagement builds customer loyalty and customer loyally is what growing a strong business is all about. A loyal custom will give the best advertising there is, word of mouth. Building engagement into a business is hard work but a customer who is prepared to be an advocate for your brand is worth that effort. Think about it, who do you trust, your best friend telling you that cafe down the road is really good or a news paper ad saying the same thing! The motives are different, your friend gets no benefit apart from making sure you have a good meal, the advert from the cafe themselves clearly has their own profits at heart and there for is far less trust worthy.

Thirdly, what's great about engagement through social netwoking is that it's cheap (money wise at least). It doesn't cost you any cash to set up a Twitter or Facebook account. This is why so many small businesses have been embracing and using it so prevalently. Sadly and I include myself in this, not many manage or know how to use it in the right manner all the time.

The dangers of using engagement as a marketing tool:
I talk from personal experience that there are a great deal of pit falls when using social media for business, here are a few mistakes I have made and witnessed made by others:

Being too open and honest. Because social networking is primarily about forging links with others in a 'social' way there is a far greater pressure to be a 'real person' and knowing were to draw the line can be trickily. It's really easy to spot a fake on sites like Facebook and Twitter, so yes it is important for you to get your personality across. However ask yourself is it really healthy for your business that your potential customers or clients know you've just been dumped or that you just threw up on the sofa or you've been on a 24 hour drinking session and can't get out of bed. It's interesting in a Jerry Springer car crash telly way but I'm not sure I'll be choosing to invest my money in you.

Forgetting what you're saying is public. Once you get used to using social media as a communication tool it's easy to just get sucked into long chats with like minded people and forget that the world can see what your talking about. What gets said to a friend privately is very different to what should get said in a public and permanent way.

Venting. You work alone, you're having a bad day, you want to feel better by letting off some steam… should you do it in front of the world. No you shouldn't, particularly if it's a person you're upset about. I manage customer worries, complains and returns on a weekly bases as an online shop. Sometimes I hit a really challenging one, sometimes I have moaned about that challenging customer on twitter. This is something I will never do again, no potential customer, client or collaborator needs to feel like they are going to be publicly attacked because of their association with your business.

Misrepresentation. Things that are said in writing can come across with a much harder edge than something said in person where you can add a soft tone of voice and friendly body language. Writing is also sitting around longer to be reread and analysed, so a threw away statement can cause far greater upset when written than it would if just spoken.

Misrepresenting others. Things are a bit simpler if you are a one man band but as your business grows you might find that you take on staff or work in collaboration with other people and suddenly what you say isn't just your opinion it becomes theirs by default. So if your business represents others it's important to be a lot more neutral. Remember what you say reflects on everyone attached to you. For example if you're a shop and one of the brands you sell is a bright friendly children's clothing line it might be detrimental to them if you swear on your Facebook page, it may well be ok for your over all more adult brand but not for their child centric one.

Time wasting. Social media can be hugely addictive but as a business you should be asking yourself if the hours you are putting in are adding up to what you get out. Also do you're followers really need to see a constant stream of consciousness or are you in fact just spamming them. Now those are depressing thoughts for a self confessed twitter addict:)

Rules for good conduct and representing your business in the best possible way:
Know your target market. Your target market are the specific group of consumers that your company aims it's products or services at, the people who are most likely to buy from you. My Business 'Dear Colleen' has a clear target market, educated women 25-50. You need to know your target market so you know who you are speaking to.

Tone of voice. All big companies have a tone of voice set for them as part of their over all brand, if you don't come from a design or marketing back ground, a brand is far more complicated than a logo and set of colours. When a business gets branded it comes with a book of instructions explaining how they need to represent themselves visually, verbally and in writing. The tone of voice usually referrers to how the company writes but also can be as detailed as how staff members should speak on the phone. The tone of voice you pick should reflect your personality, well keeping your target market in mind. A hip hop radio station with a 18-30 target market of urban males might have a tone of voice that is 'Edgy, Cheeky, Passionate' where as a Cup Cake Maker with a target market of females 40- 60 might be 'Warm, Helpful, Charming'

Engage. People talk a lot about numbers of followers but numbers mean nothing if no one is playing any attention to you or your business. The only sure fire way of creating engagement with your customers or clients is to genuinely take an interest in them and what they are saying. A good non personal way of doing this is to ask, listen and politely accept feedback. Everyone likes to feel like their views are valued and understood and chances are their take on things will be helpful to you and your business. (Esty's Facebook questions are a great example of this)
Manage conflict professionally. When lots of people are talking in a public domain there are always going to be times when there are differences in opinion. If these differences in opinion are directed at your business you need to be prepared to handle them quickly and seamlessly. Firstly don't get angry. Take the conflict out of the public arena. Listen to what they have to say. Ask yourself if they have a point. Work out the facts and think about where they are coming from. If there is a problem with something you have done, fix it and say sorry. If there is nothing you can do make sure they feel understood but make it clear there is no room for the dialogue to continue.

Think before you publish. If what you're about to say to the whole world isn't something you would feel comfortable saying in a professional work place, maybe you shouldn't be saying it. Does this post add any value to your business or your followers. Ideally the aim is to represent your business in the best possible light, ask yourself does this post do that.

Fix your mistakes. Lets face it we're only human and sometimes we slip up. If you say something out of line or upset someone, you need to deal with it. Own your mistakes, apologise and do it quickly and publicly.

Strength in Numbers. If you're a venter, work alone and just plain need to speak you mind sometimes (and lets face it that's quite a few of us) The smartest thing you can do for your business is to run a personal locked account. Keep your business up beat and pro and keep everything else behind close doors.

Five general rules of thumb:
-Be friendly but professional
-No religion, no politics
-Take conflict out of the public domain
-Put your businesses voice before your own

Good examples:
Moo on twitter @overheardatmoo


  1. thank you for this it's amazing

  2. Well said Colleen! I agree with pretty much everything you've written. Good read!

  3. fantastic read. I 100% agree if you wouldn't say something in a professional work place don't say it on the internet, where someone standing up on their chair ranting 'someone has really pissed me off today' and walking off has the same effect on pple on the internet, where everyone in the "room" is going to get their back up, not awesome for business.

  4. This is amazing. I make an effort to not let my personal gripes spill on to twitter etc but still this gives me a lot more to think about regarding my conduct and engagement. Thought you chose great examples too. x

  5. Cheers for the nice feedback everyone:) VnB so true the whole standing on the chair thing, I feel so ashamed that I have done that a few times and it can not have been go for my business.

    Sue ie Styler from above sent a couple of great links my way:
    people who essentially are their brand who do a good job
    Joe zee from elle magazine on twitter @mrjoezee


    “… a web-based twitter reader that displays the updates of the people
    you follow in relation to the frequency of their tweets. It aims to
    amplify the people that don’t usually get heard, and scale back those
    with frequent updates.”

  6. Fabulous article & very well presented. Thank you for the time & effort you have put in to it.

  7. Plenty to think about here - most of your points are intuitive, but it has given cause to examine the content of my updates and try and thing of ways to engage rather than 'hard sell'

  8. This is fantastic! I would love to repost it on my Facebook page with links back to your site - would that be ok? It is brillant advice!