Yesterday I had lunch with my old boss. It was a lovely catch up session where I got to pick the brains of my mentor about my career and life in general. And then he asked me a question that sparked quite a long diatribe from me. He asked me “What’s your take on social media and how to use it”. I found that I have very strong opinions and was surprised that I was able to articulate them so well, so I will try to recapture the dialogue for you here.

What is my take on social?

As my current full time job is working for WWF, an NGO, I see great scope in the social realm for causes and agenda’s that connect to individuals personal and emotional feelings.  It is far more relevant and engaging for the user or follower to get notices/ posts about human rights, environmental advocacy, legal injustices, social welfare, politics and other similarly emotionally charged debates than it is to receive an update about a tennis shoe brand. The cause appeals to their sense of right and wrong, it aligns or opposes their value system and they have an emotional reaction. Conversations are born out of passion.

Having said that, that’s not to say that there is no place for social media in the corporate or advertising world. We all love seeing a new television commercial (TVC) from Nike with all our favourite soccer stars doing fancy tricks with a black and white ball. Retailers are well positioned to announce sales or discounts or have a special promotion for their facebook or twitter followers.

My opinion on who can benefit from social (the most)

But in my personal, and professional opinion, it is rare that individuals and consumers will have the same intense reaction to a message from chocolate company or a job board or a broadband provider, no matter how good their strategy or how relevant chocolate or internet or jobs are to your life, you’re not going to be able to get that same emotional connection on a daily basis. Corporates can definitely hit the mark at times and there are messages that will resonate with their followers, but I think the odds are already stacked against them.

Social is still used primarily as a broadcast channel – by NGOs as well as corporates and brands. And unfortunately for all of us, there is just so much noise out there, its difficult to cut through. Where the broadcast works well is for media, news and entertainment  brands, where the information is current and topical and is only news for the day. Some of the people that follow me on Twitter (@Shanellekari) are following 17,000 other people, brands and organisations, their twitter feed would be so jam packed, the chances of them seeing an individual post are rare.

An overwhelming amount of information is coming at us – can we take it all in?

Many twitter users send 6 messages out every hour. I log into my account and I have 5 messages at 4.53pm from SEO_Hacker and another 5 from another person I follow and I scroll down the list but it starts to look like wallpaper. There is a point where you start to self-select and stop following people that over communicate, even if its relevant, as you can’t possibly consume everything that comes at you.

Diagram to show how online communities and social media networks are all interconnected

This diagram represents how online communities and social media networks are immense, interconnected and fragmented all at the same time

But this is another problem entirely, the sheer volume of information that is available. And my boss yesterday summed it up beautifully, “Will we get to a place where we have these incredibly well connected people who just never have enough time to communicate on an individual level with their connections” – the answer is yes. Unless you’re a dedicated Social Media Manager or Community Manager, no one has the time to stay on top of all their contacts. I only follow about 60 people on twitter and I’m already overwhelmed.

How to best use social media – for any business, cause or organisation

Where I DO think social media has a great advantage for corporates and brands, and any business or organisation really, is in retention and customer service or relationship management.

By listening or monitoring your brand for both positive and negative sentiments, you can possibly identify an unhappy customer and rectify the situation through relationship management, or further enhance the experience of an advocate of your brand, easily via the social media channel. By paying attention and listening when people are venting, and reacting quickly and appropriately, you could retain a customer that your brand might have lost. I gave a good case study of this in my blog on 29th April about how ROI can come in interesting ways.

If you are staffing your social media presence properly, you can direct customer enquiries to your facebook, twitter or linkedin profiles. Of course there is a perceived risk that by using these public channels other customers who do not have issues may start to complain as well, but in general it should work like a FAQs page. One customer asks a question or makes a complaint and by solving their problem, in a public forum, all of your existing customers and prospective customers, get the benefit of that interaction.

The brand, corporate or NGO is still able to broadcast their messages, but it creates are far deeper relationship with your users if you engage with them in a two way conversation. Whether its just answering a question about when the new video game is going to be released or promising to send out a replacement copy for a faulty product. If you surprise consumers with good service, quick and honest responses and in public, you will be pleasantly surprised with how they respond and share their good news story.

In summary

So I’ve given you a large brain dump and reading over bits and pieces of the above, I think I sold it better yesterday when discussing it with my boss, but I hope this perception has at least been helpful to some in guiding them in how they could use their social media presence for more than just broadcasting information. Give people more than 1 reason to follow you.

I’d be very interested to know if you agree or disagree with my opinion. If you’ve seen other uses of social media that you thought were particularly clever and engaging, please share.