Business

Public relations: Social media too big for businesses to ignore

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.
Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations.

Social media are here to stay. So now what?

The social media landscape is in constant change, and customers are embracing it as a normal part of their lives.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans use a social network or blog and almost 40 percent of them access their social media accounts through mobile devices, according to recent Nielsen research. Social media users tend to be active and influential offline, as they are more likely to make purchases and recommend the brands to others.

While social media together is only one channel in communicating with your customers, it is a multipurpose channel through which companies share information with customers, and customers interact with you if they want information or have concerns.

It is important to build a pro-active and fully integrated social media program into your business's marketing mix. How do you do that?

I spoke with Christopher Barger, senior vice president of global programs for consultant Voce Communications and author of the upcoming book, The Social Media Strategist. Barger shared some of the wisdom he gained while building social media programs for IBM and General Motors.

To build a strong social media program, he says you need to focus separately on the internal and external aspects of it. Essentially, it is important to have your house in order before you open your doors to others.

Barger advises you to have three main internal focuses:

Understand and clarify who is responsible for social media: Is marketing, public relations or customer service in charge of your efforts? It's important to decide who is responsible to make sure you're consistent in delivery. Also, it is key to hire the right people to implement social media programs and educate others in the organization about them.

Understand the goals for social media: There are different ways to measure your effectiveness. You can create a return on investment calculation if you like. Remember that social media need to move toward a desired action. For example, if you want Facebook fans to make purchases, then measure the purchases and not how many fans you have.

More than shiny objects: Social media are business tools and should fit with your business model. They should enhance what you are already doing and be purposefully done.

Once you have the internal work mapped out, move on to external and consider this advice from Barger:

Working with bloggers requires a mindset shift: With more than 150 million blogs, reaching out to bloggers is necessary, but they represent a different dynamic over traditional media. Blogs are often very niche and have a strong, established readership. It is essential to research and interact with bloggers before you reach out to them with a pitch.

Part of a crisis plan: It is essential to have social media incorporated into your crisis plan. Your social media manager should be on your crisis response team. It's never a good idea to start tweeting during a crisis.

Use resources wisely: Social media aren't free, but they're not outrageous either. Use them wisely and make your program the appropriate size. Think of the Moneyball film.

Lastly, Barger said leadership matters and is critical to a social media program's success. A champion is often needed. That person may not understand the nuts and bolts of social media, but understands how important they are to your business.

Social media are good for business and not just relationships. About 50 percent of small business owners reported gaining customers through social media, according to research by marketing company Crowdspring. And the report suggests 51 percent of Facebook users and 64 percent of Twitter users are more likely to buy from brands they follow.

It shows social media cannot be ignored if you want to compete.

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