Peter Friedman (@PeterFriedman) is the chairman and CEO of LiveWorld (@liveworld), a social content marketing company that is a trusted partner to the world’s largest brands, including the number-one companies in retail, CPG, pharmaceutical, financial and travel services.
“How will we keep up?” This is the most frequent worry I hear from companies — from global firms to solopreneurs — as they consider becoming active in social media. They fear customers will demand real-time responses 24/7, and if they don’t receive responses in rapid-fire timing, things will get ugly. Social media looks like an uphill treadmill, where someone else is controlling the speed.
They are both right and wrong.
They’re right that social will dramatically change the way many companies do business. Direct, public exchanges with customers lift brands to new levels of transparency and raise the bar on what it means to serve customers’ interests. They’re also right that successful social programs take work; they require an investment of time and resources in planning, execution and management.
They’re wrong in their perception of social as a place where things are totally out of control. Indeed, social is not about control, but it can be managed — unless you opt out of social completely.
Social media is a relationship space. Think about friendships: You don’t have control over your friends, but you do have mutual trust and the ability to set boundaries and expectations.
The same goes in social media. Before you take to social, you need to take some time to define what those boundaries and expectations will be. To get you started, consider these two areas, both of which dramatically affect the workflow once you’re on social platforms:
- What are your company’s goals for social media? Do you want to deepen relationships or create new ones? Will your social presence serve marketing, sales, customer support or insight goals? Different goals lead to different levels of commitment. For example, customers will expect a much quicker response if you’re using Twitter as a customer support tool than if you’re using it to share news relevant to your industry. Get clear upfront about what you want to achieve on social so that you can think about what level of resources those goals require.
- What social channels will you use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on)? When companies worry about overextending themselves on social, I tell them to start out in one channel rather than spread themselves too thin. Different channels also lend themselves to different levels of interaction. Twitter is primarily experienced as a newsfeed, constantly streaming by, so conversations tend to happen in real-time. Meanwhile, Facebook’s page format supports asynchronous communication, so it may be a better choice if you don’t have full-time resources for social. Get to know each of the platforms and how various brands are using them before you commit to a direction for your company.
Here’s the real trick: You’re not done when you’ve answered those questions for yourself. You need to answer them for your customer, too. What will he or she get from being your “friend” on social media? What channels is he already using, and how often? You may think Instagram is your social golden ticket, but if your customer isn’t there, it’s not going to be very useful for communicating with them.
As you move into the medium, the key to a balanced relationship is creating a social media experience that meets both the customers’ needs and your business’ goals.
The more you can involve the customer in finding that intersection, the more trust and goodwill you will build. The more trust and goodwill you build, the less you have to worry that a social misstep will be your brand’s undoing.
Related: Peter Friedman gives his tips for small businesses on social media.