However, your brand’s mere presence on LinkedIn or Facebook is only the first step to attracting and retaining customers. Brands need to respond to consumers’ comments through social media channels to show they care about them and are interested in keeping their business. Dr. Joel Evans, professor at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business, explained why companies neglect this important relationship and how they can fix the problem.
There are two components to establishing a social media presence. The first element is creating a profile on social networks. Evans noted that this can be challenging for many businesses. “There are so many social media sites to keep up with — both internally for some companies and externally for almost every company. And the number of third-party social media sites has been exploding,” he said.
The second element is maintaining the profile(s): adding new content in a timely fashion and responding to comments from consumers. Social media profile maintenance is even more demanding, and many firms do not have a deep understanding of its importance. “Too many firms set up social media sites and don’t upload enough content, answer consumer questions very frequently, and act defensively,” Evans remarked. “They do not recognize how much work is involved and how often they must have regular ‘conversations’ with those on social media. They may feel that just having social media accounts is enough.”
Neglecting social media activity can cost businesses money and opportunities. “Companies can miss out in several ways,” Evans commented. If a consumer has a negative experience and shares it via social media, that post creates an unfavourable impression about the brand and can cause more customers to flock to its competitors. “They may not realize that there is a problem until it is too late to avoid social media going viral with a story,” he noted.
Conversely, customers can also compliment companies on social networks. “They may not recognize some of the positive publicity that may be generated through YouTube videos that cover the companies in a flattering way,” Evans said. If a business is not “listening,” it will not know what others are saying about it.
Not responding to consumers through social media channels reinforces a brand’s image of being a cold, uncaring, faceless corporation. “They may miss out on a chance to appear more human and personal,” Evans warned. “They may not realize that research shows that companies who respond to negative comments in a helpful manner are often rewarded by customers who see that the companies are listening to them and treating them as important.”
Forging relationships with consumers through social media channels has some clear and tangible rewards. Why are many businesses missing out on this amazing opportunity? One of the answers lies in a firm’s financial resources. “Some companies assume that using social media is too expensive, so they avoid these media rather than looking for ways to go viral inexpensively,” Evans explained.
Money is not the only reason brands neglect their social media presence. “Other companies have the financial resources; but they underestimate the human resources needed to keep up with social media activities,” Evans commented. Human resources alone will not insure social media success, though. Creating and maintaining a social media presence requires planning. “Still other firms do not properly outline their social media goals and link their social media activities to these goals,” Evans stated. “They just know they need to be on social media, but not necessarily how and why. They do not have a strategy.”
Evans offered a plan of action for brands to maintain their social media presence and profit from it. The first part of the plan involves adopting a different mindset. “View social media as an integral part of the overall marketing communications strategy,” he recommended. This mindset change should be reflected at the highest levels of the firm. “Have a senior person in the company be responsible and accountable for the social effort,” Evans suggested.
The second step requires determining what aims the business hopes to attain. “Set social media goals and outline the activities to achieve them,” Evans advised. Achieving these goals means adequately funding the initiative, though. “Invest financially and in terms of personnel time based on the scale of the social media effort and the goals sought,” he counseled. The third step is to analyze whether the aims have been attained. “Through numerical measures, assess whether social media goals have been achieved,” Evans said.
Even a mindset change, strategy and investment do not promise success. Businesses must remember that social media never shuts down. “Recognize that social media are 365/24/7,” Evans reminded companies. Because social media never takes a break, firms need to keep track of their online presence constantly. Fortunately, continuous audits can be done by a machine. “Use automated techniques to monitor the number of followers and the level of traffic, to identify comments by type, to track brand data, etc. that appear anywhere on the Web,” Evans recommended. “It is worth the investment, and there are many service providers available for this.”
Although machines can perform monitoring, responding to complaints, comments and compliments is a task for humans. Whoever bears the responsibility for responding must do it quickly. “Have a lightning quick turnaround time for commenting on key events and responding to customers online,” Evans advised. A short response time shows consumers the company cares about their needs and wants, and the efforts may attract new customers.
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