When TV first started, commercials consisted of a presenter standing in front of a microphone reading from a script. Why? Because that was how it had always been done on radio. It took companies a few years to leverage the power of TV but eventually they did and now TV ad spend is estimated to be in the region of US$500 billion annually.
And in the same way as first the radio and then the television changed the way companies pass on information to consumers in the 20th century, social media is changing the way consumers source information about businesses in the 21st century. But social media will have an even bigger impact than radio and television because social media is not only changing the way we make decisions related to brands, social medial is changing the way we do business.
Consumers receive up to 5,000 messages a day
Back in the day, companies used radio and then TV to build brands by developing a one-size-fits-all message and broadcasting that message to as many consumers as possible as often as required. All communications were one way and the messages contained only the information the company wanted to share and the consumer was expected to accept this information and not dispute it. In a more trusting world, with limited competition and smaller markets, consumers were accommodating. Unfortunately, more and more companies adopted the same strategy. Soon consumers were inundated with up to 5,000 messages a day, many of them making increasingly outrageous claims.
Companies were unable to follow through on the promises made in advertising and trust, the key element of any relationship, was eroded. Repeatedly let down, consumers began to look elsewhere for independent information and the truth. They found it with other consumers. Consumers now source their information on brands from other consumers. Today, consumers have the power to make a brand succeed or fail. As consumers learn the truth about a brand, the reputation of companies and their brands is being determined, shaped, altered and increasingly discarded by consumers.
And it is an ongoing, dynamic process. At any given time, consumers are searching for information on a product or service that has caught their eye. But they are not sourcing that information from TV commercials, the radio or the company website, they are looking to other consumers for the information they require.
And they are doing it, on the whole via social media. And social media is yet another tool that organizations must embrace because it is replacing marketers and the marketing department and other barriers between the organization and the consumer.
Social media cost of entry is low
Social media is not a fad. Those companies that don’t buy into social media will be left behind. But a lot of companies in Malaysia are going to be intimidated at the prospect of opening their virtual doors and giving the general public the opportunity to interface directly with them. But they are going to be talked about anyway so they might as well be part of the conversation. That way at least, they will have the chance to contribute a corporate take on all issues. And the good news is that the cost of entry is low and there are very few barriers to participation.
So what should Malaysian firms do to leverage social media?
1. The first thing they have to understand is that social media is not about you. It is not PR and it is not advertising. Social media is not for the hard sell, it is for engaging prospects and customers and for entering into two way conversations with them. Do this, and you will get opinions on issues that are important to an audience who is interested in your product. If you listen and use this information wisely, you will be able to match your product attributes to your customer requirements for value.
2. Identify which social media platforms you intend to use and develop a strategy to use them. Transparency, consistency, honesty and longevity are key so don’t just jump in and fire away for a fortnight of frantic activity and then get bored and stop communicating.
3. Do some research and find out how your customers are using social media, what platforms and so on. 350,000,000 million people read blogs. Identify which ones your prospects and customers are reading and how can you get involved by responding to articles.
4. Offer forums on your website that allow customers to express freely their experiences of using your products. You’ll be astonished at how valuable the feedback will be as you listen to what really matters to consumers and incorporate the feedback into your strategy.
5. Over time, develop a formal process to monitor and review what consumers are saying about you and where they are saying it. This monitoring will allow you to enter into dialogues that are very personal and transparent. It will also allow you to address negative issues as they arise and before they develop into crises. Casual monitoring will give you a real time view of what is being said but it is resource consuming and may not be as effective as a more formal program via a third party such as BuzzMetrics.
6. Set up blogs for key customer facing departments. Blogs are a great sounding board and instantly engage prospects and customers. Be honest, develop a personality but don’t try to sell your products. Don’t worry if your opinions differ to those of the audience. Open and transparent responses are what your audience is looking for.
7. Social media requires a fresh approach to content. Too many Malaysian firms are simply paying ‘lip service’ to social media. One government agency simply copied and pasted its website onto its Facebook page and then left it for nine months!
8. Social media is a platform for communication and collaboration, not a soapbox. Some companies simply tell followers about special offers. A number of politicians use Twitter to tell everyone what they are doing yet ignore specific issues raised by voters.
So as you embark on your social media strategy, remember that the digital environment is immense and fluid. Understand that you must change the corporate approach of one that aims to push messages onto consumers, to one that aims to listen to what they have and then responds to those issues. Take these first steps and you’ll soon learn to leverage the powers of social media and throw away the script.