Not so social media

Note: for the purposes of this article the term Social media refers to both traditional social media, and social networks as the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.

Social media has been marvelled at for a few years and amongst the pleas of companies and private individuals to ‘follow’, ‘like’ and join their social stream a few things stick out for me as challenges which still need to be overcome with social media in general.

The short points below don’t in any way mean that I’m ‘anti social media’ – not at all. I think social media is a growth area and, just like retailers are now facing a ‘multi-channel’ future, digital marketing for all companies must look to social media as a great way to touch the right groups.

1. Social media really is social – until someone screws up…..and then it’s on for young and old. Social media, particularly twitter can be your best friend one minute and almost instantly go against your brand the next. This is hard to manage. When your brand is just one voice and the masses won’t listen to what might just be a very good explanation or a miscommunication, or just a blatant untruth. It’s hard to rebuild that rapport and trustworthy standing you once had.

Moreover the group of people who may be attacking you could be the very people who up until that point had been quite happily following your brand, or worse, your loyal customers had no idea about the accusations but because your brand is using social media to defend itself, they become educated about the topic (which could be completely baseless accusations) and then have to make up their own minds too, potentially losing some as a result. Winning back those loyal users can be a tough tightrope walk, and may not always be successful. (As I was typing this post, this article dropped into my twitter stream and illustrates exactly what I’m talking about in this paragraph)

2. Over-fandom. How does one deal with overly hardcore brand advocates: Those consumers for whom a brand isn’t just something they wear, or buy, or use, but it becomes an obsession. In almost any other situation those individuals can be managed effectively. But on social media their interaction – which was encouraged by the brand in the first place – while well-intentioned can become worrying, spammy and even harmful. Whether this group of individuals fits your target market or not, when everyone has the same share of voice, (and in-fact the more someone speaks the more share of voice they have), moderating the conversation without cries of ‘censorship!’ can quickly become very difficult. Passionate and loyal customers they may be, but they’re also the most likely to start voicing their displeasure passionately, loudly and frequently when they see something happening with the brand that they don’t like. Bonds recently discovered this with their ‘beautiful baby competition’. Will we see the competition in a social media context next year? Sure, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them use it almost exclusively as a way of directing people to a microsite where the company can more closely monitor and moderate all submissions and comments.

3. Personalised experiences. For all the hype about social media bringing brands and customers closer together, there doesn’t seem to be many great examples of personalised experiences and dedicated interaction. Many companies seem to engage with their twitter and Facebook followers as little more than silo’d databases of loyal users who are ready to click on the next bit.ly link with info about a new product or service. It is difficult to bring a large volume of people and tailor an experience for each one, granted. But at the same time, what does it say to those that are loyal, long time customers when their interaction opportunities are exactly the same as a new user? And where does a brand’s story go?

While they’re great content syndication networks, marketers need to be smarter when it comes to disseminating information across a large and varied group of users, some of whom may be current customers, some of whom may be prospective customers, and some of whom may just have joined because they like the content but have no intention of ever purchasing from you. When barriers to entry are so low – a simple finger swipe on mobile touch-screen glass, or a click of a mouse on a ‘like’ button – and qualification of the participant is strictly limited to that ever elusive group called ‘absolutely anybody’, is it any wonder that companies are waiting to see who is loyal and who isn’t, or keeping the real goodies behind a CMS of actual consumers?

4. The front door is the same. Tied to personal experiences in the point above, every brands ‘front door’ and call to action is the same. Saying ‘like us on Facebook’, ‘follow us on twitter’ is now so ubiquitous that no brand ‘owns’ it as front of mind statement, and no brand can. Savvy consumers are already becoming skeptical to ‘like us on Facebook’ requests, wanting to know why they should – and that will increase over time. Simply put, the value proposition will have to get a lot better for a lot of companies very soon. Tied to the above point the question then comes back to how much to invest – it’s a great hook into a brand,  but would loyal customers resent people who may have never bought a thing, getting so much for free?

At least with a mobile app, with the right strategy, planning, content, UX and customer intelligence, various inputs, displays, fields, content and access options could be filled dynamically to create better, richer and ultimately more rewarding experiences – but that is a topic for another post.

As I said at the start of this post, these four challenges aren’t insurmountable but brands will need to put more effort into them – if they aren’t already – if they see it as a core part of their growth and communications strategy. Working to overcome the challenges above may help ensure a richer, better, happier social media experience and will ultimately be more rewarding for both the user and the brand.

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