Legislation: Socially acceptable

Social media is a valuable tool for businesses, but it can work against you as well as in your favour, says retail expert Adam Bernstein

Social media – a boon for those wanting to publicise their business, or the devil’s own work? Many see social media differently and either embrace or avoid it accordingly. However, used correctly it can be the making of a business, but get it wrong and the world’s wrath will be heaped upon you in the most public of ways.

For most, social media, in the workplace at least, is just a tool to reach their potential target market quickly, efficiently and – hopefully – inexpensively. However, few do this well. Why? Because their activity adopts a scattergun approach, where content is created and fired off with out any real planning, thought about the business or any real consideration of followers.

Susan Gunelius, chief executive of Keysplash Creative, says that to succeed with social media means understanding that you need to listen to what your market is saying and what it wants. Ms Gunelius offers nine other ‘laws’ of social marketing that include focus, quality, patience, compounding, influence, value, acknowledgement, accessibility and reciprocity. On value, she says that it’s a mistake to post reams of comments if they add little of value to the reader. On quality, she suggests that it’s far better to have 1,000 decent connections than 10,000 who are of poor quality, and on compounding she reckons that just as success breeds success, so good quality content will be shared many times over – something that AO’s Facebook page demonstrates well.

But there’s a further point to be made here and it’s one put forward by Patrick Cuttica at Sprout Social, a US-based social media management firm. He says that there’s so much content being created by firms, brands and consumers as well as agencies – in all forms of media – that we don’t have the capacity to absorb everything that is available. The winners will be those who are not only the noisiest, but also the most relevant.

Meaningful content

So how should the trade drive traffic to their business via social media?

The first step is to recognise that you need strongly branded social media pages. You need to post about and link to products, services and news that represent you and your ethos. It clearly won’t hurt having comment from satisfied customers – nothing beats a verifiable recommendation.

Social media facts and figures WEBAt the very root of social media is the propagation of thought and comment and so, by definition, you need to carefully place material in the right places that will lead back to you. Look at how Richer Sounds runs its Facebook page. Sure, it uses it to promote itself, but there is also material on film reviews, newly-released albums and independent product reviews. With 70,000 followers, it must be doing something right.

An alternative is to create and post instructional videos that help consumers understand new technology – the benefits of Sonos or how to optimally site 7.1 speakers. Place them on YouTube and create your own channel and then use your social media accounts to point back to YouTube and your channel. Look at the AVForums channel and you’ll see plenty of material to prove the point.

Social media involves being on a two-way street where you post and others comment. The corollary is that you need to use those comments as a way of starting a conversation with and between followers and be prepared to handle negative comments.

For example, @johnny20102000 posted a tweet in February saying: “Old cooker dropped, glass all over the pavement road and driveway. #KNOWHOW drove off. #curryspcworld child or animal could have been hurt.” Negative comments aren’t unique to Currys PC World – even so, the trade needs to be alive to criticism.

Social networks are unforgiving. What can seem like a good marketing idea at the time can backfire and rapidly inflict serious damage as followers seize on the slightest faux pas. The cause may be an ill-judged message or campaign, or an unthinking employee – either way, the effect can be the same.

In the early days of Twitter, furniture retailer Habitat thought it would be a good idea to get more attention for their brand by including unrelated trending hashtags (such as #trueblood – a popular TV show at the time) in promotional tweets. The reaction was immediate and angry from other Twitter users: “Naughty, money-grabbing furniture outlet. Bad bad bad. Now I’m glad I can’t afford your overpriced Ikea replicas”.

The problem with the written word is that there is no intonation – no voice to give meaning to the text. This is why saying something online in BLOCK CAPITALS is like shouting. Similarly, posting the same old thing and time again is going to do you no favours and will lead you to being un-followed.

And then there’s etiquette about re-posting. Some suggest that tweets should only be re-tweeted within an hour. And what of re-posting hoax Facebook postings?

In January 2016, Piers Morgan, former newspaper editor and TV personality was caught out re-posting the news that artist Tony Hart had just died. While the tribute was fitting, it was seven years too late.

Consider your time, too. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Tumblr are just a few of the social networking sites available. You can join one or join them all, but if you’re to do it well, there’s a real risk of spreading yourself too thinly – you’ll either do a poor job or end up sinking more time than you can afford into maintaining your presence. And don’t lose sight of the frequency on which you check posts, remembering the adage that a watched pot never boils.

Confidentiality

Staff also need to be reminded not to share company confidential information on social networks. The Daily Mail reported that health secretary Jeremy Hunt breached patient confidentiality in July 2015 when he posted a photo of a hospital visit on Twitter where patient names could be read. It’s possible the same could happen to you with a ‘harmless’ customer photo you post.

There are a number of lessons that can be learnt. You need to think carefully about where you want to create an account, its purpose and who the target is. But remember, if something goes wrong it should be dealt with promptly, openly, honestly and sensitively.

Social media, if used properly can be a very powerful tool. However, ignoring the risks can be very dangerous to a business and its reputation.