The power of social media was demonstrated by the ticker-board at the launch of the Electoral Commission Results Centre. In the space of about 90 minutes, there were more than 4 500 posts related to South Africa’s municipal elections. That is nearly one a second.
Four out of five of those posts were on Twitter. This does not mean Twitter is king of social media. What it does confirm is that Twitter is the king of news on social media.
Company executives often worry that their brands do not seem to perform to expectations on social media. They feel they have poured effort into getting their brand into that social space – but have not made a dent on the topics that are trending, or seen any significant interaction with customers and potential customers.
So where is the impact? Where is the return on investment?
The trouble is that some corporates have merely taken on board that “we should have a presence on social media”. What they have not grasped is that social media is not the same as buying time or space in traditional media. Nor is it the equivalent of a well-crafted advertorial, or of the added value woven into editorial space as a ‘thank you’ to a regular advertiser.
On social media, the editors and proprietors are much more hands-off. They allow – and want – the debate that surges and sometimes rages across social media to be driven by the people who use it.
Being on social media is like joining in a conversation at a water cooler, over a beer or at a braai. Social media amplifies the conversations that previous generations could share with the world only through newspaper letters, columns or on radio talk shows.
Today, social media users are sharing those conversations in Buenos Aires and Beirut, Sydney and Seoul, Oslo and Ottawa – and pretty much anywhere in South Africa. They howl horror at bankers and big-game hunters. They plot flashmobs or plan protests.
A stake in every conversation
Social media has taken the conversation back to the people and out of the boardrooms, the political headquarters and the rarefied halls of academe. It has given everyone with a smartphone or tablet a stake in every conversation, regardless of how hyperlocal or global. A user’s influence in social media is all about providing rich content and being prepared to share strong opinions, not about reams of qualifications or even the traditional attention-grabbers of a bulging wallet or a sleek car.
We often tend to think we understand social media when we appreciate its global scale. But what we tend to miss is the intimacy concealed within it – and that is why a brand can land flat on its face on social media, despite what it thinks are its best efforts.
Social media has its own social code and getting that right is the first step to driving your engagement with your customers and targeted potential customers – and remember that word ‘customers’. People use social media, as they often put it, in their “personal capacity” and that is how they want you to engage with them. Your posts should display as much individuality and brand character as the views that they post emphatically as “my own”.
Getting the emotional geography of social media right is the next step to driving your engagement with your customers and potential customers. Posts should be crafted so they are in tune with the social media environment where they will be viewed.
What is appropriate to Twitter with its largely news-driven audience does not fit on Facebook, where posts are expected to be longer and more reflective. Instagram is thriving in South Africa because it gives simple, quick hits of visual instant gratification.
Social media is not about marketing and selling
The fact that posts are ‘shared’ should signal that social media is about sharing the debate on the values we would like to recognise in each other, sharing the memories that we are making and sharing shock or joy at events, whether in the family or across the world. What social media is not about is marketing and selling. Companies which try to use it in that way tend to attract negative comments from disenchanted customers.
Social media is a personal space and it is also an expensive space in South Africa. Few things outrage social media users more than being bombarded by advertising on social media. “I’m not buying data with my money just so you can sell to me!” is one of the more polite responses.
Finally, when you have crafted your post to fit in with the code and the emotional geography of social media, you should not leave it floating in social media and forget about it. Having someone on your team earmarked to field the awkward questions and the ranters is not enough – in fact, it is very last-decade.
How often have we had drummed into us that “you can’t understand what you don’t measure”? Yet an astonishing number of corporates devote significant budget to social media without tracking and measuring positive and negative responses to their posts. Social-media intelligence is a key tool for companies because it can give you the “who, why, what, where and when” of your post falling flat or going viral.
Using such feedback regularly and intelligently can bring a whole new dimension to your company’s use of social-media platforms. It will give you social-media intelligence that informs your strategies. Then you can avoid social-media remorse and instead gain added impact for your brand.
Using social media with skill means corporates should familiarise themselves with tools for social monitoring, social listening and social-media analytics. They need to combine this with learning the social code and emotional geography of their social-media sector. They must craft content that is so compelling that consumers enjoy, use and want to share it while they are also sharing the hottest news, voter’s thumb selfies and animal memes.
Brands can harness their own social-media power by being nimble – nimble about responding to social-media trends and nimble in interweaving their own brand values and mission.
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