This is a guest post by Marion MacKenzie is the President of GCI Canada, past articles by Marion are here.
It is an age-old challenge, one that marketers and public relations professionals alike have faced for years – finding the formula to create an unwavering sense of brand loyalty and generate what becomes an unforgettable customer experience, that keeps individuals returning for more.
The increasing use and significance of social media presents both tremendous opportunities and serious potential pitfalls; Not only do marketers and public relations professionals need to manage a company’s brand presence offline, now they must manage its online presence with the same degree of integrity and care.
The number one value proposition of social media to the brand experience is allowing it to be extended. Companies can now improve their credibility, increase trust and create community online. And online is where most Canadians are today. The use of social media now surpasses email as the most popular Internet activity according to a March 2009 study by The Nielsen Co. A recent study also found that social media use has passed pornography, which has led the Internet since its inception.
When making the decision to extend your brand experience using social media, there are three important things to remember. First, remember that your online presence requires constant care and input and must also demonstrate a genuine interest in the consumer’s needs, reflecting the industry’s move from asymmetrical communication. Second, you must make everyone in your organization an online brand ambassador. And finally, companies can’t be afraid to take calculated risks.
How customers perceive your company online is part of their total experience with your organization.
According to a recent study by Cone Research in September 2008, Americans’ use of social media is not limited to interacting with friends and family, they also want to engage with their favorite organizations and brands in that space.
* 93% believe a company should have a social media presence
* 85% believe a company should interact via social media
* 56% feel they have a stronger connection with and are better served by companies where they can interact via social media
Your company’s virtual presence is just as important as its physical one. Would you shelve old stock in your front windows or staff your customer service desk with rude, unresponsive employees? In most cases, the same basic principles that made your business successful in the first place. Doing Ensure the most current and relevant information is online. If you are going to engage with your customers, be responsive. It is not a matter of “build it and they will come”. A company’s social media presence must be nurtured.
@ComCastCares, @JetBlue, @Belkin and many other companies are using Twitter as a means to better address consumer issues and identify market opportunities. Companies such as Dell, encourage consumers to suggest new ideas on how the company can do things better on Dell Idea Storm. What do all of these companies have in common? They are all in constant communication with their customers and their customers are helping shape the direction of their business.
Social media offers credibility, community and trust. A recent study by Nielsen Global (July 2009), showed that 90 per cent of today’s consumers trust peer recommendations, while trust in traditional advertising is dwindling. Allowing your employees to be brand ambassadors gives them the power to act on behalf of the company and interact directly with customers or individuals who are looking for a recommendation on a product or service. Consumers and businesses trust likeminded individuals and entities. An army of brand ambassadors who have different interests and networks increase for company’s sphere of influence.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try a variety of engagement platforms – Facebook, Twitter and even LinkedIn. Devote the proper resources and allow sufficient time to nurture these initiatives – meaningful relationships are not built overnight. Remember content is still king and individuals want access to informal, helpful and advice-oriented information. Content is even better when it is user-generated. According to Nielsen Buzz Metrics, more than 5 per cent of search results on Google for the world’s 20 largest brands are links to consumer-generated content.
Developing an unforgettable brand experience is job one for marketers and public relations professionals. If harnessed correctly, the power of social media can do just that. With the proper strategy, constant care and attention and the willingness to take risks, companies can foster a lasting dialogue with their most important stakeholder – the customer.