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Sarah UKFast | Account Manager

Tips for brand engagement via social media

Brands seeking to engage their consumers via social media seem to be misunderstanding the whole concept of social media itself. It's for the people, by the people and business needs to recognise this. The consumer now has the power, and consumers in numbers can carry a lot of influence.

The main article covers five misconceptions that brands appear to have around the area, such as ROI expectations and the risks associated with getting involved.

I've also offered ten tips for those businesses wishing to engage with their target market through social media, which I hope are useful. If you're an organisation that is chosing to ignore the soial media phenomenon I'd like to draw your attention to the last tip, entitled Do It! Enjoy the read...

I have recently attended a number of seminars and round tables; downloaded industry podcasts and had numerous conversations with agencies, brands and new media journalists.

This is all part of my job, as well as research for my PhD. I'm looking at how brand advocacy can be achieved and sustained in the online environment, specifically through social media.

The consumer now holds the upper hand and brands need to recognise that the power now resides firmly with the online people. If only Citizen Smith (aka Wolfie) was able to tap into this in his day!

Anyway, there have been a number of common themes coming out of all these pockets of research, which are:

* Brands are seeking a best practice answer of how to engage with their customers through social media, though I don't think there is one.

* Businesses want to know the return on investment from getting involved, though it is doubtful whether it can be measured accurately.

* Less innovative and early adoptive brands see getting involved with social media as 'high risk 'to the business. I would argue that the risk of not getting involved is much higher.

* Organisations are unsure of how to integrate social media into their overall marketing/engagement strategy, which is natural when anything new appears.

* Some approaches used by brands seeking to gain consumer commitment via social media lack subtlety and will damage their reputation.

There are a number of other issues, but I think the list above outlines the main ones faced today. So, with the aim of trying to be helpful, I thought I'd put together ten top tips, (not in a Viz style unfortunately) to be considered when thinking about engaging your target audience through social media.

Here they are, in no particular order:

* Precision - Find and identify the areas in social media land where the people who engage with your brand are having conversations about you.

* Observe and Monitor - Listen to the conversations look for sentiment, authority and reach, and set up tools (there are loads out there) to regularly update you on these conversations.

* Don't Dive In - Before reacting and getting involved in groups, blogs, forums etc. think carefully about your approach. Sometimes it's best to let your advocates do the talking, sometimes it's good for you to take part in a subtle manner. If the tone of the conversation is negative, be polite, be honest and offer support.

* Give - Always offer something of value. This is when getting involved in a reactive manner or proactively creating your own social media content. Value can be classed as good information and insight or even providing "VIP" offers and also needs to be offered for free, no catches!

* Entertain - If you're creating groups, apps or widgets in social media/networks be entertaining and fun. That's what people want and that's what will encourage the viral aspect. Do not compromise your brand personality however.

* Right Time & Place - Be there for your target audience when they want you and where they already spend their time. Consider the mobile platform seriously. Mobile devices have finally reached the point where surfing the web is now akin to the computer.

* Be Social - Don't always be about "YOU". People will quickly become bored if you're always talking about your brand, product or service. Take an interest in the people you want to engage with and offer something they can use in their social is social media after all!

* Think Awareness - and nothing more. If your involvement in social media raises your awareness, in a positive manner then that is great. If it also creates interest and involvement then that's a bonus. Don't expect commitment. Such brand approaches via social media will appear very shallow and you'll damage your reputation.

* Forget ROI - This will be a tough one!! Measuring the return from the investment in social media is probably impossible today. (Coca Cola has recognised this.)

There are certain metrics which can be monitored such as increase in unique visitors to your site (via social media AND search), increase in brand "buzz", ultimately increase in sales (if you're a commerce business). But don't expect to be able to calculate the Y return from your X investment in social media alone. It can't be done.

* Do It! - Plan your approach; open your brand up to your customers; encourage interaction and synchronise your activity with your other marketing initiatives. If you don't get involved you'll quickly be over taken by your competitors who do.

These tips all need to be in the balanced to suit your target market and your brand. There is no single best practice approach, that would be like creating a best practice for making friends and influencing people!

We're all individuals and make our own choices of how to act and what to say and will rebel against control. So, get involved and go with the flow.

An example of how powerful it can be, if done well, is the release of Radiohead's last album. They offered a name your own price for downloading it online, from free upwards; they achieved higher revenues for the album this way than through the CD sales from the High Street. Who'd have planned that ROI?!

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