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Companies need to embrace social media if they are to survive

Companies need to embrace social media if they are to survive

By Rob Marcus, Director, Chat Moderators

Social media is becoming a common practice for marketers and organisations wanting to reach large audiences with relatively little financial impact.

Social media, or social networking, is a popular and creative method of encouraging users to interact and engage with a brand, or product by allowing discussion, picture sharing and now even video sharing.

Rob Marcus, director of social networking moderation company, Chat Moderators states that it has been around for much longer than most people think. Marcus explains, “Although social media has been propelled into the spotlight in the last three years, users have been communicating online for much longer. It was whilst I was working as a marketing manager ten years ago, that I realised that this online interaction was sparking a valuable new opportunity for brands.

“Although chat rooms had been around for some time, brands had gradually begun trialling user generated content (UGC) on sections of their own websites. However, the nature of the dialogue on these networks was far more frank, honest and direct than traditional means of communication and I soon realised the potential brand damage these companies could be leaving themselves open to if they didn’t judge contributions. I founded Chat Moderators in 2000 to help manage potentially damaging UGC.”

One of Chat Moderators first clients was Friends Reunited, one of the first social networking sites to operate on such a large scale in Britain. Chat Moderators has been continuously working with the social networking site since 2001. Other key organisations that have harnessed the powers of social media with help from Chat Moderators include Panasonic, The Blue Cross, Glaxo Smith Kline, Orange, Sony and Vodafone.

During the last eight years, Rob Marcus has seen a number of developments in social media. Marcus explains, “I have seen a varied use of user generated content with companies using it to promote specific initiatives, or to help launch new products. We currently work with Panasonic on a photo sharing initiative called ‘My Place’ which has been designed to subtly raise the brand awareness of its Lumix range of digital cameras.

The initiative has been highly successful in attracting a new customer base to the brand by encouraging users to upload their own digital photographs of their favourite UK landscape and awarding prizes to the best submissions.”

The animal charity, Blue Cross has also launched an online social media initiative; All About Pets. It is essentially a large forum bringing pet owners together to discuss issues relating to the health and wellbeing of their animals. Members can use the community to seek advice about any problems they may be experiencing with their pet.

The Blue Cross launched the initiative in August 2007 as a means of promoting the positive work that The Blue Cross does as a charity, but also to offer something additional to the animal loving community.  The site now has over 10,000 members.

It is not only private organisations that have been trying their hand at social media; the public sector is also getting heavily involved. Chat Moderators has been assisting departments such as the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health in initiating webinars to communicate with its large staff, located all across the country.

The MoJ used the webinar to communicate with staff on the issue of learning within the workplace. It allowed board members to communicate easily with the majority of its staff at relatively little cost – something that was extremely difficult before.

Reflecting on the phenomenal rise in social media, Marcus comments, “Eight years ago when companies were experimenting with social media, advancements in the use of the technology were very gradual.

However, in the past four or so years, with the introduction of My Space, Facebook and now Twitter, each with their cult following, more and more brands have ventured into the world of social media with ambitions of attracting their own mass following. As a result, we have seen a diverse use of social media in recent years.”

The recent example of social media being used in Barack Obama’s campaign for US presidency shows the true force behind it. By allowing users to take his core messages and broadcast them in any way they saw fit, it allowed him to mobilise supporters in a way never seen before.

Marcus says, “This was the first presidency campaign that incorporated UGC and it just goes to show that the benefits of social networking can be immense.”

Content is now much richer with the use of video uploads, however, while videos are a powerful way of communicating, this provokes a new set of issues for moderation. Marcus explains, “Video submissions need to be judged with a separate set of rules as it is no longer what is being written that can cause other users offence. It may be that someone is wearing a T-shirt in the video with something written on it or a hand signal that can be taken the wrong way.

"There are also certain issues around the filming of children for public viewing, which need to be dealt with sensitively. Another factor in the use of videos is copyright. For example if a user uploads footage of a concert that they have filmed from their mobile phone, the artist can sue if their image is copyrighted and used without their permission.”

Another trend that Marcus has begun noticing with brands is the use of Facebook or Bebo to tap into an already formed cult following. Chat Moderators is now being required to moderate pages on popular third party sites for some brands.

This is a trend that Marcus predicts will be increasingly popular, especially in today’s economic recession where companies are cautious about taking the leap into building their own social community.

With eight years of experience under his belt, Rob Marcus makes his predictions for the next year in social media, “In the current economic recession, I predict that social networking will become a key marketing practice. It is an ideal way of attracting a mass market and keeping them interested in your brand for that bit longer, which could make the difference between a lead and a sale.

When compared to other marketing practices, it is extremely cost effective and I believe this is going to be the main selling point for businesses struggling with budgets.

“Although businesses are understandably cautious about the potentially harmful effects of user generated content, with a responsible attitude and the right moderation, it can bring many business benefits. In the near future, companies are not going to be able to avoid social media and I believe that it is crucial that brands embrace innovation if they are to survive long term.”

Want to know more? Come to UTalkMarketing's Social Media Seminar on the 26th February.




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