2009 has seen the power of social media reach an all-time high with many of us dedicating our precious time daily to blogs, chat forums and popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Rob Marcus, director at social networking moderation company, Chat Moderators believes that social media is a great and powerful marketing tool, but also believes that with great power comes great responsibility…
As the popularity of social networking, blogging and web chat continues to rise, it is no secret that those brands who fail to embrace such concepts will find themselves lagging behind competitors and possibly losing out altogether on what is an extremely powerful method of customer engagement and communication.
Although there are possible risks for any business involved with a social networking initiative, the rewards and positive impact on brand identity can be substantial. Social media allows businesses to connect with audiences in new ways and unlike some traditional marketing tactics, paves the way for an interactive two-way conversation.
Marcus comments “Brands are beginning to understand the potential of social media in cementing ongoing relationships with their key target audiences. Interestingly, it is not just commercial brands that have been getting in on the act; from Barack Obama to the Labour government a wide spectrum of organisations have begun to harness and build on the effects that social media can have on their marketing campaigns.”
Jumping on the bandwagon
In particular, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign now has presence on no fewer than 16 social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Not only is Obama able to reach the general public on these popular social networks, he is also connected with specific ethnic groups online such as, BlackPlanet for the African-American population. Obama has fully embraced social media throughout his campaign and has continued to do so since the election by updating his Twitter regularly and engaging in discussions on forums with the public on issues that are important to them.
Likewise the Labour party recently unveiled its social networking site Labourspace.com, which along with the existing LabourList.org, invites individuals to bring issues to the attention of Labour politicians. Members are given their own webpage on which they can upload their own campaign ideas and communicate with the Labour Party on why they think these ideas should be implemented. This is a new way for the Government to understand exactly what the general public really want from them and what issues they feel most strongly about.
However, the power that social media invites means it has to be handled responsibly. Marcus comments, “Government campaigns in particular can generate some heated opinions, as such they must be careful to strike the perfect balance between allowing their audience to express their opinions and make suggestions while ensuring that they are taking a responsible attitude to moderation. Taking responsibility for what information appears is the only way to create a safe place for users to interact and a place that they will want to visit again.”
Back in November 2008 a Spanish website generated some media attention as it was found to be displaying some racist comments directed at Lewis Hamilton after he won the Brazilian Grand Prix. At the time, this website was not being moderated and the inappropriate comments had gone undetected.
The website was found to be owned by the TBWA, which also resulted in negative publicity for the advertising agency. Such situations can be avoided if a stringent moderation process is put in place, whether that is in-house or via third party moderation.
Marcus explains “Despite this starting off as a seemingly innocent website around motor sport, it quickly escalated into a community for racist abuse. Allowing comments like this to go undetected can severely damage the brand of the business in question and in some cases the damage can be beyond repair.”
The dark side of social media
Cyber bullying is another example of the dark side of social media. Google has recently been taken to court by a Canadian model claiming that an anonymous blogger has been trying to defame her. The model wants Google to identify the blogger and have the website shut down.
“Being associated with this type of negative publicity it is damaging for Google’s reputation even though the comments were made by a third party. Brands need to realise that being associated with any negative story is enough to ruin a reputation, regardless of whether they were actually involved in making the comments,” remarks Marcus.
“I have seen various examples of social networks which are bringing positive benefits such as one by the health sector which is encouraging people to stop smoking and one by a charity which is giving the public access to free advice and information. A survey highlighted in eMarketer found that 85 per cent of marketing executives have cited customer engagement as the main benefit of using social media.
As well as this, 51 per cent found the low cost of social media initiatives appealing and 48 per cent found it useful for building their brand awareness[i]. People are choosing to communicate more and more via social media and it looks as though businesses are beginning to take note and see the benefits,” said Marcus.
Into the spotlight…
Observing the results that social media has already achieved for organisations can really help a brand decide what route they would like to take themselves. However, with every success story there are a number which have gone horribly wrong and this can be as a result of a number of factors.
Marcus concludes “As long as a responsible attitude is taken along with regular, targeted moderation, social media can bring great power to any organisation. It can also mean the difference of reaching a global audience, motivating user interaction and establishing a lasting dialogue with customers. Whether it’s a product, brand or campaign, done well, it is possible to positively steer your brand into the spotlight”.
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