A while back I wrote about Twitter and its seemingly meteoric rise. In the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about Twitter and social networking from more of a business perspective. While it’s easy to build your online presence as an individual, I’ve noticed that corporate entities are getting a lot of advice as to how to social network. Unfortunately as often happens with free advice, a lot of it is not that great.

Too often, the new breed of social media expert is taking tired marketing and communications methods, adding some glitter and shine, and treating new online and mobile channels as the same old stuff. I’m seeing a lot of top ten lists that talk about ROI, about how to get your message out, about avoiding the mundane. Too often companies are being told to push commercials or marketing messages to the mobile phone. Broadcast static specials or new product announcements to Facebook or Twitter.

Many of these experts/evangelists/buzz generators seem to be missing the point. The problem with all of this is that as consumers use the internet more and more in everyday life, they get savvier about being sold to. They don’t want their mobile device (be it an IPhone or netbook), Twitter account, Facebook Page, etc. to merely be a new conduit for one way information sharing. For consumers it’s about being social, about doing things together, about being awash in the matrix of information that’s out there and sipping when they want. There is one overarching piece of advice that companies should follow when establishing a presence using online user controlled channels:

Use social media as a means of having a conversation.

Don’t forget, conversations are as much about listening as they are talking. Let your consumers talk to you, express their complaints, ask questions. Use the consumer interactions as an opportunity to respond, fix customer service/product issues, and bring consumers in on the process. People are using these methods to talk to each other, when your Twitter page merely announces specials or new product launches, there is no need to follow it. If it’s a conversation you’re sharing information, receiving information, and potentially identifying issues or opportunities in the marketplace. Use social networking to show you care, to show a little of your personality. Despite what many of these experts say, allowing a little about the daily grind of your office to bleed into your online presence is a good thing. While it shouldn’t be a minute by minute recap of the user’s day, showing that real life people work for your company can really add dimension to your brand. You might just create loyal customers who tell their friends to use your products and services.

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