It now seems that Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, a blog and a YouTube channel are effectively mandatory for any brand wanting to keep in touch with its customers. Use of these sites can improve brand awareness, but it is a double-edged sword and needs the same planning, care and attention as does any other form of marketing. Companies offering suitable services and expertise have sprung up over the last few years. The first question for a brand is to consider whether to buy-in expertise and products, or to use the free tools and the efforts of their own staff. The main sites now have many free tools available. These provide facilities to analyse activity, manage postings and allow some degree of content moderation. A study released in January 2013 found that nearly ninety per cent of advertisers are using these free social media services and products. This is partly because the perceived value of paid-for products is not sufficient to sell them, and partly due to continued skepticism about the effectiveness of these websites for generating business. Continued bad publicity, such as the recent Twitter password-hacking problems, can produce reluctance to spend on this form of marketing due to concerns about security and credibility. Free products certainly have their place, particularly when starting a presence on Facebook, Twitter and the other sites. However these products require all the expertise to be in-house, and will have very limited support provided. The paid products come with the expertise of the company concerned, and so there is no need for a company to ‘reinvent the wheel’ by having to build its own strategy and train its own staff. The improved business intelligence alone can result in recouping the costs several times over. The range of services available varies between providers, and there are various packages and combinations. The main areas that should be covered are fairly standard, and are discussed below. Content generation for blogs and forums While the bespoke content will be the responsibility of the brand, there are some items that are common to all interactive sites. Customers will want quick answers to their questions and will hope that some of these answers can be found easily. A social media services company can help with this by producing the following: · FAQ (frequently asked question) list -this may need knowledge of the business and will have to be done in conjunction with the brand. · Posting guidelines – this includes statements of the purpose of the forum or interactive page, the topics that are allowed, the level of any ‘adult content’ allowed and the moderation method used. The guidelines should also tell users how their data and postings will be used, and who will own the copyright for their submissions. · Blogging: speaking with the ‘voice of the brand’ to provide news and updates, and to answer questions from users on forums, fan pages and Twitter feeds. · Editing and uploading pictures and videos. Moderation and Crisis Management The whole point of a social presence is to encourage interaction from customers, and the feedback will be both positive and negative. Leaving discussions uncontrolled and unedited is very risky, and all sites are vulnerable to spammers who may post completely unsuitable content. Hence some level of moderation is effectively essential and should be part of any package chosen. There are several ways of approaching this. At the very least, there should be a simple automatic filter to detect spam, remove obscene postings and flag up questionable postings for attention. More complex moderation may require human intervention, especially if two or more languages are required. As the internet is a 24 hour medium, the moderation strategy needs to cope with postings at all hours. If the costs of 24-hour staffing are prohibitive, then the best compromise may be to set all postings for pre-moderation before they appear on the site. Moderators really earn their keep when a crisis hits the brand. This could be due to poor financial results, a website or payment malfunction or a burst of bad publicity. The role of the moderator is not to delete all adverse responses, but to manage the situation as calmly as possible. Keeping customers informed goes a long way towards improving relations, and so the swift response of a good moderator will be invaluable. Monitoring and Analysis Using a professional package can really pay off when it comes to producing metrics and analyses of site traffic. The standard social sites offer simple analysis tools to assess the impact of marketing activity, but these utilities can be limited. Bespoke packages can be tailored to produce the reports that are really needed, and to assess what the customers are really doing on the sites. For example, simply pressing a Facebook ‘like’ button or becoming a Twitter follower does not mean that the site visitor is any nearer becoming a real, money spending customer of the brand. Any organisation offering these services should have the expertise to produce real information for a business, and to be able to tailor the information produced to the needs of that business.
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