Social networking has always been the backbone of business. In the good old days before digitalisation, a social network was a warm, human and engaging contact that built relationships and became the basis of the trust and understanding needed to do good, honest, mutually profitable work together.
That was before Internet. Internet has unceremoniously usurped the expression and replaced the benefits with a virtual existence, a cacophony of self-importance and for those unhappy with their lot, they can delude themselves and others with make-believe second lives. Unlike its more intimate predecessor, today’s social networks are hands-off cool, sometimes cold and occasionally lifeless. Engagement can be minimal, friends can be sought, ‘likes’ can be bought. The human contact on which ‘old’ social networks were built has been replaced with an infinite global pool of tablet swipers and phone prodders.
This is what salespeople have to battle with today. Rather than blindly blasting their ‘outgoing’ marketing at potential clients through mass media, they are now told that they should be encouraging and enticing the masses to their media (inbound marketing).
Willingly or not, companies are now forced into identifying with their markets through social media, sharing common values and ingratiating themselves to the point where a fraction of their viewers, become followers, then clients, and then evangelists that rate the companies’ wares with likes and stars.
And, all this sucking-up has to be consistent and incessant, because their loyalty to a company is always only one Google search away to find a better deal.
Welcome to social networks: the Eldorado for your sales force.
If some companies see social networks as a miracle of digital communication, others take into consideration the associated risks and the strategic decisions needed when using them. Because what is at stake here is the company’s reputation, and for many brands, that’s all that keeps them alive.
Protecting your good reputation.
Concretely without a good reputation you’re toast, because your survival depends on your clientele and on the opinion that they have of you.
It has been proven in many cases that companies can continue to succeed without social networks or even a website. These companies rely on excellent personal service, on honest human relationships, and their rating is done by word of mouth.
There’s an often-misused expression that says ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’. What this expression means is that if you want to be seen as a rebel, non-conformist, trend-bucker or the latest revolutionary sensation, then yes create buzz and outrage. This becomes part of your brand persona (a marketing term for reputation). Whether good or bad, your reputation forms a large chunk of your appeal.
Social networks help you achieve this goal. The more you talk about yourself, the more you are known, and the bigger your reputation.
The right mindset for social networks ?
The first thing to appreciate is that like any communication, using social media right will possibly help your cause, whereas getting it wrong is worse than doing nothing. Mismanaging your social networks can be extremely harmful to your image. A bad strategy or a bad decision can throw your reputation way out of whack.
What you are aiming for is to reinforce your brand image through your social media strategy. It is a very influential tool for explaining to the world who you are, what you believe in and above all – in all modesty – why they should be huge fans of your company.
In order to do this you need to have a good idea of your target audience’s profile, and then make darn sure that you do nothing to rattle them, because what you’re doing is creating a community, and communities love to exchange their views.
A ‘Carnet Bleu’ article dedicated to ‘community management and influencing opinion through forums’ will be published in 2019.
Create interesting content, do not annoy, stay consistent with your brand image and you have every chance of succeeding.
Which social network to choose ?
Here too you must stay consistent with your brand image.
The safest bet is to watch what the competition is doing – benchmarking can be a great help to get started – and see what strategy they have in place.
You could if you wish, start your own forum, but most companies tend to use at least one of the 5 biggest: Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter and Pinterest.
Depending on your commercial activity some will suit you better than others.
– Facebook: The ‘light’ social network
You can find anything and everything on Facebook. This is where people’s lunch breaks evaporate, catching up on other people’s lives, lurking and snooping, liking videos of dancing cats, or publishing yet another vainglorious selfie.
But morals and interests change, Facebook has become a valid professional social media. Some companies even opt for a Facebook page instead of a website, and used with caution it can work well.
Share interesting content with your customers, dare to publish original but non-offensive posts from time to time, a good chuckle never hurt anyone.
The main thing is to stay in tune with the character of your business.
– Instagram: Show your artistic side
Instagram is the social network that allows you to publish only photos and videos. Its notoriety remains more serious than that of Facebook, many artists/influencers use Instagram to make themselves known.
This network is more focused and restricted, which requires a lot more originality if you are not yet known.
The strategy that you put in place is in your hands. You can decide to dedicate your Instagram page to a specific theme or just to your activities; as long as you stay consistent all will be well.
Be careful though, if you do not have a strategy or content to publish, then Instagram is not for you. Nothing at all is better than an uninteresting page lacking content.
– Linkedin (or Viadeo): Open to companies
Here we move to a more serious sphere – that’s to be used with caution.
Every company deserves a Linkedin page, as much for the notoriety of your brand, as for your recruitment process prospection.
With all the great opportunities it offers, Linkedin is the reference professional network. Nevertheless, it imposes serious and quality content, do not publish intimate or inappropriate items on Linkedin. It’s not personal: it’s business.
Take the opportunity to share content that highlights your activity, share articles of influencers, or companies that inspire you, and share your achievements in image or writing, it will only enhance your reputation.
Linkedin and Viadeo are similar, yet Viadeo has lost ground to Linkedin.
– Twitter: The network of news bites
This is one for everyone! And so you can adopt the strategy you like. Many companies use Twitter to promote their brand, but especially to be closer to their target audience, and make themselves more accessible.
That said, Twitter also imposes a lot of content and things to say, especially if you are not yet known. Spread your tweets too thinly and you’ll be lost in the masses.
– Pinterest: The meeting place of passionate people
Pinterest is the right solution for enthusiasts who want to share their art, their specialties, their skills, and talk about their brand.
You can search images shared by companies and Internet users by theme. Share your talent and whatever you want to show. The standard of image content is generally very high, so if you want to be among the favourites you need to double your efforts.
The interesting point about Pinterest: is that it’s only images but you can appear in several themes if you have several areas of expertise, and thus reach more people.
Whatever your communication strategy, social networks can do your reputation a power of good, as long as they are used wisely.
Stay coherent with your brand image! Your target must be able to recognise your brand in all your actions, otherwise it may suggest inconsistency and instability in your company’s character, rather than sounding trustworthy.
This does not mean that you should not take risks and dare to do things; but do it intelligently and endeavour to never offend your target market.
Benchmark if you’re lacking inspiration, or use a communication agency to manage your social networks.
Branding Consultant at Pont Bleu Communication
Daren Birchall’s career spans more than 30 years. He is a graphic designer, writer, analyst and communications strategist, marketing consultant, media buyer, production manager, and for quite some time was an advertising agent. He loves photography but his glasses bother him.