What is social media

Social media has been around since the start of the web and is simply a place for people to interact with each other and communicate on a scale never seen before. The last few years has seen not only a rise in the number of people on the web and using social media, but also in the number of social media platforms out there. We call it social media because we engage with each other socially, whether it be comments, posts, or other types of platforms specific engagements and interactions like Likes.

Because publishing content has become so simple and social platforms have evolved so much we’ve moved towards a many-to-many method of engagement. This has in turn opened up great opportunities for business on the web. Most notable is the opportunity for businesses to grow communities and foster long lasting relationships with their customers. It gives companies a platform to listen to their customers and engage with them allowing you to be part of the conversation.

Is social media important in South Africa?

In recent years there’s been a surge in platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn etc. Here are a few numbers on some of the bigger players in social media in South Africa that speaks for itself.

  • Facebook still reigns supreme.
    • The platform has 13-million South African Users.
    • There is a 50/50 gender split in South Africa showing the maturity of the platform as a everyday tool.
    • 77% access the platform from their mobile phones.
    • A large part of the market still uses feature phones, but the majority switched to smartphones.
    • In South Africa teenagers are not abandoning the platform for others with 13-18 year olds still the biggest group.
  • Twitter is growing at a rate of 12% with 7.4-million local users. According to World Wide Worx Twitter has more intensive engagement than Facebook, despite having fewer user.
  • Visual content is driving major growth with YouTube growing 53% to 7.2-million users in 2014 and Instagram growing 133% to 2.68-million users in 2015. As the cost of mobile data drops this trend will continue.

Do I need social media?

The simple answer is yes. The reason being that your customers are online. Whether you’re a multinational or simply a small business your customers are on social media, they’re interacting with their friends, family, the people they work with, and other companies. You might not be on social media, but others will be and they’ll have the upper hand.

Social media gives you the opportunity to make a personal connection with a customer, to build a relationship, and in so doing, build your brand. Social media also gives you much more than just another customer service channel, it allows you to grow customer advocates. A shout out from a customer for your brand means much more to his peers that you just shouting. In this day and age one cannot ignore a customer’s online conversation anymore. Instead of looking the other way there’s a opportunity to truly get closer to your customer than ever before. Building relationships can take time, but it’s well worth the effort.

What value does social media have for my business?

An engaging community

Quite possibly the greatest value you’ll receive from social media is the ability to grow a community that you can engage with. Without that you are just shouting at a crowd, whereas an engaged community is social media gold. You are also given the ability to engage with customers from all over, whether it be the people who live around your business or customers on the other side of the world. Distance is no longer a gap for your community. Apart from that you now also have the ability to respond to new or prospective customers in the moment.

You have the ability to build relationships that are not just related to you answering a customer service query or helping out a prospective customer. You can build relationships with customers that will keep them coming back while increasing loyalty and retention. If you can manage that and those customers can in turn become true advocates for your brand you’ll see the returns as word-of-mouth increases.

Depending on your business you also have the chance to become a trusted resource for your growing engaged community providing them with further resources that will keep them coming back. The more you give the more you’ll receive from your community, and who knows, you might even become a industry leader and resource.

Creating a bond

Liking your brand is probably one of the first things you’re going to want on social media, whether that’s someone liking your Facebook page or a post on Twitter or following you. The principle remains the same, you want someone to like you. But social media gives you so much more than that. You actually want people to move up the ladder from just liking you, to loving your brand, to becoming outspoken advocates.

It may take some effort, but social media offers you the opportunity to start a journey with your community on a path that will eventually lead them to becoming defenders of your brand. Your community will never be a customer service channel for your brand, that’s not up to them, but they might help each other out where possible and stand up for your brand. Peer-to-peer communication like this can in many cases be much more powerful that the brand speaking for itself.

It’s not all marketing

Customer Service

Everyone complains, and in some cases even more so on social media. For a brand that can be a vary scary prospect, but not being on Twitter doesn’t mean people aren’t complaining, it just means you can’t be part of the conversation. Social media ,in short, gives you the opportunity to answer questions and jump into conversations that you would have normally not been able to, leaving issues unresolved.

With a little bit of training and consistency the task can be a simple one and not nearly as insurmountable as some brands think it is. An important factor to take into account is that there needs to be a buy in from the rest of the company. It cannot be the sole responsibility of the person in charge of the social media channels, they’ll need help running it efficiently when it comes to answering difficult queries or taking larger issues offline to resolve them.

Content Creation

Content creation plays a large part in what you’ll be doing on social media. Great content will keep your community engaged and relevant content will help them feel like it was created just for them. Create content that helps them learn, discover new things, or simply answer their questions.

They key is to create content that’s relevant to your community. You can use listening and analytics tools like Brandseye, Social Bakers and SocialBro etc. to gain greater insight into your community, and if you don’t have those types of tools you can always listen the old fashioned way. You can also use site analytics to see what your customers are interested in on your website and so forth. But don’t forget about your community, once you have an engaged dedicated community you also have the opportunity of tapping into user generated content. Just remember, people are openly taking about what they want, meaningful insights into this will tell you what you need to generate.

Product development and research

Being on social media gives you direct access to the public at large and a great avenue for product development and research. Just be careful, people don’t always know exactly what they want or need, or in some cases those two might not align. Don’t just dive in head first, customer feedback is great but don’t let it overrule everything you know about your own brand and products. Having said that, use it for testing and even create a tester community, listen to the feedback your competitors are getting from their community, measure what you can. You could for example see if one product constantly out performs others in areas like engagement on posts. These are just a few tactics you could use to get customer feedback and you could think if many more once you wet your feet in the waters of social media.

HR

Many organisations find social media a great help and resource when it comes to human resources. This could entail anything finding new recruits or connecting with potential recruits to encouraging employee engagement and retention. This doesn’t even include internal social networking and the wide range of platforms that cater to that.

Best Practice

What to share?

On of the remnants of traditional marketing that tends to bleed over into social media is the tendency to only post promotional content and hard sells. On social media we don’t just want to push this kind of messaging onto our customers, here we want to build an engaged community that trusts you and keeps interacting with you.

This is not to say there isn’t a time and place for promotional content and that different platforms don’t also offer specific avenues for that type of content. It just means there there are other types of content you can focus on to help you grow a tight knit community that isn’t just bombarded by your latest sale.

You can add value to your channel by creating interesting content that adds value for your customers, tips and tricks that helps them in their daily lives or with your products. You can create content that isn’t just about your products but touches on a related field where your customers might have a common interest.

You can be responsive, jump into the conversation of a Twitter chat or a trending topic, here there really are no limits. Just make sure you know what you’re talking about. Talk about the other things your company is doing, your CSI projects or excursions etc. Giving people a look at what your company’s doing, a glimpse of it’s inner workings, helps to humanise the brand and can help build a closer relationship between you and your community.

And finally, be funny. Yes humour doesn’t work in every situation, but humour remains very popular on social media and many brands have used it over and over to great success. It could be a simple as a joke or a pun or simply a funny picture, just remember err on the side of caution, a bad joke can end very badly. Think through all the angle, who might take offence, and then weight it all up to make your final decision on whether to publish. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be controversial, just make sure you’re ready to take the heat if that’s the angle you’re taking. Humour also goes great with responsive posts where you’re reacting on something topical. In those types of situations speed is a factor so just remember it probably won’t work if you’re only ready to post two days later.

How often should you post?

This is a really common question and there’s no one size fits all answer. It very much depends on your audience and what platform you’re posting on. There’s a lot of info on this topic floating around the web and some of it is definitely worth a read but always keep in mind you’re going to find the best results by trial and error. Testing will show you what your community needs.

Always keep in mind that the attention span on social media is fleeting and that updates don’t have a very long lifespan, especially on platforms like Twitter. This isn’t to say that you should post every 20 minutes, I just means that users tend to read the most recent items in their newsfeed first and if your last post on Twitter was a day ago you can definitely go ahead post again.

Just keep in mind what type of organisation you are. If you’re a news origination publishing the most recent news on your site every 15min is fine, it’s what you’re about. Other types if brands might just publish twice a day and that’s fine as well. There’s no magic formula that fits every type of organisation.

Engagement

When it comes social media and your community engagement is number one, but engagement is also two sided. Ons the one hand you want your community to you, but you also cannot neglect interacting with your community. The very basics when it comes engagement with your community would be you simply answering questions directed at you, and while this seems basic it’s something you need to make a serious priority. It’s not enough to suddenly say “I’m now doing social” and then respond to someone a week after they ask a question. Engagement from the brand’s side with regards to questions and queries need to be timely.

As a brand you also have to opportunity to jump into conversations that mention you or your industry. It’s a great way to engage, it shows the brand is relevant and active and it’s something that’s relatively easy to do. There are a number of listening tools out there that can really take the chore out of staying on top of the conversation.

The other side of the coin is getting your community to interact with you and not just listen. Your number one weapon here is top quality content aimed at engagement. Engagement can however be as simple a prompting your community to engage. A post that asks for a retweet or like in a creative way, asking a question, or simply gamifying something and adding a reward. There’s nothing quite like a creative little contest to get engagement going.

Your voice

There’s little more to this than just your brand’s voice on social media, so let’s maybe call it consistency. Whether it’s the logo you use, the fonts and colours on your artwork and site and your descriptions on social media and the web in general; all these need to remain the same. It can’t of course be exactly the same, there’s no way a Facebook description that’s a paragraph long will fit on Twitter but the spirit, general content and tone can remain the same.

The same goes for the content you publish. Yes platforms are different and yes you might be publishing different content on said platforms, but the voice of your brand needs to remain consistent.

You also need to cater for your audience, it’s not just the image your brand is trying to reflect but also what the community you’re speaking to wants, is it lighthearted or serious etc? Your community plays a role in determining this and once you’ve for example selected a tone you can’t top and change the whole time.

Social media is an extension of your brand, it’s an opportunity to put your best foot forward, but you need to make sure what that is and stick with it if you find it’s working and not confusing your community.

Be human and likeable

Be all the things you’d expect from a friend on social media, be kind and funny, be respectful and helpful, try and relate to community. Be off topic, not every message is marketing, just turn it off once in a while and join in the conversation. Be present, you can’t just post once a month and think you’re going to still have a community. For you followers to like you you’re going to have to be there. Add value for you community, you want to be more than just friends, you want them to need you as well. Create a balance in the community you’re growing, don’t just interact with one subset or one or two followers you’ve built a repertoire with. You can’t exclude others, try and involve ‘everyone’, and by that we mean a broader subset of your community. Finally, always practise good etiquette, be polite, help out where you can, never lose your cool and leave an angry response. Social media might be fleeting but a ‘fail’ can last a very long time.

Crisis management

A crises is not something anyone looks forward to but it should be something that you’re prepared for. Preparation is key in many situations, whether it’s for a small campaign you’re running and you just list the things that could go wrong and people could ask so that you’re prepared for them, or whether you’re the type of company that has very real risks that could potentially come about and that you could prepare for. It’s actually quite simple. Think what could go wrong, what’s a member of your community or the public at large likely to say and prepare to handle that.

Once you understand the potential risks, how do you escalate it? Who are the contact people you speak to to get the right answers. Is there a mechanism in place so you can get easy access to them in a crisis. Who’s responsibility for what?

You next step in an actual crisis should be to start responding as soon a possible. Time truly is a factor and the longer the problem is left alone the worse it gets. At this stage it’s also a good idea to ramp up your listening should you have tools in place for that. You want to catch as much chatter as possible about the issue. This is not only so you can respond more effectively, but also so that you can analyse and report on it later. You could look at the reach it got, which members of your community took part etc. etc. This info could be invaluable and help prepare you better for a future crisis. The gold standard would of course be that the way in which you handled one crisis and your analysis of it was done so well that what you learn simply prevents future crises from happening. One note on handling a crisis so never go negative, don’t become too defensive, many a brand have even gone on the attack and had it explode in their face. The customer might not always be right but he could think he is.

What to measure?

What metrics to look at and what metrics are even worth looking at can be a hard thing to nail down and very much depends on your brand, what you do and what you plan to do online. At this point it’s also worth nothing that there are tons of great tools to look at that can make things a lot simpler and that can display your data in all kinds of interesting and meaningful ways. Whether it be tools like SocialBakers or SimplyMeasured that will give you great insights about how your platforms are doing or tools like Brandseye that will do your listening for you and give you insights into the what people are saying about you and a whole host of metrics related to that. But, if you simply don’t have the budget for these or don’t feel you need to know as much, here are a few metrics that you can usually get off the backend of your social platforms that will give you some good basic insights.

First off lets just chat about return on investment really quickly. It’s a tricky one that you can’t always measure in ROI in the traditional sense, or depending on your objectives at least. If for example you specifically entered the realm of social media to simply handle customer service queries and take the load off your call centre you could say I’ve handled a 1000 queries and it’s a success. If you wanted to change online sentiment about your company it becomes a bit tougher. Areas where we can very effectively measure ROI on social media are social ads where one can even install a conversion pixel on your site so you can put an exact value on the amount of leads generated by filling in a from on your site after they clicked a link on your Facebook ad for example.

Some basic metrics you can always keep an eye on and can get a hold of on many platforms are:

Fan and Followers

Essentially the same thing, these numbers are a metric shared by just about every social media platform in under one name or another. Some brands tend to place too much focus on these stats and try and grow massive followings. While they are important they certainly aren’t the be all and end all of social media metrics and but it is something to keep an eye on.

Engagement

Depending on what you’re trying to achieve on social media or even a specific post engagement is probably of your most, if not the most important metrics. It’s meaningful because it’s a measure of your success when it come to engaging with your community. Engagement is a bit of a mixed bag as it would usually be a total of all engagement so it varies from platform to platforms, but would include numbers from actions like: Sharing, Retweeting, Liking, Mentions, Replies and these days with newer stats avaliable you can even see things like clicks to enlarge an image etc. Engagement basically tells you how effective you are at engaging or having a ‘conversation’ with your community.

Click-through rate

CTR is a very simple metric and would be most important to those who would like to drive traffic to a website from social media. It is essentially the ratio of users who click on a specific link. If traffic is the reason you’re on social then this is what you’ll be looking at. As an aside, just remember that social media is at the end of the day about being social and just posting links to your site while not trying to create some kind of community usually won’t get you very far.

Sentiment

Changing brand sentiment, or trying to effect a change, is another reason many brands get to social. While the other metrics we’ve spoken about at very much quantitative, this one’s definitely qualitative and much harder to track. There are a number of services out there that will include sentiment analysis with their listening tools, but be careful. These tools are usually based on some form of machine learning or keyword analysis, things like sarcasm or jokes can’t be ranked properly, not the mention language barriers, and results can be very skewed. Brandseye offers a crowd tool with real people ranking the mentions that are tracked and could be a worthwhile option for brands that are serious about tracking sentiment, but it comes at a cost.

At the end of the day it’s important to ask what you want to achieve, what kind of metrics are important for that and what tools would need to report on these.