The benefits of social media for brands

There’s a lot of information available touting the benefits of social media for brands – Starbucks has over 10 million Facebook Fans, Comcast uses Twitter to engage with customers and instill brand confidence, Southwest Airlines has an entire site dedicated to blog posts, Flickr images, and videos. Social is exciting, and us marketing people (me included!) love something new and shiny. If it works for them, it will work for you, right? All you have to do is set up a page and wait for all the fans to come? I hate to disappoint my fellow marketers, but you’re wrong.

I recently had a brand representative for a technical B2B business I’ve dealt with share their social media plans with me and ask for guidance. Practically exploding with enthusiasm, she told me about plans for a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Being familiar with the extremely technical nature of their products and services, and honestly wondering what the strategy was with these two venues, I asked what they planned to do with this new channel. “Talk to our fans!,” was the reply. My next question seemed logical, at least to me, and I inquired what they were going to talk about? The response, “Our products, of course.” My final question, which was met with a blank stare, was, “Do your customers want to talk to you, about products, on Facebook?”

Brands continue to run head-first into social without taking time time plan. Pages are created, posts are written, and when engagement and/or sales numbers don’t skyrocket, marketers are left standing around the conference table scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong. The good news though is that any brand can establish a solid social media presence with some planning. You just have to be willing to stop and listen. The first step in your brand’s foray into social media MUST be to Listen.

Before you ever consider making that first post on Facebook, take a step back and listen to how people are already engaging with your brand. What are they saying? Are they talking about you at all? Look far and wide. Just as some brands lend themselves to conversations easier than others, there’s also different types of conversations, and social goes beyond Facebook and Twitter. For instance, your brand might never show up in a Twitter post, but be a frequent topic on a blog or forum. The great thing about listening is you can start at any time and it doesn’t require any ‘fancy’ tools or software to get started. Free resources available online, like SocialMention, let you check the pulse of your brand online quickly and easily. You can learn a lot about what people are, or aren’t, talking about.

From here, you can begin to recognize your social opportunity. Where could your brand and your customers benefit from your involvement? Take Comcast for example. It is no secret that customer service woes are a pain point for a lot of Comcast customers, and the 140 character tweet had in past offered many an quick way to vent about their experiences. Frank Eliason at Comcast recognized the huge opportunity to not only help customers in need, but also elevate the brand perception to existing and potential future customers by reaching out to these customers and trying to help them, The @comcastcares twitter account was created, and the rest is history. Now with a team of people working on Twitter, Comcast takes frustrated user tweets and turns them into an opportunity to redeem the brand and delight its customers.

Coupons and brand promotions, recipes and nutritional information, customer service interaction, technical resources, fun and games – there are any number of social outlets for brand interaction. Listen closely. You’ll find yours.

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