Netbox Blue chairman John Fison calls it the ‘virtual toilet wall of modern society’, while Bluewire Media marketing manager Adam Franklin says social media carries similar fears for business as email in its early days. The experts tell Gold Coast Business News how social marketing is not just a sales vehicle, but an interactive forum where companies need to hold their own.
WHEN quizzed on the benefits of social marketing, Adam Franklin points to his invite method for a recent event that discussed how businesses can use it to their advantage.
“We ran a competition for our event on the invites, whereby if people re-twittered their invites then they would go in the draw for a free ticket,” he says.
“We only had 500 Twitter followers but because 42 people re-twittered we were able to reach 20,000 people, and that just goes to show how fast social media can spread the word about an event. As a result 25 per cent of the people who came were not on our original database.”
Businesses are reaping the rewards in this age where consumers expect an online presence, but many fear that negative feedback in online forums could be damaging, or that employees could reveal company secrets.
“I get an overwhelming sense that people are scared of social media because they’re not in control, but my advice is that it is a real opportunity,” says Franklin.
“If someone puts up negative comments you should have Google alerts so that you can respond appropriately, you can act straight away, and remember that people aren’t making negative comments to be nasty but because they have got problems they want addressed.
“A lot of companies block off Facebook, stick their head in the sand and put it in the too hard basket, while others embrace it and I think they will have the real benefit.”
His thoughts are echoed by Netbox Blue’s Fison, whose company provides technological services to manage social policies.
“Social media is the virtual toilet wall of modern society – it used to be the case that people would write things and the cleaner would take it off once a week, but on a Facebook site you have a permanent stain that’s there forever, and potentially millions of people will see it,” he says.
“People know they need to do something with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn but a number of small businesses are really concerned because they haven’t been brought up in a generation that uses it. So if you can dispel some myths, use common sense and understand these technologies then they can be useful to you.”
Fison stresses the importance of creating a flexible framework to provide alerts if certain rules are broken, or to have a clear social media policy with staff and clear goals about why the technology is used.
“It’s about what you want to achieve with social marketing – you shouldn’t use it just as a sales vehicle because it’s about communication, you want to spark interaction to get a conversation happening,” he says.
“If you’ve got a bad reputation in the market you don’t want to do it because people will talk badly about your product, but if you’ve got a good product like most, then the negative voices will be drowned out by the positive ones.
“You do have to monitor it because people will jump on and post messages on your wall, particularly when a group of friends are looking at it, and the issue of spam is growing.”
It all comes down to common sense principles and Fison highlights recent examples involving Domino’s and Nestle in the US as reasons why companies must understand the avenue.
“Two Domino’s employees in the US were playing around with the pizza before it went out to a customer, mistreating the food, etcetera, and they uploaded that, which did serious damage to the Domino’s brand
and for something that’s so easy to prevent,” he says.
“There was an issue with Nestle and Greenpeace were unhappy they were cutting down trees to make palm oil, so they spoke out against the company on the site. What Nestle did was take the comments off the site.
“But there are a lot of Nestle consumers who empathise with Greenpeace and they weren’t happy about that, so not only did Nestle have to address the palm oil issue but then also the issue of removing comments from their website.”
But while there are several cautionary tales in the social media sphere, Franklin highlights two Australian companies that are using social media very well.
“Australia Post is a good example as they use Twitter for their customer service help desk – people can twitter questions and then Australia Post will twitter back answers. It’s very fast that way,” he says.
“I was speaking to a retail clothing brand Vanguard Fashion based on James Street and they use social media quite well. They’ve got around 3000 Facebook fans and they have a blog that works really well, which helps them sell online – it’s about catching the fish where the fish are.”
Fison says the beauty of social media is that you don’t have to invent anything new, advising companies to talk as they normally would with a clear message that will hopefully gain traction.
He has noticed a trend of multigenerational hiring practices to keep pace with the technology, but warns not to let fresh employees carry too much burden of responsibility.
“It’s not as if you can just hire a young person and say ‘you’re responsible for social media and the risk that comes with that’, because they might not understand the damage they might do if they share information that’s sensitive,” he says.
“For instance it might be a publicly-listed company and they come out on Twitter saying they’ve just won a big deal, but they haven’t announced it to the share market yet and it affects the share price.
“The other obvious thing from a business point of view is that if a person invites all their business partners on Facebook and they live a wild life outside work, it will likely affect people’s impression of the sort of person they are.”
Franklin says a social media legal framework for a company shouldn’t be too difficult to implement, but warns against policies that are too restrictive.
“Most companies have policies about what their staff should and shouldn’t do offline, so why is it so hard to do that online?” he asks.
“Employees should be your biggest advocate online so they shouldn’t be cut off from Facebook and people could easily waste time on email too.
“In fact, when the email came out people were worried for the same reasons they are now, that people would let out company secrets, but then they realised it was a useful communication tool – the same goes with social media.”
Get our daily business news
Sign up to our free email news updates.