Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Should your business be on ‘facetube’ because it’s cool?

I’m sure you’ve all been there. Your MD breezes in and demands to be on ‘Facetube’ because his kids think it’s cool. Beware, social networks are not always the safest place for a business to go; just because it’s ‘cool’ doesn’t mean YOU HAVE to be there. There have been plenty of horror stories.

Skittles redesigned their website homepage and replaced it with a ‘Twitter feed’ which displayed all the Twitter comments which featured mentions of a special skittles hash tag; ‘#skittles’.

What started as a wonderfully brave PR stunt ended up getting column inches for the wrong reasons as Twitter users decided to play with the skittles website.

For the first few weeks the website was hijacked and we had a form of Twitter graffiti as people tried to outdo each other using the skittles website as a virtual wall.

Locally, a music promoter failed to respond to the growing unease of members on a forum called boards.ie. Despite using the forum to push their concerts and events, the promoter failed to partake in any forum discussions post-event. The members grew tired of this one way conversation and began to vent their frustrations to the extent that the promoter had to be banned from using the site.

Boards.ie is a website with over one million users each month in Ireland and so it can be an influential community — not a good idea to antagonise them.

So, how can you avoid these mistakes and make social media work for you?

Think of a social media site or web forum as a room full of people, like you would get at a business networking event. You wouldn’t just walk up into a room full of people at an event and shout out your message and then run out the door, would you? Would you do it every month? No. Rather, you’d maybe go along once, see what it’s like, chat to a few people for a few minutes, exchange a business card and then follow up.

Maybe after being there a few times, you’d have the confidence or influence to address the whole room with an idea. But by that stage you’d know the audience and be ready for their reactions.

This is how you should approach each social network or forum. Treat them like a room full of strangers. Be cautious, listen to what is being said, meet people in a discreet but friendly way and when you know them a bit better start a deeper conversation, maybe even invite them to an event you are having.

Facebook is very different from Linkedin. Linkedin is very different from Twitter. Twitter is very different from Tripadvisor. They all have their own social etiquette and members react in very different ways to different types of interaction.

For example, Facebook users may be less likely to react positively to a personal message until they know you better, while Twitter users can be more amenable to a direct message than a broadcast text.

Also, make sure your message is relevant and above all, useful. Usefulness is the most important factor in any online communication, if you give a user something that solves a problem, then they are more likely to pass it onto acquaintances or friends.

Furthermore, if you make your message easier to share then they are more likely to share. This applies to all content you provide in a social network, be it an answer to a question or an entertaining video or application.

And finally don’t leave your social strategy in the hands of your placement student. Social networks and forums should sit within your PR team or be handled by your customer relations manager. These channels are as important as press releases, company emails and promotional materials in promoting the business culture and should be treated with the same time and effort.

In summary, Look before you leap. Listen to your audience and understand what they are interested in and prepare a message which they will appreciate and reciprocate.

If your business doesn’t have the time or resources to communicate on these websites properly then it’s better to either outsource or stay away.

Ruairi McNally is media director for Bluecube Interactive ( www.bluecubeinteractive.com ). His email address is Ruairi@bluecubeinteractive.com

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