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How to win friends and influence people

How to win friends and influence people

Maximise your social media networking potential by doing less, but doing it better

This is an article I wrote for the UK’s top trade kitchen and bathroom magazine – Essential Kitchens and Bathrooms Business. You can follow them on Twitter here. If you would like to subscribe, visit EKBBusiness

The pressure on businesses to engage in social networking is intense and the number of platforms is increasing all the time. There are any number of self- proclaimed ‘gurus’ declaring that your business has to be ‘in it to win it’, without ever stopping to ask whether this is the right thing for you, or your customers, potential and existing? While they fall over themselves to chase the ‘golden ticket’ content and get you to do the same, not one points out that deep in the small print it says that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.

The latest thinking is that just because a social network is there, you don’t have to be on it. Now is a perfect time to curate your activities before they suffer terminal bloat. Do less, and make it count. As strategy consultant and Google adviser Dorie Clark advised so succinctly recently: “It’s become increasingly clear that with the proliferation of new platforms, no person or company can become the master of them all.”

Many of the rules of SN success for the three of the biggest activities, Facebook, Twitter and blogging, can be applied to all the others, but all pruning requires you to determine which most play to your strength.

The first step to slimming down is to answer one question – who is is your customer and where in the social network matrix are they hanging out? Like a game of snakes and ladders, if your main constituent is the consumer you will head off one way, fellow businesses another. This will determine which platforms you use, and how much opportunity there is to monetise your efforts. And even that is a grey area.

And there are many reasons to be fearful, even putting aside the time-sucking pressure it puts on your internal resources, or the fact that return on investment is painfully hard to define, or that you may lack the skills to be successful, spare a thought for those marques who have had their efforts thrown back in their faces, sometimes for good reason – such as Habitat who tried to sell more sofas by linking to the bloody protests in Iran – or beleaguered HMV whose Twitter feed was effectively hijacked by disgruntled soon-to-be former employees. Social networking connects us all by shared needs and experiences, which sounds suitably warm and fuzzy coming from the words of a media consultant, however the moral of the story is, the Mob rules.

Face the facts

With 1.06bn monthly active users, Facebook’s enormous reach makes it the the holy grail of social networks. And yet for businesses it is also the platform that is mostly likely to trip them up. If your target is consumers, it is worth remembering the golden rule of social networks: tread carefully, you are on their territory.

Facebook users feel safe in the space they have created, even though from a data protection point of view they may not be. As a commercial brand you are intruding on their personal space in a way that traditional above-the-line marketing never could – if you are obnoxiously promotional or misjudge the relationship between company and consumer, you will be kicked off their feed in double-quick time.

Engaging on Facebook as a business is currently fixated on achieving multiple ‘likes’ however even the industry behind social networking is unsure what a Like is ultimately worth. Current guestimates range from somewhere between 20p and £200 – which is missing the point somewhat. The goal should be continuous engagement.

Consumers hit the Like button for several self-interested reasons: a like is a reciprocal action – they want something back from it. Be it kudos – look how cool I am – it may be an early-bird offer – you’re a VIP customer – it may be expressing a sense of ownership or express affinity. If you don’t offer them something they would not otherwise have got if they had not hit Like, your engagement will end there. That’s not to say it is easy – a 2012 study from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, an Australian marketing think tank that boasts clients such as Coca-Cola and Procter & Gambler, estimated that only slightly more than 1% of Facebook ‘fans’ actually engage with brands in a meaningful way. This lays bare the reality-check facing all brands on Facebook – it’s not a magic panacea for all your marketing woes. “People need to understand what it can do for a brand and what it can’t do,” said Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate at Ehrenberg-Bass. “Facebook doesn’t really differ from mass media. It’s great to get decent reach, but to change the way people interact with a brand overnight is just unrealistic.”

The good news is that Facebook users are heavier buyers generally than in the general population, even though purchase frequency didn’t rise after they become a fan. Facebook is great for reach and can provide vital market research and word of mouth advocacy.

For any social platform aimed at consumers, one concept worth understanding is that unlike real human beings, whose online life is almost certainly a curation of their most flattering photos, witty repartee, their best selves, businesses cannot allow this kind of duplicity to creep into their virtual identities. Consumers have a nose for corporate blurb in their personal spaces.

For B2B communication Facebook is something of a damp squib, however as a tool to offer customer service, technical advice, brand awareness, recruitment, even crisis management it should be considered part of your overall consumer arsenal.

The slog of blogs

The harsh and possibly hard to swallow secret about blogging is that most blogs are read and enjoyed most by the author, their immediate loved ones, and a few colleagues. There are some fantastically successful and lucrative blogs, but for the most part, the time sacrificed by the millions of individuals who sweat blood and tears creating content they hope will be ‘sticky’ for years to come, is wasted. The majority of blogs, be they consumer or trade-facing, are targeting an audience that simply isn’t there. It’s known as the one-hand clapping theory.

Imagine you are a working mum in your late thirties. You’re on Facebook, Twitter, you subscribe to a couple of blogs. Word of mouth has sent you to kitchensfromsunderland.co.uk . You speedily browse the product galleries, scan the testimonials.

Some of your buying buttons are pressed so you take note of the address. You copy and paste the post code into Google Maps to see how long it will take you to get to the showroom. Research indicates that you’ve been on the site for barely a minute and this is probably one of three you will visit during your research.

Given how little time you have dedicated so far, are you really going to scroll down 14 months of How to get the most out of your kitchen or The Grid explained? Are you really going to come back again and again after the kitchen is snagged and in use? If you’re looking for inspiration, wouldn’t you have picked up a glossy from the newsagent?

The most successful blogs aren’t one-hit wonders trying to prove you know what you are doing selling kitchens or bathrooms, they are an ongoing story, a relationship, not PR blurb copy and pasted into blogger.com. They are also aggressively interactive and not the creation of marketers and hucksters who will take your money and sell you the idea that a blog, which they can, of course, write for you if need be, will make you money or friends.

Tellingly B2B blogs, necessarily inward-looking, and discussion platforms such as LinkedIn, have proved this even more emphatically. Three years ago a broadsheet newspaper publisher undertook a hush-hush root and branch analysis of its active commenters and the results were less than salutary: the percentage of readers who commented and interacted was less than 0.1% and it’s the same 0.1%. Mining deeper into the data revealed that of this 0.1%, a large majority were agoraphobics and prisoners. Luckily the kbb industry is an exception!

So in the name of decluttering your SN activities ask yourself the following: if you were paying yourself by the hour to write it, would you make that money back? Do you have the writing skills to pull it off? Are you blogging, ie, offering the chance for your readers to respond, or are you copy and pasting your press releases?

If you are still convinced, your final job is to determine how to integrate your business blog into your traditional marketing material, stationary, email signatures and web site. If you still believe it is worthwhile, this is the minimum commitment to publicising your blogging.

To Tweet or not to Tweet?

There are two types of Tweets. The kind that are commented on, retweeted and favourited and there is everything else, which, combined, account for half a billion a day. As a route to market it can, when used to its fullest potential, become a wonderfully immediate method of intra-industry networking that needn’t put prohibitive stress on your internal resources.

The kbb industry is blessed with many talented, witty and feisty Tweeters who offer up a mix of updates on new offers to their clients, trenchant responses to issues facing their peers and amusing asides on their working days. In this context Twitter is the ultimate peer-to-peer network.

It is also swamped with less skilled business practitioners who are not utilising either the benefits of speed or communicating to an audience that wants to listen. These are the people who have not analysed their feed sufficiently to see that ‘How was your weekend?’ is a question best put to your fellow office workers, not to 1,000 time-starved fellow kitchen and bathroom insiders.

They are the usually the same people who use the auto-post feature so they tell us ‘I’ve just posted a picture to Facebook’ without telling us why we should care, let alone hit the link.

The only crime worse than peppering your Tweets with multiple exclamation points so you come over like an over-caffeinated teen, is the assumption that once you have sold a bathroom suite with accessories to Mr and Mrs Everybody, they want to scroll through 200 messages a week promoting a sale or new brochure.

Neither business or consumer constituents have the time or inclination – of all the SNs, 80% of users prefer to engage with brands on Facebook, so are you selling or pummelling? Perversely, the single most useful task a business can make on Twitter to consumers is seriously underused – 56% of customer Tweets to companies are totally ignored. What a waste.

But it’s not all doom and gloom…. Social media is a game-changer, rare in its ability to make your company more likeable to your customers. The really inspiring thing about social networks is that the final set of rules of engagement have yet to be written and there is nothing to stop you and your brand carving new territory that is meaningful to you and your audience. In other words, be a leader, not a follower.

The top SN checklist

  • Ask yourself who your real customer on social networks is
  • Keep it real – use real words not euphemisms. A toilet is a toilet not a WC
  • Spend time on your fans rather than trying to get new ones, and always reward engagement
  • Accept a soft justification for attributing human resources to your social networks – data mining from all the major platforms is sketchy at best. Define your own success benchmarks and revisit periodically
  • Magnetise your media by establishing primary and secondary constituents and identify what each group needs
  • Think of social networks as being internal as well as external – would your staff benefit from a closed Facebook group where company news can be disseminated? It’s easy to become obsessed about click-throughs and ROI, but it’s short-term thinking – social media is about word of mouth and even if the click doesn’t represent a straight sale, it doesn’t mean the sale isn’t there longer term

Antisocial behaviour

In the rush to get online, it can be easy to forget that your SN activities can have unexpected results internally, which is why now is the time to establish a social media policy. This will cover ownership of Twitter addresses. Should one of your employee’s feeds become wildly popular, what happens when they leave? Do you have a SN agreement lodged with HR covering usage and ownership and does it address how unwanted behaviour online will be disciplined? Forearmed is forewarned in this instance.