These days, companies looking to sell their products through a Web site have to deal with more than just search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). A high PageRank on Google and quality ad placement is no longer enough to make an Internet presence easy to find for potential customers. Google’s analysis algorithm now also factors in links posted on Facebook and other social media channels.
From an SEO perspective, opinions differ on how highly Google values links from Facebook to companies’ official Web sites. According to a recent McKinsey study, however, people trust each other more than they do search engines. Purchase recommendations from friends and acquaintances, for instance, carry more weight than the results of an online search.
Put away the scattergun
At the Internet World event in Munich, Germany, online marketing experts, sales agents, and Web site operators joined the more than 170 exhibitors in attendance for 120 presentations on the topics of social media, e-commerce, e-payment, usability, and Web site technology.
The recurring theme? In short, less is more. Not every social media channel is suited to every company. The business world is moving away from a scattergun approach toward more targeted use. Facebook, Twitter, and the rest only make sense for companies capable of combining them with other marketing campaigns in meaningful ways.
Read on for more on the following subjects:
- Social media for companies: What really makes sense?
- A social media checklist
- The measurability of campaigns
Social media for companies: What really makes sense?
In his opening presentation, Antony Mayfield – founding partner of the consultancy Brilliant Noise – compared social media to “glasnost and perestroika.” Much like Soviet politics at the end of the 1980s, social media will trigger a shift in policy-making, Mayfield stated, citing WikiLeaks as an example.
Business consultant Andrew Thorndike, meanwhile, presented more specific social media strategies for companies in his speech. He called for a holistic approach, emphasizing the relevance of social media channels besides Facebook and Twitter – such as Digg, YouTube, and Flickr. Each platform, Thorndike said, offers its own unique functions and should be utilized accordingly. Whether it’s mobile marketing, on-location business advertising, online campaigns, or fan pages on Facebook, companies should strive to achieve synergies among all of the communication channels they use.
Blogs replacing print media
Thorndike continued by describing how social media are changing the greater media landscape. Conventional television advertising is giving way to YouTube videos, blogs are supplanting print media, and the public has gone from watching the latest news scroll by on tickers to reading it as it comes in on Facebook and Twitter.
No matter what social media companies choose, Thorndike urged them to bear the diversity of such channels in mind. It makes little sense for an insurance company, for instance, to become active on Facebook; using Twitter to provide support and inform customers of new offerings would be a much more worthwhile endeavor.
A social media checklist
To support their social media platforms, companies need to deploy departments of employees that deal exclusively with Web 2.0 activities. Such employees should be tasked with driving communication and increasing products’ brand power. Other employees should also be involved, however: Companies need to use clear social media guidelines to define their strategies and hold their staff to these rules in order to prevent legal violations. Here, organizations should pay special attention to marking personal – and particularly, political – opinions as such to disclaim any association with them.
Scout24 Group engaging social media across departments
Ergin Iyilikci, vice president of the Scout24 Group, was also on hand to explain his company’s social media strategy. Scout24 currently has 25 employees – in departments ranging all the way from HR and product management to PR and online marketing – who blog, tweet, and post in various forums. Together, they form a type of social Web competence center that handles strategies, concepts, content, and technology. Whether it’s ImmobilienScout24, FinanzScout24, FriendScout24, AutoScout24, or JobScout24, each of the company’s subsidiaries can decide for itself which channels are relevant to its work. In the case of the real-estate portal ImmobilienScout24, for example, the CRM, PR, and HR departments use Facebook and Twitter, while online marketing is primarily active on YouTube and Flickr. The human resources department also makes use of Xing.
Iyilikci also provided his listeners with a checklist of points companies should clarify before getting started with social media:
- Usage of social media during working hours
- Employees’ personal responsibilities
- Limits on the expression of opinions
- Copyright violations
- Security aspects (images, subjects, technology)
- Company affiliation when posting through private accounts
In addition, companies need to acknowledge that fake accounts are taboo. Employees should go online in person and maintain profiles that verify them as authentic individuals. If customers express criticism or complaints on Facebook or Twitter, the affected company’s corporate communications department should respond, heeding the same rules of fair play that apply in sports. Online platforms are not an appropriate forum for vilifying competitors.
Monitoring the effectiveness of social media campaigns
In addition to all these considerations, however, every company has to ask itself even more important questions: How do we benefit from social media? Are people finding us on these platforms? What are they saying?
Tina Hoffmann, communications manager at Telefónica Germany (formerly O2), explained how the telecommunications company uses Web monitoring services from ethority to measure the impact of its social media campaigns. First, the company specifies certain keywords, such as “dropped calls,” “broken,” “rip-off,” “cancellation,” or “lawsuit.” Then, whenever a user posts a comment containing any of these words, a Telefónica employee receives an alert.
Three colors of crisis management
In this system, potential problems are assessed according to a system of traffic lights. Comments posted by provocateurs simply trolling for attention, for example, are rated as harmless. A greater threat is imminent when comments quickly spread, opinion leaders begin driving the discussion, and the number of those participating rapidly rises. Finally, the situation goes red if the criticism starts affecting other aspects of the company in question and reaches conventional, yet still far-reaching media, such as newspapers and television.
When it receives an alert, Telefónica’s corporate communications team assesses the situation. After conferring with marketing, production, and other involved departments, the company’s employees offer corresponding solutions to the customers in question.
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