(This is an interview I wrote as a ghost writer, answering the questions here provided. Questions and answers that are irrelevant to this portfolio have been removed)
1) Businesses are starting to exploit social networking. What is their approach? Is it cautious or are they embracing it wholeheartedly?
There is definitely a strong awareness of social networking. Quite a few businesses are completely on board and sold on social media while others are approaching it slowly and with caution. Obviously there are always going to be some that completely refuse to exploit this medium.
When it comes to social networking the approach varies depending on the type of business operation and especially depending on the individuals behind it. Some businesses engage in social networking with the pure intention of increasing potential returns while others look for branding and the exciting new forms of dialogues that social networking brings along with it.
2) What aspects of social networking are being used most by businesses?
There are myriad ways to use social networking in business. Many local businesses use Facebook Pages and Groups in tandem with their existing websites, as well as running Facebook Ad campaigns. Pages and Groups are excellent for the promotion of new products and/or special offers, as well as any communication the business owner feels may strike a chord with their customer base.
Twitter, although a laggard on the local scene, is a world-leading player in the social media game. Huge companies use Twitter on a regular basis for many scopes, not to mention infamous profiles such Number 10 Downing Street, found here: twitter.com/DowningStreet.
3) Can you give some foreign and some local examples of social networking in business?
The biggest computer manufacturer worldwide is Dell. Not only does Dell own multiple Twitter accounts through which they tweet new products and special offers, but their CEO tweets regularly from his personal profile here twitter.com/michaeldell. What this means, in essence, is that the CEO of a $60 Billion company with 100,000 employees is letting you know what he thinks about on a daily basis.
Ford, one of the automotive industry giants, has appointed a Head of Social Media. Scott Monty, who tweets from twitter.com/scottmonty, says that he (and Ford) are on Twitter because “It’s part of a larger social media strategy to humanize the Ford brand and put consumers in touch with Ford employees.”
The Marriott International chain of hotels also tweets on a regular basis. John Wolf is the senior director of public relations and your Twitter concierge on behalf of the Marriott hotel chain. He says that the Twitter account was a natural extension from the Chairman’s blog, which was started in 2007.
Even media companies such as the Travel Channel use Twitter extensively. Pete Dorogoff works in Digital Marketing for the cable TV channel and has stated that “Tweeting is a great way for us to connect fans directly with our talent. It allows us to reach our most loyal followers in a personal way.” He also insists that there’s a balance in what is valuable information to their audience and the Travel Channel strives for connection and engagement, yet without overloading anyone.
The 17th biggest Facebook fan page globally is Coca Cola, found here: facebook.com/coca-cola. This is calculated according to the largest number of fans. Incidentally, the late Michael Jackson’s fan page has the most, at 10,551,163. Is ten million followers not invaluable for any brand, be it a personal or business brand?
As for local examples, quite a few business use Facebook pages to keep their customers abreast of new products, special offers and as a communication fora. These include long standing businesses such as Jubilee and Exotique, to newly opened ones such as Tigne’s The Point.
Social networks have worked very well for brands both big and small. With over 240,000 Maltese on Facebook, it is obvious that the returns to be made from exploiting these new media are massive, for where else are you likely to find such huge crowds, coupled with extremely strong demographic targeting?
4) For a typical Maltese business (SME) what are the basic steps to undertake to start using social networking?
Plan, and plan well. You need to think of 4 things before you even log on anywhere. These are:1. Who is your audience?
You need to know this, or at least, what kind of audience you are trying to capture. If you sell cars, your audience will be smaller and more select than if you are selling salted peanuts. It would also help if you could categorize your audience as a whole, segmented into Watchers, Sharers, Producers, Commenters and Curators. Different audiences require different set ups. For example, an audience of Watchers is less likely to share their opinion, whether Commenters are, so that would need to be reflected upon.
Of course, it is of extreme help if you know more about your users, so that you do the right thing. If you set up a Google Group, yet none of your uses uses them, you are wasting your time. In a nutshell, find out where your people are ‘hanging out’ online, what they are doing, what they like, and then craft your messaging to reflect that.2. Very clear goal
Why are you doing this? Don’t get into social media simply for the sake of it. It will overwhelm and perplex you. However, if you carefully craft your parameters and goals, it will be fruitful and rewarding. Do you want ‘soft, feel good’ metrics such as brand awareness, or do you want hard figures such as increased online sales or more page views on your website?
At this point you also need to listen. Research your own brand and your competitors, find out what people are saying about you and your ilk. Only in this way will you know what pitfalls to avoid. Remember that once on social media, you don’t own the brand any longer, rather, the users do. You must understand that the power is now in the hands of consumers.3. Action plan
Next up is talking to the experts. Find people or brands who run successfully on and with social media, ask them about their mistakes, fears and what they have learnt. Draw up time frames and targets for what is going to be ‘live’ by when. And now it’s the time to get excited!4. Tools, tactics, techniques
The above are of extreme importance. Tools may include analytical site traffic tools, coupon codes, online submission forms, as well as larger infrastructures, such as an e-commerce platform if you don’t own one.
The tactics one adopts on social media are also paramount. Do not preach, do not sell hard! We are surrounded by marketing, and a large portion of it fails. As Charlene Li (of Altimeter Group fame) says “It’s not about selling something anymore; that might be the end result, but to get there, you need to work on the relationship.”
5) What about privacy and security issues in social networking for businesses?
Security and privacy need not be issues to a business on social networks. You are not going to open your technical back-end to any user, of course, and for the most part, privacy is a non-issue as well. If you are the owner of a blog, Facebook Page or Group or a Twitter account, you will control what is posted online.
What you do need to know is that now criticism and complaints will be more public than ever. This is not as bad as it may sound, remember that if someone takes time out of their day to let you know what is wrong with your product, you should listen to them, they are your best customers! Do not get defensive, rather explain your point and be diplomatic, and remember, you are doing this in a public forum. You will realise that social media are working for well for you when you are humbled by them and the sheer scale they have. Do it well, and you could be riding this huge wave.
6) Is social networking really here to stay or is it just a fad?
The evidence seems to point towards social networks becoming ever more ubiquitous. Facebook exceeded Google in global traffic only very recently. Farmville, the infamous online game, was launched in June 2009, and by October of that year had over 60 million users. Locally, Hi5 was once the flagship of social networks. Now, it’s been crushed by Facebook. With the advent of OpenID, allowing users a single point of log in for email and all social networks, it seems that rather than an abandonment of social media, what is next is a massive consolidation. People are spending more hours online than ever, so if any social networks do die out, new models will be readily available to replace them. What is certain, however, is that the rewards are already there for the taking right now. Fortunes have been made, and with the gargantuan figures involved, one would not expect otherwise.
7) Anything else you would like to add?
Social media is both new and exciting. Do not be afraid. If you rise to the challenge as many have done, you will engage your user base in ways you never imagined, and create a stronger belief and bond with your brand.
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