For businesses, social media marketing can be a double-edged sword. That’s because for every successful social media marketing campaign, like the one that promoted iHeartDogs’ 0% off cyber Monday sale, there are scores of damaging and embarrassing mistakes and failures. Still, there’s no business that can afford to ignore social media, as it’s a valuable and a vital customer engagement and marketing avenue that leaves businesses in the position of finding ways to leverage social media to reach customers without turning them off or crossing any lines.
Fortunately, that’s not as difficult as some companies have recently made it appear so long, as a few simple rules are observed. For brand managers and marketers, here are the three most important unwritten rules of social media customer engagement.
Create a Two-Way Dialogue
According to surveys conducted by the social media management platform Hootsuite, the biggest complaint that people have about businesses on social media is that they tend to focus too much on self-promotion, rather than on creating a relationship with consumers. In many ways, this mirrors the traditional saturation models that have been so common in television and print advertising. That strategy, however, ignores the fact that social media is designed for interaction, and not as a passive medium. Brands that push marketing over actual back-and-forth dialogue with consumers risk irrelevance on social media, or worse, an active backlash.
Assume the Role of a Friend
As odd as it sounds, on social media, all users are equal – including business users. That means that social media users recognize that even business accounts have real people behind them, and tend to treat those accounts the same way they would treat friends, family, and other acquaintances. They will expect a brand’s account to display a sense of humor and a conscience and will reward businesses for possessing those qualities. The key to making this work, though, is a thorough understanding of the target audience. In other words, don’t be afraid to make funny Instagram comments, but make sure the humor is in line with the audience’s sensibilities.
Lead, Don’t Follow
The last, and most critical rule that businesses must follow throughout their social media marketing efforts is to be authentic. Today’s social media users see right through phony attempts by brands to capitalize on trends and the popularity of others. For example, some of the world’s largest brands conspicuously tried to jump on the massively-popular ALS ice bucket challenge, and the results were embarrassing, to say the least. It is a far better tactic to be honest about what your brand is doing on social media, so if you’re planning to jump on a trend, consider eschewing all of the logos and speak to the audience about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Better yet, make every effort to be a trend-setter, instead.
When engaging with customers through social media, it’s crucial to never lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish, other than attracting attention. Ideally, social media platforms should provide a business with the chance to create a unique (and profitable) individual relationships with consumers in a way that was previously impossible. Making that dynamic work to the greatest effect means taking great care to treat consumers the same as you would through any other medium – with respect, deference, and a positive attitude. It’s fine, and encouraged, to let a bit of personality shine through in social media interactions, but they should never eclipse or clash with the brand’s image and mission. If the unwritten rules set forth here are followed, that should never be a problem.