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5 Simple Steps for Effective Social Web Engagement

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October 01, 2012
Marketing - Social
Joseph E. Buhler

Successful writers and copywriters suggest using lists to create reader engagement. In the interest of full disclosure, this article is not a how-to laundry list of simple tactical social media steps.

Engaging with customers using the social Web can be done by following a number of steps. Some steps are easy and some less so. However, starting this way often causes many well-intentioned efforts to fail. Focusing too early on tactics shows a basic misunderstanding of how fundamental human interaction has been affected by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. These tools have ushered in completely new ways of interaction and communication. The resulting radical transparency poses new challenges that go beyond just marketing. 

The fact is, not only marketing and communications but general business practices have to face up to this new reality. As Brian Solis of Altimeter Group has perfectly stated, “It’s the end of business as usual!”

Today’s customers, and not only Millennials or GenY, but those in any demographic or psychographic group have higher expectations when it comes to products, services and especially interactions with organizations. Yesterday’s approach to separate customer relationship management from marketing must change and transform into an integrated communications system. This has to happen not tomorrow but today.

Once this new reality is embraced, the real work can begin. If this fundamental shift is understood, it becomes clear that we are talking about more than having an account and presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest with some cool photos. Those tactical tools play a role in interacting with an audience, but the preparation starts at a higher level.

Before addressing these tactics of how, the strategic question of why needs to be asked following this ancient advice by Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory – Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Before making a decision to engage with customers using social media as a tool, it requires an analysis of the corporate culture. This is shaped primarily by the CEO, not the CMO or anyone else at the C-level. Those people will have a key role to play in spreading culture across the organization and in obtaining buy-in from everyone. Successful companies work in a culture of open transparency and trust, creating honesty and authenticity in both internal and external communications before social media is even discussed.

An approach that addresses the essential steps of culture and employee buy-in has a higher level of believability of the marketing effort, eliminates thinking in silos and establishes personal accountability. Customers expect one consistent voice and not a dissonant cacophony when interacting with representatives of a brand.
Reality often shows a different picture, one where skeptics of social media still consider it a waste of time and think that it is used mostly by bored teenagers to talk about what they ate for breakfast or post photos of party behavior. This attitude is a misunderstanding of the positive role social media plays as part of an integrated, overall business strategy. Hundreds, if not thousands of case studies published across the Web are evidence of success. Many companies talk about customer focus and employees being their most important assets without walking the talk. If those statements are taken at face value, logic dictates that using social tools improves both customer interaction and empowers employees, and should be embraced as part of smart business strategy. It would also be understood that taking action results in more satisfied customers and turns them into advocates who ultimately have a positive impact on the bottom line.

The skeptics have either never tried or have failed in their efforts by not starting the process by asking the essential strategic question, why. The opposite is likely true, where the focus has been first put on the tactical tools, often left in the hands of inexperienced employees or outside consultants expecting short-term results. This cart-before-the-horse approach is the shortest way to produce an ineffective social Web engagement that even Sun Tzu would agree.

Joseph E. Buhler is a principal with buhlerworks, a consultancy company providing smart social Web marketing solutions for travel, tourism and destinations.

©2012 Hospitality Upgrade
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