May 8th, 2009 by Mo

Original Article by David Nelles

All beginning is hard. The dialog with customers in user generated communication channels will be more than just a free will thing to do in the future, but utmost it will become the obligation of companies. After companies have been quite detached in the last decades from their customers in regard to the communications, and now they bring consumers and suppliers back together on the same level. The imbalance of power between brands and consumers has shifted in favor of the consumer. Through social media consumers are able to talk eye to eye with companies and brands. Thus, communication with consumers in digital area requires the long forgotten abilities such as dialog capability, authenticity, and transparency.  The shift of media usage will put tremendous pressures upon companies to re-adopt these abilities. The classical work of the communication collides often with the new media. Thereby, five fundamental mistakes stand out the most in regard to the social media handling:

Not being true to self. Authentic dialog also means that brands i.e. companies are communicating themselves and hence, the communication must be transparent. Transparency begins there, where users i.e. consumers can recognize with whom they actually talk to. The temptation for brands to be actively engaged in a hidden way through social media is quite alluring, but over time this could actually endanger the brand image and dialog with users. Sony, Walmart and Vichy were example from the past for such failed and fake maneuver way into social media. Only a transparent dialog with target groups will help in countering this kind of risk.

Not listening to users.  Even, when it somehow hurts, it won’t be often enough said: All beginning of the company’s efforts in the area of social media must be to listen first. Social media strategies are dialog solutions and not monolog strategies. Hence, the start of each dialogs lies in listening. If one foregoes a social media monitoring, then one can hardly find the right target group. Furthermore, one cannot determine which topics the potential customers in social media are actually interested on. Who is deaf and actively engaged as brands in the area of user generated media will harvest only on disappointment – that for certain.

Not finding the right words. Marketers are often having trouble speaking the language of social media. Real dialog is more than just a press release, advertising statements or tight- lipped PR statement. A good social media strategy is definitely not just another one-way channel for press releases and brand messages. Social media marketing means: Humanize your brand. Particularly, this applies in addressing the target group. The dialog must have a real added value for users, and for them this begins with a real authentic dialog.

Focusing solely on sales.  This is in my honest opinion one of the cardinal mistakes. Social media marketing is not online marketing. Measuring the success of social media marketing strategies with metrics of classical online marketing is surely not the right objective. Social media can’t be reduced simply into relation between clicks and sales. Social media marketing is the building of consumer engagement and brand image. Such metrics might not lead to a direct or clear classified buying decision, but they do show quite significant influence for buying decisions in the future. Another reason, why sales and social media only contingently fit each other: What happen with party guests, who try to involve other guests in sales conversation? Yes – They won’t be invited to the next party. The same thing applies for brands, which in their social media efforts only try to get users to buy the products. Such brands won’t have the long lasting success in social media, since no one would want to listen anymore.

Micro instead of macro approach. Big companies have obviously problems in handling social media as one whole communication process and hence, online sales department might be in charged for a group page in facebook, or company communication in charged for a corporate blog and a brand with its own twitter stream. Multiple closed communication ways within the company is the result out of such strategies. This kind of approach would only lead to confusion and the target group would not perceive the company as one unit. It’s quite decisive for user to have a voice or at least to be able to communicate with other voices. Social media must exist outward as one uniformly communication string. Hence, the various activities should be coordinated and structured on top of one another.

The listed cases, which often occur by inappropriate application of social media, are certainly not the only rocky obstacles for professional’s communicators. Nevertheless, the cases do show how companies and brands still need to get use to the direct contact with their target group. This kind of contact needs not only a different way of thinking but also a mid-term structural change in the communication processes within the company. Hence, structures of the classical communication work require a change management as to keep in touch with target group in the future.