According to Jonah Lipton with the London School of Economics and Political Science, the people of Freetown, Sierra Leone (where Lipton is living while doing his fieldwork), are very much confused about the Ebola outbreak in the region. Lipton wrote in August how social media, and WhatsApp in particular, has greatly contributed to this confusion. Some residents believed the entire thing was a hoax, while others posited that doctors were infecting people for the varied purposes of garnering international aid money, controlling the population through scare tactics, and even as part of a terrorist plot.
What does this have to do with your business using social media marketing, you ask? From one aspect, absolutely nothing. From another, everything.
Wake Up, it's 2014
Social media has morphed rather quickly, from a historical perspective, from an isolated group of tech-savvy college kids trying to get dates into the most ubiquitous form of communication and information delivery in the history of man. The percentage of populations worldwide who aren't involved on social media to some degree is dwindling daily, and the platform has become an integral part of daily life in civilized society.
In simple terms, social media has replaced, to some degree: news broadcasts, newspaper and magazine stories, long distance communications via letters (and even email to a great extent), traditional business advertising, and even entertainment outlets. People get their information from social media, and they communicate with their friends and family through it. It's pervasive, and it's not going anywhere anytime soon.
Consistency in your Message is Key
Getting back to your business, there are two big-picture takeaways from this truth that you need to understand at a very core level, if you haven't already. One, not being actively involved on social media today is akin to refusing to use modern transportation in favor of the old horse-and-buggy mode. You can still get around, but as time passes and new roads are built which restrict your movement in favor of modernity, you will eventually become the strange old man down the road that no one talks to anymore. That's not good if you're trying to sell your wares to the folks speeding past in cars. This is obvious, and you've been beat over the head quite enough at this point by plenty of evangelists, including me.
Second, because (virtually) everyone has access to and contributes to the social story, there isn't any room for mixed messages if you are promoting a brand or product. This means that you need to get a grip on what your message is, and make sure that you are exerting as much control over it as possible, taking proactive steps to ensure that no matter where you are engaging with the public, the same message is being presented every time and to everyone.
Kill the Gap
The first step to truly integrating and consolidating your brand's message is to realize that marketing is marketing, customer service is customer service, and sales is sales. Social media marketing has for too long been considered a separate campaign that is devised and carried out from a different angle and by different people than other marketing campaigns.
The same goes for other aspects of business such as customer service and sales. They are all one. You never used to hire different marketing agencies for your print, television, and radio advertising, and social media is not some alien organism that requires something completely different. Different strategies, sure. Different implementation, somewhat. But it's still marketing, and you have to understand that online and offline must become one entity. You must kill the gap between them.
I offer you two strategies to begin crushing this gap:
1. Integrate your customer service - You should have a dedicated Twitter account for customer service. If you're doing business online, people now expect this. However, there can't be a disconnect between your online customer service and your real-world customer service channels. For instance, if you normally have a 3-4 day turnaround time on customer issues in-store or over the phone, you can let customers who contact you via Twitter know that they can expect a resolution in that same time frame. Setting proper expectations is vital. However, you can respond to them within a few hours to let them know this. Work towards improving your customer service times by using your Twitter account to speed up communications.
2. Cross-promote everywhere - This will help you to stop thinking of your various channels as separate animals and see them as a single entity. Instead of a zoo, think of it as an octopus. The various arms are all connected at and controlled by the central point. Use hashtags as a connecting fiber. They can be used effectively on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, and others. Every print ad or television spot should include these hashtags as well. Print ads should tell them to like you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter. Pinterest should connect them to your website. Each arm should lead them to the central body, and all should reference at least one other arm. Time and experimentation will let you know which arms are the most effective.
To effectively manage what is likely a fairly unwieldy beast at the moment, you need the right tools. The best thing you can do for your business, unless you are outsourcing everything, is to invest in quality social media management software. This will save you time and frustration in a number of ways. First, it makes posting to a variety of platforms extremely easy and saves a huge amount of time. It will also let you respond to each comment or enquiry from a single place, which again saves time and effort.
Beyond that, it will allow you to monitor the web for mentions of your brand. This has more than a few positive effects. It allows you to reach out to potential customers that you may not have been aware of before. You will also be aware of any reviews that are posted about your brand, so that you can either thank the reviewer or respond quickly to negative comments in order to mitigate possible damage to your reputation. Reputation management is essential in a world where a single customer can reach millions about their bad experience in a matter of moments.
Running a piecemeal branding strategy will result in crumbs for results. But with the right change in perspective and mindset, along with the tools needed for the job, you can effectively combine those pieces into a comprehensive and powerful business force for marketing, service, sales, and more. If you keep thinking of each arm as a separate entity, you'll soon find that you're creating more frustration for your business than is necessary. And that your customers don't know what to think of you.