Face it – social media is not the answer to customer engagement

I was introduced as a “social media expert” recently on Mornings on Channel Nine – this is something I had not really considered. I’m merely a founding director of a business and through some social media (I have written 645 blog posts at the time of writing) I have sought a public voice to share what I am learning on my journey.

Social media is merely a set of tools – it is not an outcome. I remember 11 years ago when considering the launch of RedBalloon that it was all about “automatically generated email newsletters”. Every business thought they had to have an eNewsetter. What does that really mean when the goal posts seem to be shifting by the hour?

What I do understand to be the motivation behind using social media and how it can be activated as a listening tool, giving valuable insights into a customer base? Social media should not be seen merely as another sales device, and nor should it extend your brand into a place that makes no sense and adds no value.

I have always said that the most important thing in business is to get clear on your personal definition of success. Why are you doing what you’re doing? It could be for the corner office, millions in the bank, and a string of polo ponies. Or it may be married with three children, a house, and enough disposable income to take an overseas holiday once every two years.

At RedBalloon, our definition of success is delivering meaningful experiences to our customers. Success is different to everybody and until you have your own definition of it, you’ll probably flounder, wondering why you ‘can’t do it all’. It’s not about doing and having it all – it’s about understanding what your “all” is and staying true to it. When you’re clear on what your success means, make sure everything the business does is working towards that goal.

It seems traditional businesses are rushing online, creating Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and seeking invites to Pinterest like they’re going out of fashion. There is so much talk about social media and every business needing to be in the space; but social media is not a business strategy. Yes, it’s a tactic when used as part of a larger campaign or strategy, but simply having a Facebook page, tweeting every now and then, and pinning pretty pictures is not a business strategy. Who’s interested? And who’s listening?

It all comes down to relevance. Where are your customers and how do they want to interact with you? Do they even want to interact with you? You’re the local dry cleaner – do you really need a Twitter account? What are you going to contribute to the conversation? Maybe some tips on how to remove tomato sauce from silk…

Some businesses have no personality by their very nature. Don’t try to be a square peg contorting into a round hole. Social media is not one-size-fits-all, and in some cases it won’t ever fit. There’s no point having a blog if you’ve got nothing to say. Writing one article that is seen by three people will not make a difference to your business. Focus your energy and attention on the important stuff that will deliver value to your business and your customers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are businesses and brands out there that use social media very successfully – Kikki K has more than 30,000 Facebook fans, and Michelle Bridges’ 12-Week Body Transformation Revolution has more than 75,000.

Then there are examples like 99 Dresses, the online service that offered customers the chance to swap their old clothes for an ‘infinite closet’. While they’re currently in the process of re-building their site, the brand was initially launched through Facebook, winning tens of thousands of fans before they had even launched.

Social media can be very powerful when activated correctly and with the right motivation. Consider what social media success looks like to you – and who might be interested? Why does your business need social media? Why does your business want social media? Are you simply trying to keep up with the “Joneses”, or is there a clear business opportunity and benefit to be had by building better relationships?

And, arguably most importantly, how will social media extend the conversation and make the customer experience better?

Naomi Simson is considered to be one of Australia’s Best Bosses. An employee engagement advocate, she practises what she preaches in her own business. RedBalloon was named as one of only six Hewitt Best Employers in Australia and New Zealand for 2009 and awarded an engagement scorecard of over 90% two years in a row – the average in Australian businesses is 55%. BRW also nominated RedBalloon in its list of top 10 Best Places to Work in Australia, behind the likes of Google.

One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a passionate speaker inspiring people on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. A blogger and a published author, she has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, RedBalloon.com.au.

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