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Understanding Social Media and how to manage…

Understanding Social Media and what tools to use to make it easier to manage your brand in the world of Social.

Social Media is a networking tool that allows for rich conversations by including all sorts of media types (video, images, text, web pages, sms etc.) into an interoperable platform. Or, in Plain English you can access your Social Media anywhere anytime and pretty much from any web enabled device like an iPhone/PC or laptop for instance.

Networking or the term networking is not new, it was popularised in the1990’s but has really come into its own with the advent of Web 2.0 and the maturing Internet. We all have heard of sites like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and all sorts of new real-time services starting up like Twitter and Foursquare.

These services are really important now due to the fact that with these networks large groups of consumers, organisations and movements are building large and vocal groups. These social networks and groups within the networks are turning the power of communications around from what has been the traditional owner of the message (corporate/marketing communications) to the Social Media Networks users. These users can either love or hate your brand and services. Social Media users and groups are not afraid to spread the positive or negative critique of brands through these communities, on mass, as quick as you can type the message in fact and hit “send”.

So how do you monitor what is being ‘said’ and ‘sent’, how should your business engage in Social Media and what tools are available?

Before you jump in and start signing up and broadcasting on social networks you need to have a plan as to what your objectives are. We believe that social media is a great way for ‘real organisations with real people people’ to have real interactions and to humanise the conversation between companies and customers.

In effect, the opportunity is to create a open and interactive channel for people to be ‘real’ whilst still representing their organisation in an open and trusted manner.

We also believe that social media is a great way to manage the customer and to understand what is important to different customers who interact with your brand.

So how do I start to manage what is being said?

We will look at Twitter first because there are a lot of FREE tools available for Twitter now and it is also one of the best examples of real time customer management opportunities.

Twitter has grown at an exceptional rate and does allow for 1-to-1 discussions as well as 1-to-Many with tweets to people who follow you, or lists that users make about topics and then here is the whole of Twitter messages via the tweet stream 1-to-All!

So, how do you find people talking about your brand and service on Twitter, there are many tools out there but we use one which allows for multiple users in your business and can actively create reports and insight about your brand. We use a service called Co-Tweet.

Co-Tweet enables you to search the ‘tweet stream’ of what is being said about your brand and for you to ‘listen in’ to the conversation and consider a meaningful response.  Then implement a response from one of your team members back to the user(s) tweeting about a your brand and service. The great thing is that you can set up multiple users on a single account for your company and append initials so you know who said what and when it looks like this:

“Integratidirect said: We use co-tweet to manage all our Twitter conversations IM”

This is very helpful as there may be several people working in the business and in the rush to respond a team member may not be aware that a response had been made or if one had who had sent the tweet. Co-Tweet removes this issue. The last two characters at the end of the message stand for Integrati Marketing, but these can of course be a team member’s initials or Department.

What is even better is that you can assign ‘tweets’ to team members to follow up, as it may be a Sales question instead of a Technical Question. This way the tweet goes to the right department so that the customer gets the right information the first time.

Also, you can schedule ‘tweets’ for future dates (think of promotions and breaking news only for Twitter!), review tweets from people who your business is following, save searches and all in a single easy to use dashboard.

So what this is the beginnings of is really a Social CRM space for customer relationship management and real time engagement.

This is important for Small Medium business as it means your team will have access to the same tools which large corporate like Ford (a Co-Tweet customer) have access to and use now.

To review Co-Tweet check it out here. It is a great opportunity to manage your brand online and currently it is FREE to register.

Another service which allows for really simple network syndication of your updates from Twitter to Facebook, MySpace, Linkedin etc and Twitter itself is Ping.FM.

Ping.FM is a dashboard of all your Social Networks tools that you can enable via secure Application Programming Interface or API. What an API does is allow a secure connection between Ping.FM and the chosen Social Network using your Social Network log-in and the API string which is a secure code or public key that is encrypted. Your API is unique to you so no one else should be allowed or be able to access your public API key.

What you will need to so is spend about 15-20mins on each service you want to include in Ping.FM. But this is time well spent, when in a single ‘Tweet’ you can send up-dates to all your social network sites through Ping.FM in one ‘send’. Great stuff! But you have to use the Ping.FM Portal to do so.

So, as a wrap up,

Social Media is a great opportunity to engage with your customers by listening to what they have to say about your business, and then you can choose to respond to their conversation and engage with them.

Even better, through the engagement you have an opportunity to build your brand, save and retain customers and win on other potential customers who are listening in.

Also, the all through this discussion I have not mentioned one important factor, time. There is no way around it but it will take time to both build your Social Network and also participate. Like all good online tools and services you need to choose how much time your business can invest in managing your brand and when to engage. But at the very least you should be listening to what people are saying about your brand so you are aware and can then choose to engage or not.

I am positive we will see an immense growth in online solutions offering Social CRM applications and value to Small Medium business in the next couple of years. We will keep you up-to-date with the best tools available and will also be looking into some solutions for our clients that can help them manage this new space where word of mouth and reputation management is King.