Last summer, furniture retailer Habitat attracted a wave of adverse publicity by issuing irrelevant tweets in which they crudely forced themselves into highly popular Twitter topics. To add to the negative PR blizzard one of the topics included the Iranian democracy protests which were occurring at the same
time. This effectively meant that people who were looking for Twitter updates on Iranian government repression were subjected to tweets from Habitat about their new range of bathroom accessories!
While Habitat blamed the incident on an inexperienced intern (which leads to the question – why did their communications manager give a student intern complete control over the company’s main social media channel?), the Habitat Twitter story also highlights the question of how brands should interact with social media.
EngagementProbably the first and most important factor to consider about social media marketing is the need to engage. Many companies still use social media channels as broadcast tools. They think if they send out enough sales and promotions information then they have ‘ticked the box’ for social media. But as the Habitat example shows, there are inherent dangers in using social media as a broadcast channel if it’s not relevant to do so.
The key to social media marketing success is engagement with the social ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ your business has signed up. People who choose to follow brands on social media sites do so because they want engagement with the brand, which doesn’t mean they want to receive boring and irrelevant information on a daily basis. Effective social media marketing works by attracting fans and then using creative, thoughtful and interesting online content which engages with them on a regular basis. Social media savvy brands and agencies are great at designing material such as humorous video content, exclusive interviews and social media apps to share through channels including You Tube and Facebook.
Social RulesIf social media marketing goes wrong, as it did in the Habitat Twitter case, then it’s usually because the brand or business did not understand or follow the myriad of social media customs and rules that have developed during the years. One of the biggest conventions in social media marketing is to listen to what is being said about your brand online.
Typically this involves setting up online monitoring, finding out what your customers want and then communicating with them. Part of the reason why many marketing teams fail in this area is continued use of the same PR tactics used for online media as they deployed for traditional media. However the power to control a brand is fast moving away from the top-down, rigidly hierarchical methods that communications managers have been using for many years.