"To be, or not to be: That is the question."
This line was made famous more than 400 years ago by Shakespeare's Hamlet; it was at this point in the play that Hamlet meditated on human destiny. The same question is being asked by marketers today as they meditate upon their social media destiny -- and, to many, the answer is a resounding "yes!"
"To post, or not to post" certain content is, perhaps, a more relevant question in the age of social media. It appears that some advice is warranted; a number of companies have recently suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous comments on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.
Kenneth Cole, for example, made light of the unrest in Egypt in a commercial Twitter message. The company posted: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly/KCairo -KC." The Twitter community thought there was "nothing noble" in the company's blatant piggybacking on the crisis in Cairo to promote its spring collection; followers slammed the company for being insensitive.
So, how can a marketer gauge what content is acceptable for marketing via social media and what is not? Alas, poor marketer, I shall tell you.
Talk to your audience
Knowing your audience on each social media channel -- and yes, they can be different -- enables you to develop posts and other content that are relevant and appropriate. Customers viewing your Facebook page will be interested in different content than information seekers following your Twitter feed. These two different channels also require different tones. A more relaxed tone on Facebook may not translate well on Twitter due to the 140-character constraint. Walmart does a good job of approaching its audiences appropriately -- while Walmart's Twitter feed includes posts about its corporate efforts around sustainability and healthy eating, its Facebook posts engage followers with recipes, product highlights, and events.
Engage your followers
It's so easy to post content that some marketers forget to encourage conversation. In the industry it's called "blasting" -- marketers liken it to that pesky person who's trying too hard to be your friend by constantly calling and talking only about herself. Approaching social media like it's a forum for discussion (which it actually is) allows relationships to build naturally and keeps followers coming back for more. To engage followers, ask their opinion and respond appropriately.
Monitor the conversation
Rumors, untruths, and unhappy customers can become magnified online. Tune in to what's being said about your company and respond quickly. When Taco Bell's seasoned beef recently came under attack, the company promptly responded with Twitter and Facebook posts in addition to a YouTube video and newspaper ads. What could have been a real hit to the Taco Bell brand was turned into a positive.
When you create good content and interesting interactions, your followers want more. Don't let them down by going AWOL. This is true for blogging as well; create a list of evergreen topics that can be shared if there's nothing else to talk about. It's important to engage followers throughout the day.
Automate posts -- but be careful
While it's common to automate posts to optimize your time, this can come back to haunt you. A Facebook post about drinking too much at a party that feeds through to your LinkedIn account will surely give you a hangover.
Be where it makes sense
Don't stretch yourself too thin by trying to be everywhere. Find the social media channels that make sense for your audience. Research the various channels, their audiences, and the tone of their platforms before diving in. Chick-fil-A, a fast-food restaurant chain, does this well. Engraining itself into the community, the company uses social media to announce special events, organizations it supports, and daily specials. Chick-fil-A even invites its 3.7 million Facebook followers to participate in rating new sandwiches.
Finally, a few topics to avoid if you want to keep your customers:
- Political views or support of politicians. Nothing can turn off a customer faster than a company that is viewed as being in favor of a particular political party.
- Criticism that can be taken out of context. Be positive in your posts.
- Personal contact information. If you need to be accessible to a customer, send your contact information directly.
- Humor that some may not find funny. If the joke requires voice inflection or a picture to work, don't use it.
- Anything inappropriate. This includes off-color jokes, criticism of the competition, and so forth.
To paraphrase Shakespeare once again: Let's end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that bad content is heir to.
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