If you are reading this piece, you likely reached it via Social Media. Congratulations and thank you – you’re in the 69% of U.S. adults using at least one Social platform in 2018.
So much is happening in the Social Age. The possibilities are nearly endless – from hours of cat videos, to sharing moments in our lives, and connecting with those near and far. To be sure, there are ambivalent feelings about this relatively new technology – on the part of both users and Marketers.
Should we really be surprised that a colossal upheaval of human social interaction would have side effects? Probably not.
Marketing Rules Are Evolving
With rules of Marketing engagement changing rapidly, there can be a fear of engaging your audience. What would you say? There are so many platforms to learn. What will they say back – “they” being your audience? It may feel safer to hide in the shadows and avoid it, if/when possible. However, this approach is proving increasingly challenging to brands. They are vying for attention in traditional Marketing media, which is characterized by being expensive and doesn’t allow for 2-way communication. As the pool of audience attention continues to shift to digital, the ROI of not shifting with the audience becomes ever more costly.
For this reason, and despite the potential negatives, smart brands are engaging their audience with gusto. They are unleashing their inner Superhero to cut through the cautious norms that have held their brand back from realizing their digital potential.
This sets the stage for questions that Marketer Gabor wants to know: what opportunities have been created? Are Marketers maximizing – or missing – these prospects? How can I leverage these openings to create value for all parties involved? What are the downsides and how can I protect against them?
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers. That’s why I’ve assembled a balanced and diverse group of leaders – Marketing Superheros even – whose collective presence in one article might break the Internet. Lucky for you, it’s a risk I’m willing to take because I want to provide you, the reader, with the ultimate insights. You are welcome!
Expert Insights Shared
John Legere – T-Mobile CEO by day, Batman by night, and slow-cooker chef on Sundays – uses Social…like a boss, to the tune of 46k Tweets and 5.94M Followers. Here’s what he shared with me about how he views Social Media.
Building upon Batman’s comments, Dr. Anna Pietraszek– Storyteller, Digital Marketing Enthusiast and Professor – sees the competitive advantages that brands can reap by fully embracing 2-way communication with their audiences. These are her thoughts:
“Today, consumers can share their opinions instantly. This opportunity allows brands to react rapidly, introduce themselves into the stories, and get as much marketing attention as possible.Brands need to respond quickly to the occasion that delivers a remarkable competitive advantage. Brands can instantly engage buyers by reacting thoughtfully to the opportunity. What is important is the content and quick delivery. The real-time mindset is fundamental for the real-time marketing growth.”
Allinson Ziolkowski– Marketing Communications and Brand Strategy – doubles-down on Dr. Pietraszek’s sentiments, but she also imparts that brands must be balanced in their approach, to avoid harm to their reputation and image.
It is practically impossible for major companies to not have an online presence and as such they need to make sure their communication portrays their brand and who they are as a company accurately. They need to keep in mind their brand’s personality traits when responding to their customers’ comments online. This is key as the company wants to make sure that they keep a cohesive brand image through all their online platforms. It’s also just as important for companies to know their customer’s demographics and psychographics, truly understanding who they are and what inspires them about the brand. The worst thing a company can do is to communicate with their customers in a way that doesn’t reflect their brand personality and values, as this can have a negative impact on their brand image.
Listening Is Often Overlooked
Allinson’s views dovetail nicely with those of Tara Hunt, CEO + Partner of Truly, who sees a massive opportunity that Marketers aren’t properly putting to use: LISTENING.
“One of the most powerful tools that we gained with the advent of the internet and has grown even more powerful in the social age is LISTENING. Before the internet, brands had to pay expensive research houses lots of money to find out what their customers were thinking. Now? They can just follow and listen. All of this fantastic data and information is right there and it’s pretty much free. But here’s the rub: that’s not what most brands are using it for. Instead, many are just using social as another advertising platform. I see this as a lost opportunity, but it isn’t too late. It’s time to invest in listening and learning instead of more broadcasting.”
Isabella Sheehan, Brand Manager of Ruta Maya Coffee, sounds like she’s been working with Tara and the Truly team! Ruta Maya Coffee, based in Austin, Texas, has amassed a cadre of loyal devotees that they leverage smartly. Here’s how:
“In the current media landscape, we can involve our consumers in the development of new products and initiatives. We recently launched a Nitro Cold Brew and looked at our channels as a way to gauge the success of that product. We’ve found that our consumers are quite loyal, and with that comes a willingness to vocalize their thoughts if they feel we missed the mark, something we look at very seriously. We’ve been open to tweaking the recipe based on feedback and have even used online engagement as a way to determine production volume.”
Proceed With Caution
They use the Social Media connection with their followers to inform product development. But prior to that, they established themselves as having core values that are worthy of being followed. Ray Lainez, CEO of World Class Parking, A Luxury Hospitality Company Specializing in Valet Parking & Garage Management Services, believes that a carefully-crafted message is crucial, as well as exhibiting caution.
“I am very careful with how I post. I post more about community events, versus just promoting the business and pushing for sales.More reality to the brand story – for me, that’s what I want to bring into what I am doing right now. The ultimate goal is to get hired, yes, but when people know who I am and what I contribute to the community, it brings more value than just promoting the company directly.”
Gabriel J. Peralta – Marketing Leader, Hispanic Account Coordinator at Zimmerman Advertising, and FIU MSM student – anticipates the negative impact to a brand of the narrative being taken over by the crowdculture, which Douglas Holt of Harvard Business Review coined to describe how “Digital crowds now serve as very effective and prolific innovators of culture.”
I, personally, take every negative comment or review seriously. We have to understand and keep in mind no matter what everybody will always find a way to criticize what we do, say, think, look, etc. Do you recall Starbucks red coffee cup in 2015 for their annual unveiling cups? Marketers are striving to find their footing nowadays, where one small misstep – restaurant chain unveils a holiday cup, a hospital whose patients face lengthy waits, an airline that puts a puppy inside the carry-ons cabin and passes – can easily reach millions and be the end of the world. I am not saying to ignore bad reviews or comments since younger consumers will keep using social media in a very powerful way. The best thing marketers can do is to address those comments so others can see how important for your organization the consumers are and explain why others’ expectations weren’t met.
Recover From Negative Feedback
Great points made by Gabriel. As the relationship users have with Social Media has matured over the past decade, certain “bad actors” have acquired skills in manipulating the platform for personal gain. There are cottage industries in everything from click farms to posting malicious, false reviews. These can have a negative impact on a company’s reputation and it can be difficult to regain the trust that was lost. When that happens, you need to have a gameplan, in advance. Isabella Sheehan shares how she and the Ruta Maya Coffee team manage and recover from negative feedback being posted online.
“When we do face digital backlash, we make sure to take a 360 view of what’s going on before quick firing a response. We take into account the situation, we’ll look into the timeline, consider the stakeholders involved, and focus on constructive solutions-even if we’re at fault. Focusing on the truth of the matter is our best strategy.”
Dr.Shazad Mohammed – Marketer, Consumer Behavior Enthusiast and Professor– shares that there are foundational Marketing principles that sometimes get obscured when loud voices in the crowdculture begin to shape a brand’s story.
“Effective marketing historically “speaks to the customer”. It uses a single voice and espouses key branding strengths.What happens when the customers speak back? Social media marketing and by extension, crowdculture, showcases the accelerated real-time conversation where personalities can overshadow the brand. It is the continued evolution of our field. While the metrics, strategies, and timelines will change, the need to speak to our customer and connect in a creative manner will not.”
Unleashing the Superhero Within You
So, there you have it – nuggets of wisdom from 8 leaders – including Batman. These insights should help prime your brand to survive in the Social Age and aid your navigation of audience engagement. There is no turning back from the new normal and the best tack is to align your strategy with what has been imparted here. While you cannot control the narrative once it becomes public, you can anticipate likely outcomes, prepare for worst-case scenarios and craft brand messages that have the greatest likelihood of success. Sooner or later, if there is a divergence between your brand’s stated mission/vision/values and what your brand actually practices, the crowdculture will find out and the damage to your brand can be catastrophic.
The good news is there is still time to get internal processes synced up with external brand messaging. However, the days where unscrupulous practices can be hidden in dark alleys and shady corners are quickly drawing to a close. Because The Dark Knight knows those alleys and corners well – he may be there when you least expect it…and he’s bringing his millions of followers with him. This is the embodiment of a leader in the Social Age – do you have a superhero hiding within you?
Connect with article contributors below (in alphabetical order):
Facebook – make sure you follow and tune in for “Slow CookerSundays”
Dr. Shazad Mohammed
Gabriel J. Peralta
Dr. Anna Pietraszek
Gabor Szendrei, Digital Marketing Specialist, Author