The massive impact of user-generated web content on the public image of brands and products can be considered established, and there is – well, almost – no one left in Germany who thinks that it can be ignored. One result is that most companies doing business in German-speaking countries of all kinds and sizes have been engaging in social media activities for some time now, to various degrees of success, and in many different ways.
The initial impulse to embrace social media may have come from attempting to place the company in one of the many rankings for corporate communications that the newly established “social media consultancies” made popular a few years ago. Or it could have been that the company’s sole social media evangelist may have convinced management to move forward. Nowadays, in more and more cases, social media projects start in a more structured way, with a thorough research of audience, platforms and conversations. The starting point and evolution usually show in the results: Social media activities have come to a point where for an external observer, this may be a clearer give-away about your company culture than having a meal in your company canteen.
The five types of companies I’ll show here are of course extremes, and the social media profiles show only the most significant details. Most profiles (and therefore most companies) will fall somewhere in between.
Profile 1: Your only trace on Facebook is a page for one of your many products. Rare updates all push sales (adverts, descriptions of particular features, competitions). Posts by readers asking questions or requesting information appear every few weeks, but most go unanswered.
What this says: I wouldn’t be surprised if the company does not particularly care about its customers. Real dialogue and interaction are very unusual . Product development is driven solely by abstract market figures.
Profile 2: You have been updating a company blog for years; in it, your executives publish articles based on your expertise, linking to external sources, giving their evaluation of trends and developments. The authors are recognizable as individuals, they engage with commenters and also comment on other blogs about similar subjects – they even discuss online and openly with their competition.
What this says: You are probably a small company with a clear profile and targets. And you have been around the internet for quite some time – maybe even before social media consultants were invented. It’s likely that your company welcomes new ideas and experiments, and may even have a culture of trial and error.
Profile 3: The web is full of horrible user stories complaining about your products and services, with hundreds of comments by people with similar experiences. It seems that people actually enjoy complaining about you – stand-up comedians only have to mention the name of your company on stage and have the audience in pieces. But at the same time you are savvy and trying to address this by employing a dozen people to take care of complaints on Twitter – and they really make things happen, take complaints seriously and provide help, making it seem that they’re actually working for a completely different company.
What this says: This could be a large and very long-established company with multiple company cultures. There’s a high percentage of employees that want to keep everything as it has always been. You have realized that there is no chance of changing this structure any time soon and that internet culture needs something completely different. So you created an additional company culture with people who take customers seriously and actually like dealing with them and solving their problems.
Profile 4: Web users flock to your blog and follow you on Twitter because there is always something personal and interesting, even if it doesn’t relate directly to your products. Your bloggers come from all parts of the company and write in their individual style about their work, while their stories give the readers the impression that they actually live a bit with the company. This includes stories about unfinished ideas and plans, and even tries to make commenters part of the decision process.
What this says: You are most likely a small enterprise, probably family owned, deeply rooted in your place of origin. The products you make are probably something that everybody likes and feels good about liking. You came up with this social media “thing” because your boss likes telling stories and sharing experiences, not out of marketing reasons. I might like your boss.
Profile 5: You make your PR agency send parcels with your highly processed industrial food products to acclaimed food bloggers who specialize in making their meals from scratch, baking their own bread, learning to make cheese, attending wine tastings and sharing tips on local specialties. And you can’t for the world understand why so many of them are offended and hardly anybody blogs about your products – except perhaps to be rude.
What this says: You are probably a medium traditional, medium sized company and use established communication tools expertly – but you are dazzled by the web . You feel the pressure to do something in these social media channels that newspapers and your consultancies keep going on about, so you asked your PR agency to come up with a strategy. They told you about Facebook Insights and Google Analytics, about engagement rates and ROI – but they didn’t get across that the internet is people, real people. You may as well have your social media strategy created by roling the dice. But you are probably a nice company to work for, and are making an effort to keep up with modern times.
To sum up: Social media activities can never make up for deficits in a product, a company or a communications strategy. If you are unsure where to start, start with listening. Today there is a wide range of social media monitoring tools available that will give you an idea who is talking about you and what they are saying.
Make sure that you can put the findings to use: Build a network of experts inside your company to help you respond to questions and requests, and talk to your service and product development departments how they might take the results of your monitoring into account. And don’t be afraid of the internet of people: The ones most likely to talk about you are the fans.