Taking part in the social media conversation

How should companies tackle social media in New Zealand?

Do you know what is being said about your company online? Social media as a channel for customer interaction is growing fast and businesses are far better off being involved rather than sticking their heads in the sand, according to local companies.

Dick Smith keeps it in-house

For Australian electronics retailer Dick Smith, keeping social media in-house is an important part of its overall social strategy, says Michael Dykes, head of social for Dick Smith, Australia and New Zealand.

“If you don’t make it personal, and if you don’t relate it back to specific stores or deals, it loses that feel of community. It’s got to stay in-house to keep it real.”

Many organisations leave managing social media to the youngest person in the company, because they are the “hippest and coolest person in the office and king of the internet anyway”, Dykes says. But when you think about it, do you really want to put the fate of your brand in the hands of the most junior person in the organisation, he asks. Dykes personally manages Dick Smith’s Australian Twitter account and the company recently created a dedicated role for looking after social media in New Zealand.

“It’s important to have someone who is a New Zealander and is close to what is happening in that community rather than trying to manage it from Australia,” he says.

Getting customer feedback, both good and bad, is the single biggest benefit of monitoring social media, says Dykes. The company doesn’t believe in blocking its Facebook wall. “Our approach is, if we’ve messed up, tell us about it and let’s try to resolve it.”

Michael Dykes

Every week, Dick Smith’s executive directors get a report that summarises the positive and negative feedback received via social media and how issues were resolved.

“We use it as a way of keeping us true to our service proposition,” he says.

Just a couple of months ago, Dick Smith decided on some new behavioural principles within its social communities, Dykes says. For example, the team won’t post deals on Twitter – “we won’t try to sell you anything on Twitter”.

Instead, this channel is used for interesting little snippets about new technology or industry news that people like to hear about, he says.

Facebook, on the other hand, is more community-based and local. Facebook followers will get advance notice of offers and deals, “so there is a kind of privilege to being a fan”. The company has strategies for LinkedIn and Pinterest as well but they are smaller channels, he says.

Social media is becoming the main way in which people raise service queries with the retailer, says Dykes – and the company encourages it because it’s so instant. A customer recently tweeted about having to wait for too long in line.

“We managed to get hold of the store to give them that feedback while that customer was still in line. If you can use it as dynamically as that it’s a very positive tool.”

There have been some challenges as well. Last year, some internal documents about an upcoming sale were leaked on social media – and went viral.

“It became a real challenge for us to manage the messaging,” Dykes says. “People were feeling let down.”

But this lead to an internal discussion around honesty and the company decided to implement a policy to be as true and honest as it can be to its customers.

Dick Smith uses Hootsuite social media management tools to help with monitoring. “But ultimately, we find that the human element of picking up on threads is the best way to go,” Dykes says.

Social CRM is coming

Simon Young, principal of social media firm syENGAGE, suggests firms avoid big social media monitoring systems for the time being – for most New Zealand companies, manual monitoring is enough, he says.

For organisations that might get 15 tweets a day, the main monitoring and analysis solutions that are out there are too heavy-duty, he says.

“The workload is easy for one person to handle. But, they have to be on-call all the time.”

A long-term trend he is seeing is social CRM. While many software programs say they do this, no one has really hit the nail on the head yet, he says.

“What social CRM should do is tell you not only is this person influential out there in the social media sphere, but are they influential as a customer as well?”

There are a few platforms that are trying to make that match but it’s still early days, he says. Social CRM involves a lot of data, sophisticated interconnectivity and there are some privacy concerns to consider.

And it’s not just business-to-consumer organisations that can benefit from monitoring and participating in social media. The business-to-business sector can leverage it too.

Simon Young

“The stereotype is that it’s boring and factual but there are emotions involved in B2B purchases as well, especially frustration.”

If you are considering getting your business out there on the social media scene, the first step is to learn about collaboration, Young says. Get a tool like Yammer set up internally so that your staff can start learning the principles of sharing and openness and getting comfortable with it, he recommends.

The greatest risk is having a social media department that becomes another silo.

Even if you are not officially saying anything on social media he recommends monitoring.

“It’s never good to have a paper bag over you head,” he says.

Social media has its origin in dialogue and peer-to-peer conversation, Young says, yet a lot of companies are looking at it like a one-way gun. What companies shouldn’t be doing is “dumb campaigns”.

“Campaigns are okay but with the goal of learning something back from the audience – starting a conversation, getting people involved, so that they are actually participating in the marketing,” he says.

But this is very hard to do without something intrinsically interesting to base the conversation on. So companies have to dig quite deep into their core identity and brand values to find that, he says. The old mind-set is to outsource everything to an agency but you know your company’s culture best and for this reason it might be better to keep it in-house.

* Tomorrow, in part two of this special Computerworld feature on social media, we talk to NZ Post and Eventfinda.

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