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The top nine social media faux pas: Is your brand socially awkward?

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11th Apr 2014
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A decade ago, social media wasn’t even on the radar of the CEO. Now, it’s embedded in company strategies across the industry spectrum – and the globe. However, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) recently published a report called Mastering Digital Feedback: How the best consumer companies use social media, which revealed that most companies still haven’t worked out how to use it to full effect.

It’s not for lack of trying though; two-thirds of the world’s largest companies now invest considerable time and money in their social endeavours. And rightly so – social media has become less of an optional extra and more of a fundamental cog in the business machine. “The reason for this is simple,” says Satya Ramaswamy, vice president and head of TCS digital enterprise. “Social media helps businesses achieve their goals by giving them real-time access to feedback and input from their most influential audience – customers.

“According to researcher eMarketer, the average US adult is now online for an average of more than five hours daily; for the first time, that’s more time than they’ll spend watching TV. It is therefore vital for companies to understand these conversations and participate where appropriate. Doing so can deliver hugely valuable insights across marketing, sales, service delivery and research and development divisions – helping to make these operations more efficient and better tailored to the needs of customers.”

Social media’s potential is evident, but largely unfulfilled. In fact, only 10% of businesses are generating results with any kind of significance for the company. The experts at TCS have compiled a list of the most popular social media mistakes, which will hopefully set a few of the stragglers on the right social path.  

1. Companies are not using the full spectrum of social channels.

Less than half of North American companies have private online communities for consumers or company-sponsored online video channels.

“Social media has become the default platform for individuals to learn about, and comment on, new products and trends, their experiences of brands and much more,” says Ramaswamy, and that doesn’t just mean Facebook and Twitter. Gamification, for example, has proven itself as an effective tool for social interaction between businesses and their customers, but only 22% are using social games to this end.

2. Companies are using social media less than big data and mobility.

Not only is social media receiving less attention than Big Data, but also less budget. “Based on the median spend of those companies we surveyed, businesses will invest about a fourth of what they spent in 2012 on Big Data on social media,” Ramaswamy reveals.

However, it’s a delicate balance and companies should not necessarily sacrifice their Big Data budget for social media. “In reality, you cannot completely separate these trends. For instance, a key element to social media success is being able to make sense of the mountain of digital consumer data that social media generates, which is effectively a Big Data challenge.”

3. Companies are not using social media to replace traditional focus groups in customer research initiatives.

Feedback produced by focus groups can end up being less than reliable – conditions are sometimes too controlled and responses often diluted. Conversely, social media encourages direct, honest and frank comment from customers, and delivers it to enterprises promptly. But that’s only the beginning of its list of benefits.

“The value of social media is in the large number of people that can be reached, and the varied information companies can receive, Ramaswamy comments. “Focus groups are still valuable but they are small and designed to focus on a specific area the company wants to explore.

“The nature of social media means that companies can be made aware of new trends and wider conversations around their brand on a continual basis. It helps the brand stay aligned with the views of its customers – which in turn helps build greater brand advocacy.”     

4. Most companies simply don’t spend enough on social media.

TCS’s study found a strong correlation between budget and achievement when it came to social media. The leaders were spending almost double what the laggards were. But where exactly is their cash going?

“The distribution of social media budgets depends greatly on what the company hopes to achieve. Some of the funds could be focused on developing mobile applications or video content to enrich social media output.

“One trend we did spot amongst leaders is a desire to plan for the future and look into more avenues they can explore via social media. They have acknowledged this is just the beginning of what social media can deliver, and they are keen to capitalise and further engage with consumers.”

5. Company cultures are not changing from the top down to embrace social media.

Those leading the social media way tend to hold consumer opinions in high regard, and focus on sharing knowledge internally. In fact, 89% of leaders in this area had a big focus on customer opinion, compared to only 30% of the laggards.

Ramaswamy recommends spending some time embedding this thinking into each individual department. “To get the most from social media, companies need to break down internal divisions and adopt a social culture across the entire company. The greatest benefits of social media are realised by companies that view social media as more than just a marketing tool. The information received from users is just as important as the digital output from companies, and the feedback can have an impact on all areas of the business – from sales to research. Leaders in the field are companies that have harnessed this two-way relationship to best effect.”

6. Companies have been late to the game with social media.

Despite it having been kicking around for over a decade now, social media has only become a serious business tool for most consumer companies in the last three years. Only 14% of this study’s participants used it regularly before 2007.

Those late to the party needn’t worry though; they just need to focus on making their new-found presence count. “Companies that were slower to adopt social media strategies should not think in terms of making up for lost time, but rather implementing the strongest social media programme that relates to its customers and helps achieve its goals. Social media has evolved incredibly quickly, and will continue to do so. Businesses need to keep pace with this change to thrive; the length of time you have been using social media is not the determining factor for future success.”

7. Companies are not staffing up on social.

The companies for whom social media is really paying off tend to have a large workforce behind it, however, looking more closely at the findings, it seems it’s all about quality, not quantity.

“According to our research, the key factor in driving business value through social media – more than the size of the team – is how many business functions are involved in social activities, and how closely they are working together, Ramaswamy notes.

“Our research found that companies that reported much greater benefits from social media were much more likely to have a large number of functions working together to sort out social media strategy, insights, tactics and responses to consumers. In contrast, companies that saw fewer benefits from social media were much more likely to have a smaller number of functions collaborating on social media, or functions managing social media independent of one another.”

8. Companies might be watching, but they’re not really listening and interpreting.

There was a significant difference in how those using social media successfully and those struggling handle their data; leaders were using sentiment analysis twice as much as the laggards. Interpreting this kind of data is something that many organisations find more than a little perplexing.  

“Interpreting the vast amount of data generated on social media is a huge challenge for companies as hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of consumers are commenting on brands via numerous digital channels. Being confronted with all of this data can be daunting for companies, but getting to grips with it can deliver real insight and tangible benefits for the business.    

“Analysing such huge volumes of data requires specific technology, such as natural language processing and text analytics, to help businesses determine the sentiment being conveyed in the comments.

“However, sentiment analysis is not the only important use of data from social media. Social media, more so than others forms of communication, allows businesses to get real-time feedback which can have a significant impact on business operations. Many companies use social channels to interact directly with consumers to conduct market research, and address specific questions about a firm’s product, policies and practices.”

9. Companies aren’t even tracking their social media ROI.

Almost half of companies surveyed don’t track the ROI on their social media activities. To be fair them though, this is notoriously tough to do, as Ramaswamy acknowledges.  

“It can be difficult for companies to measure the success of digital campaigns, due to sheer variety of business goals and outputs that might be relevant for each organisation. This can lead to some companies not maintaining a complete record of achievements. To overcome this hurdle, companies need to be clear about what they hope to achieve from social media activity. Is the primary aim to increase the number of followers, or gather feedback on a recent change to the operation of the business? With set parameters in place, it is easier to measure success.

“Another important reason to measure ROI is to understand what parts of your output are resonating with consumers and what isn’t. Social media output is an ongoing, constantly evolving process. You can’t just ‘do’ social media, you have to adapt to changes and react to the feedback that is received. Whether ROI is higher or lower than companies expect, their social strategies should be constantly under review to help optimise results in the long-term.”

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