Monday, February 9, 2009

Designing a corporate social media program? Plan carefully to avoid mishaps and unnecessary brand risk

It’s not news that many brands are using social media as a way to build brand preference, drive sales or increase customer satisfaction. In many ways social media is becoming table stakes for any brand that wants to generate awareness or stay engaged with today’s Web savvy consumer. These consumers expect it from companies they transact with and, in many instances, will reward them by being more loyal or even advocating on their behalf.

Social media programs, however, aren’t always successful. An October 2008 Gartner report predicts that 50% of future social media initiatives among the Fortune 1000 will be classified as failures. And social media programs do not come without brand risks. Two notable examples of brands that got into a social media storm include Dell Computer Corps’ infamous “Dell Hell,” and Wal-Mart’s fake “Wal-Marting Across America” blog. And, no surprise, the deeper the engagement enabled by social medias the greater the potential for brand risk.

Key issues to consider when planning a social media program
Despite the risks and high failure rates many organizations are still forging ahead with social media. If your company or client is one of those organizations consider the following factors first:

1. Be clear on your business objectives – some examples:

  • Improving brand perception
  • Increasing customer satisfaction or loyalty
  • Creating a place where people can discuss product features or exchange best practices
  • Reducing service costs
  • Developing a dialogue with your customers
  • An early stage warning system for bad customer experiences
  • Monitoring social data to gauge sentiment
2. Identify the social media tactics that are best equipped to meet those objectives:

  • Managed communities, polls or moderated comments
  • Support forums
  • Blogs
  • User reviews and other user-generated content
  • Wikis
3. Develop a plan on how to respond to any unforeseen brand backlash perpetrated by disaffected consumers:

  • Disgruntled customers
  • Customer complaints
  • Negative reviews
  • Pranksters
Corporate social media programs can be a powerful tool to build brand equity and increase sales. But they need to be approached in a sensible and planned manner.

Start small with low risk programs such as managed communities or polls. Then listen, learn and adjust. As your audience grows it might make sense to move on to higher engagement tactics such as user reviews, forums, wikis or other user-generated content.

And don’t forget that most social communities don’t just form by chance. In most instances a social media program will not on its own address low levels of brand awareness or Web site traffic. But it certainly can help in those areas if it’s part of a well thought out plan and provides value exchange to your intended audiences.

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