Join the Conversation: How to Manage Your Brand Online
Friday, 15 July 2011
Social media are creating an opportunity that is typically high impact, low cost and medium to high risk. Ignore it at your own peril – if you don’t join the conversation, people will still talk about you. Michael Onsando talks to PR and social media strategists to find out how corporates can venture into this field of marketing and brand management.  

This is the second part to Join the Conversation: Kenyan Corporates on Social Media.

How companies like Bata developed their social media presence reflects the fact that this area of corporate communications is still very new, so there are few established job profiles, and capacity in the advisory and PR industry is only just being developed as well. In fact, the strategists themselves agree that anyone could do what they do – and that is not without risk for corporates. Mark Kaigwa said: “The problem with this field is that the barrier for entry is very low. Anyone who knows how to use Facebook or Twitter can walk into a company and claim to be a strategist. I have seen companies burned to the ground online because they hired a guy who opened a Facebook account, insulted a couple of people, and walked away.”

Put the Right People in Charge
If you want to avoid this, there are a couple of common-sense points to begin building your social media capacity:
  • Obviously the first thing to do is check out the person’s track record. A proper social media strategist will have a portfolio of people and companies he or she has worked with. And personal behavior matters: “You are your best brand,” says Mark Kaigwa. How individuals behave online will probably reflect how they will manage your brand online.
  • And, in a next step, make sure that your new expert knows what he or she is talking about. Digibrands CEO Chris Bitti cautions: “A company (or person) that says they have made a strategy for you and haven’t talked to any of your brand managers or people within the company are lying.”
  • Training own staff is always better than outsourcing as it builds internal capacity: “I tell companies to give me people and I will teach them how to run the company’s Twitter account. An employee is the best to run the company’s social media as opposed to PR companies that will probably be running not only your company’s account, but a couple more and hence won’t be able to respond to customer needs as effectively,” Mark Kaigwa recommends. And the people inside your company know more about your brand values and brand messages. They are also better equipped to handle sensitive information.

Audience, Objectives, Strategy
However, even before you hire someone to teach your employees how to use Twitter to the company’s benefit or outsource a PR company to do your marketing online, experts (as much as they can be in this field) agree that there are three things that one must consider:

  • Audience: Audiences on social media are very sensitive. You should try to understand in as much detail as possible what defines your intended clients. Forget about just the age bracket – ideally, you should know a lot more about what defines them. Facebook offers filters to help you determine this: “27 – 30 year old female who likes pizza” could, for example, be your filter for advertising on Facebook. Twittercounter offers more or less the same feature for although one may need to pay for the service.
  • Objectives: Not everything about social media is different from how you used to run business. Like with any campaign, it is best to set certain goals through your social media strategy and measure whether you have achieved them. Objectives could be something like a growth target that you expect to meet within a certain period in the market you are targeting via social media or an increase in general increase in customer satisfaction or whatever your company deems fit. Priya Chana of PC Communications emphasises the bricks and mortar aspect: Companies planning to use social media “should do market research before and after the campaign, have indicators and match their return on investment against those indicators as opposed to sales.”
  • Strategy: Once you have set your goals and you know your audience, you are ready to lay down the strategy and plan exactly how you are going to work towards achieving these goals. Strategy includes things like what medium are you going to use to communicate? How much will you push the products online? Will you outsource or put your own staff in charge? Again, social media are not that different from the traditional forms of media. Even on social media the traditional structure of hook, tagline and order still applies. It is vital that you know exactly what you want to say and exactly how you are going to say it. Are you going to use social media to push a product that is already known, or one that is just beginning? Basically, when it comes to strategy there is no overall strategy: “Every trade has a different strategy depending on the need of the particular company,” argues Priya Chana.

Impact, Risks, Costs

Social media are creating an opportunity that is high impact, low cost and medium to high risk. The reason for the risk being on the higher side is that it is almost impossible to control what people are saying on social media: Once you put yourself out there, you are fair game. Not all criticism will be fair, but it will certainly be in the public space – and the anonymity afforded to individuals in the online space lowers the threshold to often outright rude comments.

This is also a reason why it is advisable to have separate accounts for customer care and the brand itself: The odds are the customer care account is going to be filled with complaints about your faults and deficiencies – and you don’t want to have this litter the brand message that you are trying to put across. And finally, you should also make sure that you synch your campaigns across all media, whether social or traditional. Unity of message is key.

Finally, like every other campaign, content is key. “In Kenya, it is all about visibility, which just isn’t right,” warns Chris Bitti: You should have a well thought out, well executed strategy that you implement rather than random posts that don’t further your objectives.

So social media branding and marketing is not entirely different from traditional media use, but it certainly has its pitfalls. That may be the reason why many companies opt out of social media as a marketing tool. However, the higher risk may just be worth it: “Social media is a necessary evil,” says Gina Din, the Managing Director at Gina Din Corporate Communications. Whether you’re present or not, people will still talk about you – if you have a presence on social media, then you can at least react to this, and be a participant rather than a bystander.

If you think that social media are just a passing fad, then you are mistaken: look at the increases in bandwidth speeds, or mobile penetration, or smartphone sales in Kenya, and you realise that we’re just at the beginning: “Transactional social media, like Google wallet, haven’t even begun to make a foothold in Kenya” said Chris Bitti.

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