Best Practices

Should companies embrace Social Media during economic turmoil?

If I had a Nickel (a US Nickel... not a Canadian one) for every time I've been asked this question lately, I wouldn't have to worry about economic turmoil would I?  In all seriousness, I get challenged with this daily, as if someone is trying to tell me something.  I briefly commented on this already when I was interviewed by Fortune Magazine's Jesse Hempel, but let's talk in a little more detailed way.

No matter what the economic conditions, there is always someone turning it to their advantage.   McDonald's Corp announced some positive earnings recently and CNN attributed it to the "value meal" offering being particularly well timed.  After all, people are even more price conscious as a result of the economy.  I have no idea how true that is, but it supports my point. (yet makes me hungry at the same time).

Social Media supports two things you absolutely must do during economic uncertainty.  
  1. Get close to your customers.
  2. Do more with less

Getting closer to your customers

Without being dramatic, assume your business is becoming a war zone.  It's time to hunker down and protect your turf at a minimum.  A big part of  that is to stay very close to your customers.
Social media facilitates that. Companies are deploying "Innovation communities" to keep the lines of dialog open between your product marketing and your clients.  Clients have a direct line to offer product enhancements and ideas.  Don't assume that you have to implement every suggestion a client offers (and make sure your site sets that expectation), however the conversation has valuable insights into areas that clients are not happy with, or perceived features you lack that your competitors might have. 

When you implement those suggestions, make some noise.  Brag about the clients that came up with the idea and the fact that you offer the feature.  In fact key staff should be blogging about every customer success, every industry insight, and stay as visible as possible.  Make it easy for your clients to spread the word via their own blogs, Facebook pages, etc.

Do More with Less

In the grand scheme of marketing budgets most social media implementations are infinitely cheaper than other ways of doing things.  As far as assisting customers having clients support each other as part of a "support community" saves money and leads to higher customer satisfaction.  That's a fact. 

Any marketing initiatives that were planned using traditional media like Television would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars ear-marked for those campaigns.  (if not more) That's not to say a social media site has the same reach, but it certainly has more depth and in the right hands can influence customers. 

Viral video's, UGC (user generated content) campaigns, can all drive influence like traditional media. A great example of a brand campaign was the CVS "For All the Ways You Care" site.  Basically a UGC site that celebrates women "in the middle".  That is, they are caregivers to their parents and their children.   It's a great example of a brand associating itself with an audience and celebrating them as unsung hero's.

Make every dollar count. The CVS campaign above wasn't actually just community, it was supported by TV. However some of that campaign budget put a community in place that became a platform for their next UGC (user generated content) campaign.  The TV ads can be long over, but the community lives on.

What about events? Is your company cutting back on global events where they bring staff in from all over the world? Supplement, or replace that event with a community.  The life of a community can be infinite, where an event loses its impact the last day.  In an ideal world, use that event (or point of enthusiasm) to drive participation in a community that bridges the dead time between various events.

Do you have any ideas about how you can use social media to cut costs, and get closer to your customers?  I'd love to hear from you.

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BY: kevin (10/28/2008 10:14 AM)
COMMENT: Without a doubt I think social media can be a low cost and effective alternative during economic down times. One thing I have seen so far with clients is how poorly they use the web from a social media, SEO, SEM, and an overall attitude towards it. Making small corrections has lead to big gains for them.

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