It’s taken a good while for social media to gain widespread acceptance as a serious B2B tool, but it’s finally happened: 84% of marketers working in this space are using it in some form or another. Years of evangelical editorials, academic studies, and high-profile blunders have culminated in this moment.
Statistically speaking, you’re probably already on social media – but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to use it. It’s a complicated, volatile medium, and one that can be as dangerous as it is rewarding. According to HubSpot, 72% of Twitter users expect a response from a company within an hour, and 60% would react negatively if no response was forthcoming (and again, even when you do respond, it’s a potential minefield).
By integrating your social media accounts into your customer relationship management strategy (CRM), you can avoid the perils, and embrace the advantages. When your company can offer fast, personalised, and continuously improvable service to its target audience, it becomes much easier to generate and nurture leads.
As a unique customer touchpoint, however, social media comes with a set of best practice principles – both for avoiding embarrassment and for getting the most out of it.
Here are just a few.
Boost your visibility
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is working its way into every other discipline these days: it’s something that video content distributors, PR professionals, and bloggers – amongst many others – regularly have to take into account. Social media is no exception: Twitter recently made its full stream of posts available to Google’s search team, and Google has automatically crawled LinkedIn and Facebook pages for some years.
Customers – whether they mean to hurl invective or shower you with praise – need to be able to find your company. From a social CRM point of view, SEO makes sure you stay honest and on-topic. Determine high-volume phrases using a tool such as Soovle or Google’s Keyword Planner, and strategically insert them into your company’s social profiles and posts.
Doing these things will increase your chances of showing up in generic searches, and it’ll make sure anyone looking for your company locates it without undue hassle.
Locate influencers – and engage with them
Ninety-two per cent of people trust recommendations from individuals over those of brands, even if the individual has no particular public profile, and even if they don’t know them. It logically follows that a recommendation from someone with an established public profile – an ‘influencer’ – would be even more valuable: they’re leading the important conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Where social CRM is concerned, you need to be a part of these conversations: even if you can’t secure concrete recommendations, simply being in the mix is kind of an endorsement in itself. Use a free tool such as Moz’s Followerwonk to find relevant influencers who aren’t direct competitors: for example, if your company develops enterprise software, you may well want to follow certain IT bloggers.
Contribute to discussions wherever it is possible and appropriate: don’t be insinuating, don’t argue, and don’t reply to people when you have nothing substantial to add, but if you have a fresh perspective or a debate-shifting fact to throw into the conversation, you might forge meaningful connections with meaningful figures – and boost your brand image in the process.
Put your people to work
Of course, as effective as building trust with influencers is, the main aim is to build trust with customers. So if you don’t have a dedicated social media manager – and in fact, even if you do – consider putting salespeople in charge of your company accounts, or setting up separate, individual accounts on their behalf.
Their entire job is to communicate with customers, to know what they want and what they’re talking about – there’s no reason they can’t do it online.
Tech it up a notch
With all respect to the standard Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram interfaces, they’re designed for the individual. When you have to manage multiple accounts across multiple brands, responding quickly, publishing messages on a regular schedule, and monitoring several different feeds in real-time, their limitations become frustratingly apparent.
There are more social tools on the market than any person can reasonably count. HubSpot, Hootsuite, Sprout Social, and countless others make it easy to publish messages in bulk, keep an eye on customer communications, and respond to issues promptly and effectively. When it’s easy to find and reward positive sentiment – and, indeed, to find and address negative sentiment – it’s easier to build strong relationships.
All of these tools also have in-built analytical functions which allow you to generate fairly sophisticated reports in a very short space of time – take advantage of them.
Be vigilant with content
Finally, producing relevant, timely content is essential. Where CRM is concerned, social media is a protracted game of fastdraw: if you don’t react rapidly, one of your competitors undoubtedly will. Oreo’s lightspeed-fast “Dunk in the Dark” tweet is the classic example, but brands such as Evian and Pizza Hut have been giving masterclasses for a while now. If you see a popular hashtag, think of a way to hijack it; if you see a customer inquiring about a particular topic, start a conversation; if there’s an event on, think about hosting a competition with some relevant freebies as a way of “giving back” to your key consumers.
And whatever content you’re producing, in whatever form it takes, share it widely, share it often, and share it with people who might find it useful. Proactivity is better than reactivity, and anything’s better than inertia.
In fact, in a broader sense, social CRM operates along these lines. Some parts of the enterprise community only adopt new technology once they’ve exhausted every alternative. But it’s easier to take advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter than you might think – if you play on their terms. Social CRM is only as tricky as you make it.
By Paul Black, CEO at sales-i
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