12 minute read.

Social media rules of engagement. Marketing Age.

Paul Anthony / June 18, 2009

Posted in: Archive

946739___rings__I’ve had the priviledge this month of being interviewed by Marketing Age magazine alongside Lauren Fisher and Conor Lynch, on the “Rules of engagement” for social media. This interview was conducted by Marie Boran so a big thanks to her for featuring us.

You can read the full interview extract below, some of which was used in the final piece.

How to Get Heard.

Marketing Age: It used to be so easy in the 1980s – TV, radio, print – an audience is still an audience so why the hype over blogging and social media – isn’t it just full of other people preaching the same message, trying to flog their service, proclaiming to be a social media expert – how does a business even get heard amongst this? (not my opinion but many businesses may feel this way)

Webdistortion: Essentially, things have changed quite a bit. Social media isn’t in my opinion ANYTHING like Tv,  radio or print. All because they are one way conversation . You tune into TV, you listen to radio, you read print. But essentially, the visitor interaction is minimal. With social media- its ALL about the interaction, and the conversation with customers is much more diverse.

Yes there is quite a bit of wheat to separate from the chaff- that is to be expected with anything that has exploded so quickly – everyone wants “in on the action” – but the people that are making headway are the ones which are engaging with their customer base – using pull marketing techniques, rather than the traditional “push marketing” strategies.

If you have something interesting to say, your listeners will tune into your channel. They key is to give give give to an audience – not just on topics related to your business. Offer advice via Twitter, offer useful articles on your blog – and you will be found. Essentially, social media only wins business through the back door – and helps to reinforce other marketing channels – e.g. word of mouth.

Can you be too over the top?

Marketing Age: On the other hand from reluctant to over the top: Is there such as thing as over-connecting with your audience online? Being a bit too enthusiastic about your brand with 100 tweets a day on how awesome it is and replying to everyone that so much as mentions a similar topic?


Yes and no.

If we are talking exclusively about the Twitter platform – I think if I was to give one piece of advice here, it would be to work out firstly whether it makes more sense to create smaller personal brands e.g. a Twitter account for Paul, Peter and John – who are able to engage on a personal level with an audience – or if a Business brand is needed. e.g. Starbucks on Twitter.  The way that you tweet will reflect on your brand. If you are one way tweeting machine, that simply tweets links directing people to your website – you are losing out. Who wants to have a conversation with what looks like an automated bot?

For small businesses especially, people want to feel comfortable that there is a friendly person they can turn to if things go wrong. Become the friendly face that is often there to help with problems using your service, and provide “added extras” through Twitter, and you’ll gain a following that trusts your advice, and opinion – this is an area that should really be the underlying factor in social media. Gaining trust.

As for the rest of the social web – no I don’t think there is such a thing as being too active. Monitoring your reputation online is extremely important, and is a form of brand protection. The best part of is that its often easier to convince someone online that you care about your service if you are listening out for these problems. You don’t get that offline – if someone is talking about you negatively offline – chances are you never hear about it. As for enthusiasm, if you aren’t passionate about your business how do you expect your customers to be?

I guess the key thing is, that you should engage as you would a conversation at a network meeting. You wouldn’t sit around listening for someone talking about service x and then jump in and shove your service down their throats; but if you overhear an occasional question looking for advice, and its useful and relevant – then its ok to butt in politely and suggest your service or product.

Does overactivity dilute a brand?

Marketing Age: Can replying to every single tweet, blog post, Facebook posting etc damage/dilute your brand in any way – ie will audience not get sick of this, does it look desperate or maybe insincere?

Webdistortion: I don’t think you can lump in each of these together. Each platform has its inherent differences, and with that different audiences expecting you to respond in different ways. With Twitter, if an @reply is sent to you – its the same as an email, your audience WILL expect a response. The same goes with a direct message – more so in fact. As for the conversation – mentioning you on the side – if you are doing things right, chances are this will be on the whole positive. It may also be people simply tweeting something they found on your blog that they found useful. Sometimes I’ll thank people for doing this, especially if they don’t realise I’m on Twitter, and I’ve built up relationships before in this way. If its a negative conversation, then you should jump in and address the issue. The way you handle yourself when doing this is important though – both feet first isn’t recommended.

As you’ve mentioned later on in the interview if you are a larger company this gets harder and harder to do, as more messages get sent out about you, so you have to be selective in what you respond to.

With Facebook – if a company reaches out to me personally, then I’m not left with a sour taste in my mouth, as long as it is relevant to what I’m doing at the time, and the message is helping me in choosing a product or service. If however you receive invites that have obviously been sent on mass to users within a group, well then thats just spammy. People aren’t stupid, especially the Generation Y users of the web who know what spam looks like, and when to report it.

With the social web, either you are online and engaging, or your not. Often bloggers write a post to prompt the response of a company. That doesn’t mean you have succumb to their demands, but it does give a business the opportunity to address any concerns, and put forward their side of the story – regardless of whether that is positive or negative. The more you are seen, the more trust you will gain. Which comes back again to trust.

Work / Social media balance

Marketing Age: Can balancing the day between work and engaging in social media be difficult for a small business – is there a danger of destroying your productivity?

Webdistortion: It can be difficult – but essentially learning what is working and what isn’t is the easiest way to work out what social media strategy you employ..web analytics packages play a big role here. Did the user on Twitter you suggested a service too buy? Or did they retweet your special offer leading to other sales?

You can also measure further engagement with your brand (rss subscriptions / blog comments) if you dont have a quantifiable product. You can get tied up in circles trying to be everywhere at once. Pick a primary medium and stick to it.

What are your goals? More traffic? More sales? More engagement? –  Defining goals denotes your strategy, and strategy determines the tools you use – which prevents you from going round chasing your tail.

Automation within social media

Marketing Age: Can automating your social media help with time management or is it a bit less, well, social and authentic, to do this?

Webdistortion: I don’t think there’s any room for automation within social media. Social media for me is about two way interaction around a brand –  its both personal, and realtime. You can’t expect the same rewards by moving back to the old push push push methodology and hoping you’ll get people engaging with you. They won’t, or at best, the interaction won’t go as deeply.

Do different sectors need different strategies?

Marketing Age: Almost everyone has a Twitter/Facebook/YouTube/MySpace account – how best should you engage with potential customers, clients et al through this medium – is there a certain strategy for different sectors?

Webdistortion: It depends on what your goals are as I’ve mentioned – but the wishy washy answer is that you should fish where the fish are. There are many websites set up to categories folk into different groups within each of these networks. Twellow etc. Find out where you think you fit, and interact within that school of fish (not exclusively) but in the majority. If you do a good turn within that community, people will communicate with each other within that community – and you will grow – especially if you are btb rather than btc. For example if you are selling web hosting – keep the web designers entertained. Selling flowers – talk to the major gardening bloggers. etc.

If you are trying to reach out to consumers you should weave your social network tightly into your own website – and ensure that message is consistent. Don’t try and dupe or fool anyone, be honest about your mistakes as your integrity is often associated with trust. Concentrate on small niche’s at first until you get established and earn some reputation within the community.

There is no right or wrong way to engage – just talk and network with people in the same way you would an offline event. Releasing special offers or content exclusive to your network can help create a bit of buzz around your account. Each of the social networks mentioned rely on you gaining some traction so your message reaches more ears – with each of them there are different ways of doing that – but being resourceful, useful, knowledgeable or entertaining – as with the offline world will help you become more authoritive – and the first place people turn to within your sector.

Do you need to co-ordinate to succeed?

Marketing Age: Popular tech blogger Jason Kottke advertised for a ‘personal social co-ordinator’ on Craigslist a few years back:

“Permanent full-time position for a personal social coordinator for a New York-based web designer.
Your primary responsibility will be managing my accounts with various online social networking sites including, but not limited to, Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickle, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby, and WhizSpark.”

Is this a bit crazy or is there a need for bigger companies to have one person coordinating their social media presence – is it possible to send out mixed messages by blogging sincerely about a topic on the one hand and then tweeting about stripping wallpaper and posting Flickr pictures of your latest product on the other?

Webdistortion: I think there probably is a need to reign in on this – but deciding on whether it suits your company to be repreent personal or to be corporate is the starting point.

If you want to be personal -take a look at the high street retailer ASOS and how they tweet. They tweet collectively about both personal things (as individuals within the corporate environment) – and about products. Keeping the conversation relevant to the company is simple – only tweet during working hours, about work related things. I;ve mentioned this as a case study of how well they do it before within the e-commerce space.

If you want to have one corporate account – then assign one person and one twitter account who understands brand values to take care of it.

Social media zen. Does it exist?

Marketing Age: What would you say to a company that wants social media zen  – minimal hassle and maximum engagement?

Webdistortion: Social media isnt a magic bullet – either jump in and work at it – or be overtaken by your competitors who figure out how to engage deeper with YOUR customers. As a guerilla marketing technique – its a trade off with time for reward rather than throwing advertising dollars at it. Cant be bothered?  Hire someone.  These are probably the same people who can’t be bothered to blog, and complain about website traffic.

Either you are online- or you ain’t. Harsh but true.


Marketing Age: Anything else you’d like to add about dealing with social media overload, either from businesses or audience POV?

Webdistortion: Figure out who you want to reach, and how best to do that instead of plowing headlong into it without any direction. Social media gives you a global audience at a fraction of traditional media price so you need to figure out who is your core audience? Where do they communicate with each other online? Thats where you need to be.

You can also read the full interview including Lauren and Conor’s input over here.

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