Updated: Jan 18, 2020
Social media. What do those words evoke for you? Do they evoke sharing memes, playing Candy Crush or watching videos of Keanu Reeves strutting to different songs? Social media is so much more than that, “it provides avenues to continuously interact with brands and share experiences to deepen consumer-brand relationships (Ashley and Tuten, 2015; Muntinga et al., 2011 in Osei-Frimponga, & McLean, 2018, p. 11). It’s not a frivolous or meaningless spend of your marketing budget if it’s done right. It is a tool for you to fully engage with your customers. A means by which to communicate with them directly, find out what their needs, motives, and goals are and how best to tailor your products and services to respond to their needs. In this article, we’ll be exploring the topic of brand engagement: your brands' involvement in social media, the kind of communication you’ll need and how to ensure the highest quality relationship quality on social media. Keep reading to find out more.
Brand engagement has nothing to do with wedding bells and everything to do with “the connection, creation and communication of a business' story between itself and its consumers (both existing and prospective), using brand or brand-related language, images and meanings via your brands social networking site” (Kozinets, 2014 ; Laroche et al., 2012 in Osei-Frimponga, & McLean, 2018, p. 12). It’s through these interactions that you can determine the frequency, quality and type of communication you are having with your customers. Effective communication of this kind will give you a clear picture of what is and is not working and will affect your ability to reach your stakeholders (e.g. be it current or potential customers). Brand engagement involves three key elements: your brands' involvement, communication, and relationship quality.
Stakeholders are glued to their devices these days and as a business, you need to be where your stakeholders are and know where your competitors are too (Coelho, Ritaa & Santos, 2018, p. 104). That’s why your business needs to get involved in what is happening on social media platforms. Your online branding will structure and manage how your internal (e.g. employees) and external (e.g. customers) stakeholders use their mobile phones, laptops and desktop computers (Carah, 2015, p. p.386). It is through monitoring of this process that you will be able to gather useful data that can determine whether you attract or repel potential employees, suppliers or clients (Carah, 2015, p. 387). Your ability to attract your stakeholder’s attention will rest largely on the type and quality of the content you produce, and it will be your stakeholders that will determine its value not you. Your stakeholders will determine if your content makes them feel seen and heard or invisible and ignored by your business (Carah, 2015, p. 387). If your stakeholders see value in what you’re doing on social media, it will not only motivate them to create online communities centred around your brand (but also encourage them to engage with your brand off-line). These communities will distinguish themselves by “going to the same places, sharing similar interests, expressing similar ideas, sharing connections in common” (Carah, 2015, p. 387). It’s these brand communities that will become your brand champions. Brand champions who by their own social media usage will help you to better tailor your product, services, and marketing message to them. The way in which they consume your content will give you a clear indication of “their tastes and interests, their social networks, the places they go and the things they do” (Carah, 2015, p. 387). That is why you will find that social media can serve as a communication channel, market research tool, and CRM (customer relationship management) tool (Coelho, Ritaa & Santos, 2018, p. 105).
Now we’ve talked about the importance of being visible and active on social media. We’ve seen why it’s important to create content in order to attract new clients and maintain current clients. What’s also important is how we communicate with our stakeholders. How we communicate to our stakeholders depends on the type of business or brand you have and/or on the specific decisions you are needing to make regarding it. If we say for example that you use the photo of the founder of your business on your social media profiles, using emotional or informal language, your content uses first-person language and is signed off from a specific individual you are using what’s called human voice (Barcelos, Dantas & Sénécal, 2018, p. 66). If on the other hand, you use a corporate logo on social media profiles, avoid emotional or informal language, your content uses third-person language and is signed off from the business you are using what is called corporate voice (Barcelos et al., 2018, p. 66). Human voice is considered more engaging and direct and for this reason, it may seem that this is the best tone of voice to use in communication. One might assume that consumers will perceive the business or brand as being more attentive and caring towards their customers. However, this can also be perceived as too familiar or disingenuous (i.e. high risk) and might cause customers to turn towards a business or brand that they perceive to be more professional or appropriate (i.e. low risk). Many consumers prefer dealing with a professional business rather than a business pretending to be their best friend. In the figure below we can see a framework for decision making on social media which explores several contexts and which tone is most appropriate for each.
Figure 1: Framework for decisions about using a human or a corporate voice on social media (Barcelos et al., 2018, p. 73)
Another detail to consider in your communication on social media is consistency. If all previous communication has been using corporate voice and your communication suddenly starts using human voice consumers might find it quite jarring. Your communication must ring true to your brand, its values, and its culture.
Brand Relationship Quality
Whether you’ve chosen to use corporate or human voice for your social media you will want to nurture your relationship with your customers. Winning your customer over is not enough. Much like a romantic relationship the ‘work’ doesn’t stop when the other decides they like you and/or chooses you. Through your social media, you’ve raised brand awareness, developed trust in your brand and now need to engender a sense of loyalty towards your brand through the words you use and the actions you take. You can only engender a sense of loyalty by responding to your customers' needs. So, what are they? Your customer wants: - To be informed - To be heard - To be entertained - To have their problems solved - To be rewarded - To be provided with content that is relevant to them. (Coelho et al, 2018, p. 105)
It’s essential to clearly communicate your brand identity and values so that consumers can clearly identify who you are and what you stand for. They need to be able to see your brand as the one that will be susceptible to solving their problem and who will be able to answer their questions. They need to know that you won’t be wasting their time with content or information that isn’t relevant to them. They need you to differentiate yourself from other brands and provide content that is entertaining and unique. Doing all of this will strengthen your relationship and mean that customers identify with your brand. They will see your brand as their brand of choice in your product or service category. With more and more brands coming onto the market every day you need to be constantly evaluating this relationship and looking at ways that your business can provide an enhanced customer experience. Nothing is assured, any gains can be lost so it pays to be mindful of what value you are actually bringing to your customer.
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Social media. We’ve seen it’s not a frivolous or meaningless spend of your marketing budget if it’s done right. It is a tool for you to fully engage with your customers. A means by which to communicate with them directly, find out what their needs, motives, and goals are and how best to tailor your products and services to respond to their needs. The level and consistency of your presence on social media, your businesses capacity to communicate the right content at the right time and your businesses ability to build and strengthen relationships on social media will serve to enhance your business-customer relationship off-line if done correctly.
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