Social media is expanding at a rapid rate - even Apple has just launched a new social networking site for music fans, built into the latest iTunes. These platforms, and others like them, present brands with a cost-effective medium through which they can communicate directly with customers, and offer an alternative to regular media channels. Messages might be delivered via traditional pop-up advertisements or by entering a dialogue with customers through unofficial fan groups (such as the unofficial Primark Appreciation Society on Facebook).
But social media also presents serious challenges to companies, as customers become more active in the communications process, using online formats to spread good and bad press about brands. So we asked social media expert Angela Carroll, author of a new book on the subject, for her ten top tips:
1. Consider if your brand is right for social media. Just because other brands use it, it's not necessarily right for every brand.
2. Establish why you are using it. What do you want to achieve? Many companies just want some kind of presence, but do not underpin this with a clear strategy.
3. Identify key social media platforms for your brand, and scan them regularly to see if users are talking about your brand. If they are not now, they soon could be.
4. Listen to what customers are saying about you - both good and bad - and evaluate this feedback realistically. Many good ideas come from customers.
5. Do not adopt a purely one-way defensive stance. Use the platform to enter a dialogue with customers.
6. Get creative. In the terrain of social media, this could mean involving customers in the design and evolution of brand messages and identity.
7. Consider how social media can be integrated. It is often best used as part of an integrated campaign, so ask how it fits with your other communication and branding activities.
8. Monitor the effects of your social media marketing. Using search engines, you can quickly and cheaply tap into references to your brand and organisation.
9. Make sure you’re acting ethically. Third-party codes of conduct can be useful here. The Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Global Reporting Initiative can be used to share good news and suggestions when faced with resistance from internal stakeholders.
10. Act honestly and identify your corporate involvement. Authenticity and transparency are prerequisites for credibility in social media.
Angela Carroll is co-author of A Quick Start Guide to Social Media Marketing, part of the New Tools for Business series, launched by Kogan Page in September 2010.