Social media, smaller businesses and gathering customer information in practice: the first steps

This is the first in a new strand of posts.  All previous ones have discussed some aspect of social media and / or information gathering and then drawn out consequences for smaller businesses in general.  During this time I’ve been looking to partner with a smaller business with which I could explore the practicalities of using social media to obtain information from customers.

Immediate problems

This has proved more challenging than might have been expected.  Many of the smaller businesses I’ve observed have set up Facebook pages and / or Twitter accounts.  But most are doing very little with them and tend to use them as simply another broadcast channel.  Posts relate to product offers, introductions or ‘PR-type’ news.  Follower numbers are low and the level of engagement (Likes, Comments, Re-tweets) is very low.

The reasons for this are predictable and understandable: a combination of a lack of time, a lack of knowledge about what to do, and, in some cases, an inability or unwillingness to think in a radically different way.

Finally underway

But the first partnership is now up and running.  This is with a business that has had a Facebook page since 2010, but had done little with it until the autumn of last year.  At this time they decided to become more active and the frequency of posting increased.  Perhaps archetypally they have a keen young executive who wants to develop their social media activity.

However the numbers of followers did not increase noticeably until earlier this year when something new was tried.  A simple competition was set up, with a two attractive prizes.  At the same time employees and other contacts were urged to spread the word and prompt their contacts to participate.  This produced an increase in follower numbers from 140 to 1,600, within the space of a few weeks.  And Facebook Insights indicated that their demographics were appropriate to the product category that the business operates in.  So there is now a worthwhile platform to work with and build on further.

First steps

This is the point at which I have become involved.  Being an analyst and planner, my first thought was to pose some plannery type questions.  Up to that point they had not developed a structured plan for social media.  The sole objective was to increase brand awareness by attracting more followers.  Perfectly viable, but there was scope to do more.  Although my focus is on obtaining information, this can only be achieved in the context of success in attracting and engaging with relevant people.  An overall social media plan was required.

There were two key elements to developing an appropriate plan.  The first was to set some objectives that were both worthwhile and achievable.  This came down to three:

  1. Increase levels of brand awareness among consumers
  2. Build brand liking, appreciation and respect
  3. Obtain commercially valuable information about the consumer market

Given these objectives, the second key element was to decide what brand values we would convey in order to build brand preferences.  Here we got lucky, because the business had very recently re-visited its vision, mission and brand values (something that many smaller businesses have not done and may struggle with).  This meant that we could select the appropriate ones from the overall list to use in social media.  These were:

  • Creativity, innovation and design skills, conveyed through what we talk about and how we do it.
  • Collaboration.  By asking for peoples’ views and being willing to take these seriously, we will demonstrate respect for customers and potential customers.
  • Sustainability. The business takes environmental and ethical issues seriously, which can be demonstrated in a variety of ways.  We will use social media both to tell consumers about these aspects of the business and also to gain their views about sustainability issues and what matters to them. This will also help to convey the value of collaboration.
  • Helpful authority. We will use social media to provide consumers with helpful information about how to choose, use, care for, and dispose of their products.  By extending this to discuss unusual ways to use products in this category we can also link this area to the values of creativity, innovation and collaboration.

The next step was to draw up the broad strategy that will be used to achieve these objectives.  I’ll write about this in the next post within this stream.

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