Social media pays dividends

Social media offers a low cost way to stay in touch with your customers and build profitable relationships. While tweeting and posting can be fun, it can also be serious business, finds Felicity carter, especially if there is a clear strategy behind it.

Social media pays dividends
Social media pays dividends

When tech writer Marco Bertozzi received a series of witty e-mails from the UK’s Naked Wines, he was so impressed he wrote a Huffington Post blog post about it. “In our industry we talk a lot about customer engagement and CRM/ social media usage and often talk about AMEX or Starbucks as the benchmark,” he wrote. “There is one company that in my experience has blown them all away… and that is Naked Wines.”

He went on to detail how respectfully the company treated him, and how well they communicated overall, whether through the telephone, website or social media. “Naked Wines is the best experience I have had with a business bar none and should be a benchmark for all,” he wrote, adding that he had ended up buying a “fair amount of wine” from the online retailer, with “90% of that” coming from the e-mail nudges. His post also generated online buzz for Naked Wines.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems, backed by powerful databases, have long been the backbone of direct marketing wine companies, used to manage their customer interactions across the business. But wine businesses which don’t use direct selling techniques either haven’t adopted such systems, or have been scared away by the level of technical knowledge required. In a world that’s connected by social media, however, building connections has become the new imperative. And the expense and level of expertise required has dropped so sharply, that even a small business can now run a sophisticated social CRM program.

First steps

Social CRM, in its broadest sense, is the management of a community of customers. It can be as basic as social media monitoring, where companies check out what’s being said about them online and then respond, with the goal of building relationships and brand loyalty. According to Tom Ollerton, marketing director of We Are Social, if you don’t know what people are saying about you, then you can’t know if your brand and marketing activity is effective or not. He says his agency uses “listening software” to hear what conversations about brands are taking place on social media. Ollerton says that even small businesses should be listening in, creating a strategy around what they discover, and then delivering new content back. The final step is to track how effective that activity has been.

He cites a body of research that shows how valuable such activity can be. “Bulmers is a cider brand and they did a survey of Bulmers drinkers,” he says. Those who had ‘liked’ the Bulmers Facebook page were compared to those who hadn’t. The results were startling – those exposed to the Facebook page spent £198.64 ($307.70) more per year on the brand than those who weren’t. Research on other brands has revealed similar results.

What’s even better is that once a conversation starts online, it potentially becomes self-perpetuating. “The fascinating thing about the Facebook platform is that it operates with an algorithm that’s called EdgeRank,” says Ollerton. “If a brand posts something and people interact or engage with that post, they share it, they comment on it. Facebook deems that content is valuable to that person.” As the brand produces more content, it’s fed into the person’s view feed and the more they interact with it, the more their friends also see it. “So if you’ve got two identical wine brands, one of whom doesn’t engage on Facebook and one who does, the one who does will be more present in the eyes of the target audience and their friends.”

What to talk about

When setting out to generate online conversations, it’s important to get “influencers” talking about you on social media. These are people that your customers are likely to listen to. At the pinnacle are celebrities, but these are “difficult and expensive to engage”. A better approach might be to target “non-traditional influencers” – people who are important, but are less well known. “The way that we calculate someone’s influence is to calculate the reach of their community. Do they have a blog that hundreds of thousands of people see? How engaged is their audience? How visible is their community?”

There are a number of tools – some of which are free, like Social Mention or Klout – which can show who is most engaged in talking about a brand. Once these influencers have been identified, they can be approached. But to attract their attention, forget about bombarding them with lots of public relations or advertising messages. “Brands totally overestimate their importance in people’s lives,” says Ollerton. “What really matters to people is their own lives and their own interests.”

A study done by IBM Global Business Services in 2011 bears this out. IBM found that although 80% of online consumers have at least one account on a social networking site, only 5% are engaged enough to respond to all the comments they receive or post original content, and when they do, they’re focused on family, friends, news and entertainment – not brands. And those who do, say they need to “feel a company is communicating honestly before they will interact”. What does this mean for the way wineries or wine businesses communicate? “You’ve got to find the middle ground with the messages that you want to get across and what the audience is interested in,” says Ollerton. “So you can talk about how beautiful your vineyard is, how wonderful the product tastes, or how lovely your new label is – once. But that will get boring quickly. And as soon as you’re boring, it’s all over.”

The trick, he says, is to be genuinely excited about your own work and products. “There is an online appetite for passion, integrity and craftsmanship, and the artisanal approach – the wonderful thing about wine is the nuances, and social media can be an effective place to use this to business advantage,” he says.

Beware logging onto social media for the sake of it, however. “If you’re not interested in social media and having a relationship with your customers, then it’s not going to work for you,” he says. Because social media literally means being sociable – when people tweet or post, it’s the responses that will build the relationship.

The other big mistake is handing the job of social media management to the 21-year-old kid in the front office, figuring that because they’re always on Facebook, they know how to use it. “Just because they can use the tools doesn’t mean they know how to use them for your business.”

Likewise, any social CRM strategy needs to be integrated with all areas of the business, so that everyone who deals with customers from sales and marketing to winemakers themselves, are connected. Staff should be empowered to deal with issues as they arise – and need to respond promptly. Once that’s done, it’s time to take a leaf out of Naked Wines’ book and start communicating passion. One of the emails Bertozzi received that so impressed him began: “This is what I love about my job”.



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