Shawn Nesaw

User-generated content (UGC) takes the form of content, usually photos or videos, created in support of a product, brand, idea or trend. Brands publish the content on social media channels, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to allow for republishing content on their own social channels to further promote the brand and build loyalty among audiences.

UGC offers a ripe opportunity for businesses to build a community around their brand. Similar to giving a compliment, UGC represents something everyone likes getting because it makes us feel good and encourages us. Similarly, when a business shares content that one of their customers posted on their social media page, the business compliments that person by featuring their content and thanking them for their business. This type of public recognition creates stronger customer loyalty to the brand.

Speaking of loyalty, some may say, “brand loyalty is dead or dying,” but consider these statistics from Accenture describing the behaviors of U.S. consumers:

  • 57 % spend more on brands or providers simply for loyalty
  • 51% show loyalty to brands that interact with them through their preferred channels of communication
  • 55% express loyalty by recommending the brands and companies they love to family friends
  • 14% publicly endorse or defend a brand or organization on social media

Building community around your brand is absolutely still important and UGC can help you achieve the community you want for almost no additional cost to you, the business. Explore UGC with the following best practices.

UGC best practices
After monitoring all your social media properties, it’s clear people tag your business, your products, even your staff in their photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Before you start posting customer content as your own, review a few rules of courtesy to abide by when possible.

  1. Ask for permission to use someone’s photo, video or GIF. Simply message the person using the direct messaging feature built into the respective social media channel. Compliment them and mention how you would love to share on your account. Nine times out of 10, flattered by your request, they happily oblige.
  2. Give photo credit in your post. A photo credit could be as simple as “(Photo cred: @username)” or “(?: @username).”
  3. Recognize the person or business in your post thanking them for their business or support. You can also subtly weave in a key message. Just make sure the post reflects more about them than you.

Examples of great uses of UGC
If you still can’t envision how UGC works or how it looks for your business, read through the examples of effective UGC use below.

Take a look at each example noting the photo composition, the caption and the tag of the photographer. In each case, the brand used short and simple captions, emojis and tagged the photographer. Using the camera emoji or the word, “Regram,” before the users’ tag signifies the original photographer.

Starbucks:
Buffer:
Bass Pro Shops:
Ben & Jerry’s:
Perfect example of expert use of UGC
While the above examples make it pretty clear what UGC looks like in practice, we offer one more perfect example of how a restaurant successfully executed UGC on social media to promote their brand and turn a visitor into a loyal follower.A restaurant wanted to promote their weekly Wednesday ramen night. They monitored their Instagram account for recent posts for public posts tagging their business or their restaurant location was tagged. They found a sharp photo of ramen from the week before that matched the look and feel of their feed.

This execution checked a few boxes for the restaurant. It promoted the ramen night, garnered awareness and attention for the business and boosted brand loyalty for that person.

Have you considered using user-generated content to build a stronger community around your brand? If you already use UGC on your social media accounts, how’s it going? Let us know in the comments or share your best execution.

Shawn Nesaw

When it comes to social platforms, the size of Facebook’s community continues to lead the pack. Facebook boasts 1.37 billion daily active users worldwide, with the number of Facebook users in the United States expected to reach 207.36 million.

That’s a lot of eyeballs, and if your business doesn’t have a presence on the platform, you’ll unequivocally miss out on countless opportunities to grow brand awareness, and ultimately, increase revenue.

By now, most businesses have at least developed a business-specific page on Facebook that says to users, “Hey, I’m here!” But, consider how you can stand out and wow your existing and potential customers with thoughtful posts and engaging content.

We’ve developed a list of Facebook facts to help take your business to the next level in 2018.

Back to basics
Considering all the flashy features Facebook has to offer, it’s easy to overlook the simple building blocks of effective communication with your customers. Make sure the “About” section on your page reflects your business’ correct hours of operation, contact information, including a telephone number, email and address, and a quick, descriptive line or two about your products or services. If customers can’t get a hold of you, or if they’re unsure of your purpose, you risk losing their interest and trust.
It takes two
If you want your customers to engage with your content, your page and ultimately your brand, make sure you also spend time engaging with your customers and acknowledging interactions. Respond to reviews, both negative and positive. Take the time to “Like” or reply to comments and photos visitors leave on your page’s wall. Highlight positive customer and vendor interactions by tagging them, with permission, in posts. Don’t forget to venture outside of your page and engage on other pages to expand the reach of the conversation.
Video, video, video
Video posts dominate today’s social media landscape and continue to garner more attention from users over other forms of media. Don’t let fear get in the way of taking part in the trend — you don’t need a professional videographer to shoot videos for posting on your Facebook page. In fact, people forgive less-than-stellar production quality video as long as the story keeps them engaged. Do a little research on how to shoot quality videos using just your smartphone. Pro tip: before you post your video, add captioning manually or using Facebook’s automated tool, as more and more users watch videos, but in many cases with the sound off for part or all of the video.
Do it live
Authentically promote your brand by enlisting the help of Facebook Live. This feature provides users a unique, inside look into your business through the power of immediacy. Plus, anyone can do it — simply determine an interesting facet of your business, aim and shoot! Develop your talking points or a full script, whatever makes you more comfortable in front of the camera. The purpose is to increase engagement on your page while delivering content your audience will like. You can also continue the two-way conversation by responding to comments during the live event. And, if Facebook gives live videos a boost using its algorithm — meaning the platform puts your live videos in front of more people — you should take advantage.
Keep it consistent
A successful Facebook page relies on consistency in a variety of ways. Always make sure the tone and imagery of your Facebook remain true to your overall branding. However, you can let your brand’s guard down and use a more casual attitude across the platform, even if your brand typically employs a more formal approach. Remember, the goal remains engaging with your audience, so take note of how they speak and incorporate that into your posting strategy. Most importantly, make sure you post regularly. A Facebook page with stale and outdated content can cause distrust and force your audience to go elsewhere.
Rules of engagement
For those businesses unwilling or afraid to step onto the Facebook scene, rules of engagement provide clear parameters to help guide the conversation on your page. Set guidelines in your “About” section including the prohibition of profanity on your page, the ability to delete comments not related to the post and intolerance of personal attacks. You may need to decide whether or not addressing negative feedback or aggression on your page publically can provide a better customer experience overall. By responding to negative content publically, you can offer a professional and friendly solution that upholds your reputation among other audience members.

At the end of the day, engaging with your audience regularly and authentically through quality content, engaging conversations and meaningful interactions will put your business ahead of the rest.

Facebook’s latest algorithm update penalizes “engagement-bait” material — posts that overtly encourage comments, likes and shares — and prioritizes personal pages and posts over public and business pages’ content. This means Facebook ad space will diminish making inventory more valuable and potentially more expensive. Businesses that proactively engage audiences in organic ways, however, can improve the likelihood of appearing higher and more often across user feeds.

While this blog provided a few tips to jumpstart your focus in 2018, Facebook boasts many additional features to utilize and incorporate into your strategy. Let us know what Facebook features you’d like to hear about or questions you have in the comments section. Or, even better, tag us on Facebook at @abrightidea and let’s start a conversation.

Katie Bouloubassis

With 500 million tweets sent per day by approximately 100 million daily users, Twitter is the fourth largest social media platform behind Facebook, Google+ and Instagram.

As new updates roll out on Twitter, it’s tough to adjust, learn and implement the new features quickly. As an ever-changing platform, Twitter requires constant monitoring due to the rapid timeline updates of current events.

With the Tweet Tips below, get ready to actively engage with your current and potential customers on Twitter!

Tweet Actions
Creating original content to post and quoting existing tweets of others allows you to easily engage with followers. The comment you add makes it easy for your followers to understand the reasoning behind the retweet and how it connects to you and your business. Quoting essentially makes the entire tweet yours, so the engagement and impressions garnered from the “new” tweet reflects positively on your account.
What to Tweet
Your followers clicked the follow button for a reason. For the most part, you should tweet about your brand experience. As a business, you’re recognized by audiences for a product or service and they want to hear about it. A key component of any social platform, but especially Twitter, is engaging with others. Take time to find conversations around your industry’s topics and engage others in those conversations with a comment or a quote retweet. While your tweets should relate to your business, don’t shy away from engaging in other conversations that do not relate directly. Any comment added continues a larger conversation, and broadens your follower base.
Post a Poll
Utilize Twitter’s poll feature to expand engagement in a fun and creative way. Propose an open-ended question to your followers on a topic of your choice with up to four answers. A. Bright Idea’s campus recently received a makeover, sparking our own version of the poll-gone-viral, blue vs. gold dress debate. After several disagreements on the new color of one of our buildings, we took to Twitter to let our followers decide — blue or gray. Select how long your poll stays open, whether you want immediate results after 24 hours or a week to collect as many votes as possible.

Trends and Hashtags
Twitter has a daily list of trending topics and hashtags. The trends change multiple times a day, so when you see one that applies to you or your company, use it immediately. Using hashtags allows your content to become easily discoverable and essentially increase your chances of higher engagement and impressions, as well as gaining followers. Twitter bases trends of location, making it easy to select the best option for incorporating into your tweets. You can change the settings to see surrounding cities’ trends or country and world-wide trends. Crafting tweets to include additional hashtags can expand its discoverability, but Twitter recommends keeping it limited to no more than two hashtags per tweet.
Tagging
Tagging people and businesses in your tweets is, in essence, a way to talk to specific people or businesses directly on Twitter. With overly cluttered news feeds, if you have something to say to someone, tagging is the way to go. Additionally, tagging expands the reach of the post, garnering more impressions and in some cases, overall engagement. Giving shout-outs to other businesses through tagging can spark conversation or result in retweets, likes or follows.
Moments and Lists
Personalize your Twitter with Moments — curated stories about what’s happening, powered by tweets. Moments have a variety of topics, such as: Today, News, Sports, Entertainment and Fun. Moments can showcase your company culture, events and announcements for the public. When creating Moments, we recommend you use a mixture of videos, photos, gifs and full-text tweets to keep your followers engaged.Lists serve as a great tool when you want to narrow down your search on a specific topic. As a curated group of Twitter accounts, Lists include accounts that tweet about similar topics in one central location. Lists essentially become a separate timeline of its own, streaming tweets surrounding the designated topic. Create your own Lists or subscribe to those created by other Twitter users to engage in conversations related to your business.
280 Characters
In September 2017, Twitter introduced the roll-out of the new 280-character count to select accounts before officially granting all members usage in November. As advocates for perfect grammar and correct spelling, we enjoy the 280-character limit. Now, you don’t need abbreviations and number substitutions for words to save space. Don’t sacrifice your content’s value for the sake of condensing a tweet — take advantage of this gift and use the extra 140 characters as needed. While some users became outraged over this update, others used the extra space for fun, like Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen DeGeneres.

Remember, Twitter is a great tool for you and your business when used appropriately. Have fun and try out all of the features of the platform. Let us know if you plan to use Twitter more in 2018 or ask us any questions about the features mentioned by tweeting us @aBrightIdea96.

Cari Ashkin

As business professionals, we’ve heard it said time and time again: “It’s all about relationships,” however, relationships do not grow overnight. There are steps to take and responsibilities to fulfill before anything can flourish.

Putting forth effort to not only go above and beyond for client work, but for the client themselves, makes the difference between a one-time project and a long-standing business relationship. Going the extra mile to get to know your clients, when done consistently and genuinely, not only serves as a recognizable piece of your brand, it becomes your brand.

At A. Bright Idea, we believe in the power of doing “a little bit more,” consistently over delivering for our clients. At our annual team-building summit, we discussed how pushing every project, just a little bit further, leads our team – and the client – to even greater success. As a result, our team identified five easy-to-apply ways to help flourish your client relationships.


  1.  Take meetings off site

Every now and then, invite your client to a working lunch meeting or coffee. This opens a window of opportunity to get to know your client on a more personal level while also staying productive. Environment plays a critical role in someone’s willingness to engage more freely, and you’d find it surprising how relocating to an informal, comfortable setting can enhance your overall working relationship.

  1. Invite casual conversation

In general, we feel less likely to share personal information if we don’t think someone is interested in hearing about it. Shift the focus of your next touchpoint to demonstrate you care about building a relationship. Adjust your opening in an email or conference call from, “I hope you had a nice weekend,” to “Betty, how was your weekend?” This simple but significant strategy tells the client you’re interested in more than the business tasking and gives you insight, connecting on a more personal level.

  1. Stay social

Begin with a LinkedIn connection – the business version of Facebook. Stay up-to-date with client’s important milestones, including work anniversaries and recognitions, and engage with likes, comments or congratulatory messages. Take it one step further and do “a little bit more” by endorsing the skills listed on the client’s page or write up a personal recommendation. These acknowledgements go above and beyond to further build the connection.

  1. Pick up the phone

In a digital world, it’s easy to get lost behind the screen in email. If you need to touch base with your client, make an effort to pick up the phone and call—nothing beats talking directly for clear communication. Going out of your way to make a connection can only improve strong working relationships.

  1. Dive into their industry

Make an effort to stay aware of your client’s industry. Share related videos, news clips or events of interest when applicable even if it doesn’t relate to the project you’re currently working on. This not only demonstrates your expertise, but highlights your willingness to go above and beyond for their success, ultimately paying dividends in your overall relationship.


While some of these tips speak to client-facing relationships, everyone at the organization is a representative and their role in supporting these strategies further positions a business for continued relationship growth.

Do you implement a strategy we didn’t mention? Share how your team does “a little bit more” in the comments below.

Shawn Nesaw

Marketers always look for new and exciting ways to reach their customers and grow their brand. In recent years, while digital advertising has seen steady growth, standing out from the din of every other advertisement out there can be a challenge.

For businesses looking to target audiences towards the bottom of the sales funnel, converting interests into sales, podcast advertising might be a worthwhile option as part of a strategic advertising effort. Podcasts target a niche, captive audience to which a brand can push its product or service directly into the ears of listeners interested in first, the podcast content, and second, products or services that meet a need and/or match the content of the show.

Any effective advertising campaign works through the sales funnel to figure out where customers are along their buying journey and how to get them to convert while spending as little as possible per conversion. TV, radio and digital ads all play important roles throughout the sales funnel from building awareness and interest to conversions. The old saying, never put all your eggs in one basket, holds true in advertising. Use podcasts in conjunction with other mediums to ensure your brand hits a wide range of people in the funnel.

As podcasts continue to grow as an important and worthwhile medium for marketers and brands, businesses must understand what makes a podcast advertisement unique. Once you’ve gained a better understanding of the medium, consider if your business and podcasts are right for each other.

Here’s what you need to know about podcasts before adding the tool to your advertising strategy.

  1. Trusted voice – If there’s one thing podcast listeners have in common, it’s their trust in the host. Podcast hosts fall into the influencer category. The audience views podcast hosts as experts and their shows are a manifestation of their interests and expertise. By creating engaging content audiences come back for repeatedly, they build an audience that genuinely trusts them. It’s that trust that plays well for advertisers. Most ads use live reads, delivered directly by the host at the beginning (pre-roll) or midway (mid-roll) through the show. Live reads, similar to radio, come across like a recommendation from a friend with an authentic feel. Considering your audience, find podcasts/hosts that pair well with your product or service. If their show, voice and audience all match your organization’s brand and target audience, you’ve found a good fit.
  2. The product/service – If you want to advertise on podcasts, you need a product with a broad user base. This is due to the fact that podcasts have a fairly wide range of demographics in their audience. Ads for essentials like underwear, razors, beds and other products are the norm on podcasts because just about everyone uses them. Pairing the right product with the right audience allows the brand to reach more potential customers. A podcast framed around exercise, with a core audience of health enthusiasts, is more likely to advertise jump ropes, foam rollers and Whey protein than it would a new brand of coffee or an online flower delivery service.
  3. A special offer – It’s true, sometimes you just can’t pass up a sale. Podcast ads not only win over audiences with trusted recommendations and useful products, but they almost always tack on a special offer code at checkout. Brands will offer podcast listeners an even deeper discount to further entice on-the-fence buyers.

Podcasts have risen in popularity over the past decade, gaining the attention of brands and marketers who happily fill the podcast niche with quality ads reaching dedicated audiences, something difficult to come by these days. Consider adding this strategy to your marketing toolbox when the brand, audience and budget match up with what podcasts have to offer.

Katie Bouloubassis

Businesses constantly test new ways to connect with their customers. Traditionally, surveys, newsletters and courtesy follow-up calls served as key methods for businesses to connect with customers. While these strategies still hold value, new outreach methods now take center stage thanks to social media. According to Statista.com, 81% of the U.S. population uses social media in some form.

Smart, social-savvy businesses are now using the power of one social media feature, direct messaging, to connect more efficiently with their current and potential customers by breaking through the clutter.

Direct messaging, or DM as it’s commonly referred to, is available on all major social media platforms. Similar to sending a text message to a friend, a direct message allows you to send a private message to a person directly to their inbox, instead of posting on their social feed. DM achieves most of its popularity on Twitter and Instagram.

Businesses use DM to:

  • Connect with new followers and point them to the content or a product on their website
  • Ask questions about buying experience or quality of service
  • Answer questions customers ask on social media
  • Handle negative feedback or complaints privately instead of in the public feed
  • Send targeted messages to different types of followers
  • Request user-generated content for social media feeds

To add to the DM experience, personalize messages using the customer’s name or handle. Also, if you have a large audience list to reach with the same message, create a document with consistent messages you can easily transfer into a DM to help save time and maximize efficiency.

The images below illustrate a few sample implementation strategies for using DM.

Relationship building with new followers

To begin the relationship with a new follower, depending on the platform, a DM may take the form of something like the photo to the right.


Handling negative feedback

To handle a negative comment or feedback, acknowledge the communication and direct the conversation off of social media with a DM like this:

ABI: “We appreciate your feedback and want to learn more about the issue to discuss how we can help ensure the best service possible. Let’s set up a time we can discuss over the phone.”


Soliciting user-generated content

If your fans post great photos of your product and tag your company, use DM to ask for permission to use their photos on your feed. Engaging in this way creates customer loyalty and allows you to harness the power user-generated content. That DM might read something like the photo to the right.

[Pro-tip: If they say “yes,” thank them and make sure to give them credit for the photo in your post, e.g., (?: @TomEdison96)]


Direct Messages serve as a great way to personally reach customers on social media. While some may scoff at the idea saying, “It’s too intrusive,” DM allows you to speak directly to your target audience. If your business would like to initiate conversations and build relationships with current and potential customers, DM provides a simple, personal touch-point that can lead to new followers, customers or clients.

Test out your DM skills with us! Send us a message via Twitter DM or any other social platform. Let’s start the conversation!

Twitter: @aBrightIdea96
Instagram: @abrightidea
Facebook: A. Bright Idea Advertising & Public Relations @abrightidea

Happy messaging!

Marketing businesses using Facebook and Twitter has become a growing tactic in marketing plans across all industries. Social media platforms serve as an effective tool for circulating branded messaging, but Internet usage and trends continue to change every day.

In a recent article, Bulldog Reporter found that 90% of all Internet traffic and 50% of mobile traffic is now made up of photos and video. For growing visual media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, this means an opportunity for continued expansion. Instagram’s more than 200 million users make up an attractive market of young people for PR and marketers. Digital media reporting site Mashable has also found that 1 in 5 U.S. adults are now using Pinterest. These large groups of users of both platforms are at the ready to receive visual content that could ultimately lead to better connecting and capitalizing on consumer and brand relationships.

With the expanding use of visual media, it is more important than ever to control your brand’s messaging. People make decisions based on trust and brand promise. Using photos and visuals helps create another tangible connection to brands. As we can see from these recent statistics, it is becoming a greater means of communication – that old adage “a picture’s worth a thousand words.” Having a strategic presence in visual media can serve as a key tool to further brand development as part of an integrated marketing approach. Everything you do or say influences what people think about your brand, so providing them with a visual example of what your brand promises also helps demonstrate that your brand delivers on this promise.

No matter the medium, the ability to connect users with your brand is crucial to developing brand loyalty, and will ultimately lead to a better consumer experience. It’s important to assess your own brand strategy as it compares to trends, as not all trends serve brands equally. With the expanding use of visual media, now is an opportune time to analyze your own brand and consider the most strategic uses of visual media and how it can potentially become part of your integrated marketing approach.

Melissa Mauldin, Sr. Marketing Specialist, A. Bright Idea

According to an AVG Digital Skills Study in 2010 presented at the ABA Marketing Conference, 30% of U.S. toddlers can operate a smartphone or tablet app. This may or may not surprise you. It does not surprise me as my daughter, by age two, knew how to “slide to unlock” on the iTouch, go to the Entertainment folder, select Peek-A-Boo Barn, play her game until she was board and then go back to the folder to select a new game. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m a bad parent (I hope) or allow technology to babysit my child, it’s just an example of how “times, they are a changing” and technology is something the next generation is born with not being able to live without.

Because we as a society demand information at our fingertips and have the expectation of immediate gratification with our smartphones, banks are readying themselves for market capture. Mobile banking isn’t something new but it is something that many of our community banks are just getting into.

Launched two years ago, mobile banking was invested primarily by the large, national banks. In one of the many sessions on mobile banking at this year’s ABA Marketing Conference, it was cited that many of the larger banks may have launched this added feature to compensate for the areas where they were lacking (i.e. customer service, personalized attention, service fees, etc.). In terms of technology in the financial industry, mobile banking was more quickly adopted than any other technology launch. ATMs and Online Banking technologies took anywhere from four to ten years or more to acquire more than 50 percent adoption per household. Since its launch, mobile banking has seen a market penetration of 10 percent within the first two years and it is expected to eclipse Online Banking (in terms of usage) by 2014.  With consumer desired features including mobile deposits (scanning an image of a check and depositing it via your smartphone app), as well as balance inquiries, transfers, etc., customers desire the accessibility to manage their funds while they’re on the go.

Additionally, with the growth of couponing companies like Groupon and Living Social, banks are also adopting personalized service features based on a customer’s spending preferences and offering discounts that relate. How would you like your bank to offer you a coupon for the GAP the next time you log in to online banking, simply because they noticed you purchased something there before? Or offer you access to determine the cheapest gas based on your location simply because they noticed you bought gas with your bank card? Approximately 76 percent of customers said they would like discounts based on spending habits, and that they would switch banks for one that offered these personalized services.

While these conveniences are steadily on the rise and becoming more and more desired, 55 percent of consumers still primarily say they select a bank based on the convenience of location more than anything. The traditional bricks and mortar bank branches will not be a thing of the past.

National banks continue to primarily be the first to test out new product and service features, but community banks will soon follow to meet the growing demand by customers. While customers may need to wait a bit longer for these benefits at their community bank, when they do come they’ll be packaged with all the benefits of local, personalized service we value from our neighborhood banks.

Melissa Mauldin, Senior Marketing Specialist - A. Bright Idea

We’ve all been there. Your food arrives cold, your online order ships and is different than it appeared on your screen (or three weeks after the estimated ship date and far too late), or the expensive piece of equipment you just bought brakes the first time you use it. Whether it’s a service or product based issue, we’ve all been disappointed by a company at one time in our lives. You may have complained to a manager or bravely took on a 2-hour on-hold session with the Customer Service Department. While it’s likely that some of you received a satisfactory result, I’ll bet for most of you even thinking about customer service mishaps initiate a twinge in the heart, just knowing how unbearably annoying the lack of service can be by a company’s attempts at rectifying an issue.

Now, thanks to social media, consumers have a broad stage to complain on and spread these bad experiences through word-of-mouth (or type-to-tweet) messaging. While some companies have taken the initiative to use these channels to effectively respond to customer complaints, others have shied away from the tool are finding that customers are also shying away from their brand.

In a recent article in American Marketing Association’s Marketing Researchers, Dr. Guy Winch, psychologist and author of The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships and Enhance Self-Esteem, discussed how today’s social media channels impact consumers’ complaining psychology.

Many consumers believe that companies could care less about their complaints. The article cited that only 5% of consumers voice a complaint to the company when dissatisfied with a product or service, meaning that 95% will not voice a complaint because they believe it requires too much time and effort. However, if you’re like most consumers, you’ll instead complain to your closest 15 friends/associates. Now, social media channels offer consumers the option to complain freely without involving too much time or effort, and by bypassing lengthy toll free calls and the fear of being put on endless hold or even disconnected when you’re transferred for the fourth time. Consumers have access to voice their complaints in a direct way, which also invites more and more people to do so – those who may not have normally responded to an issue before (impacting that 95%).

While social media is still considered “new” and most of us still have a negative perception toward customer service attributes in response to consumer complaints, some companies, like Wachovia (Wells Fargo) or Delta for example, do monitor these channels and use them as social media Customer Service Departments. They manage responses quickly and use the data in attempts to get better – and it’s visible. What’s more, these platforms offer businesses access to direct consumer feedback – what customers like, don’t like, what they are buying, what they aren’t, etc. It’s a free focus group!

In general, consumers have a good relationship with a business until something goes wrong. It’s up to the company to make it right and mend the relationship. Companies need to find out the details of the situation and show the customer that they are doing something about it. Rather than citing the return policy verbatim, businesses should offer a real heartfelt response and a sincere recognition of the pain a customer has gone through. Customers want to know that they’re heard. Even if their situation can’t be completely rectified, the manner in which it’s handled is the key. Social media makes it easy for customers to complain, but it’s the company’s responsibility to resolve the issue and convert the relationship. Responding to consumers via these channels with a message that says, “We hear you,” ‘We understand there is an issue,” or even “Here’s how to contact us” is just the first, but very important step.

In my November blog post I cited some interesting statistics from an article in Marketing News, which noted that people generate nearly 500 billion online impressions on each other in regards to products and services each year, and Nielsen Online estimates the total number of online advertising impressions comes in around just under two trillion. Now are you listening? In general, people tend to believe and associate themselves with the experiences of other people. If you’re not providing the service quality people expect, no matter how big your budget is and how much of an ingenious marketing campaign you develop, that word-of-mouth negativity can infringe on your brand and erode your profits if your not choosing to rectify these situations and promote that you’re doing so  – turning around those perceptions and making them brand advocates.

Today, we all expect instant gratification. Companies that are not responding to complaints made on social media through social media – or with plans to do so soon – may be impacted in the long run. Monitoring these tools will help businesses better understand their customers and be more attuned to their target audience. When companies do a good job of handling customer complaints and responds to them correctly, customer loyalty can increase exponentially – more so than if there was never an issue. The complaint response creates a story that the customer will share with all of their friends and acquaintances – and most important, it’s a story with a happy ending.

Melissa Mauldin, Senior Marketing Specialist

While many businesses have decided to get their feet wet in the realm of social media (and yes, some are still hesitant), it’s apparent that some businesses do so without proper planning. Lack of planning causes wasted time and often includes inefficient methods. Social media, like any form of marketing for a business, must involve strategy.

As we all learned from the popularization of social media in 2009 and the enhancement of the medium in 2010, social media can be a truly efficient and effective way to communicate to stakeholders on a different level. It’s no longer a “new” medium, rather it is broadly being incorporated into business marketing plans and is a sought after resource in communicating businesses key messages, events, and product news and promotions directly with customers.

I recently came across a blog on socialmediatoday.com indicating the 12 reasons why businesses will fail at social media in 2011. Overall, many of the issues stemmed around businesses not incorporating social media as part of their strategic marketing plan. Rather, businesses attempted to use the medium because they thought they should get on board. Wrong. Below are a few tips to keep in mind to help businesses utilize this popular medium efficiently.

Understand the medium.

Social media is not a tool that’s going to fix a broken business or be the answer to down sales or a poor reputation. Social media will actually enhance these issues, if not conducted properly. Businesses need to have a true understanding of the medium and have a strategy in place before engaging.

Plan, plan, plan.

Businesses without a plan will fail. Otherwise known as Random Acts of Social Medial, or RASMs, no one can afford to waste time. Avoid the randomness and develop a strategy and appropriate messaging for utilizing this tool as part of your overall marketing plan. Think about the big picture as well as the logistics involved in the strategy. (i.e. What is our key message? Is our messaging appropriate for the audience? How much and how often? Will we develop any special events/promotions for this audience only? Who will manage our presence on social media sites? Who will have access? Do we have the manpower to devote one person to manage social media activity? If not, how can the workload be divided?)

Don’t expect too much too early.

Certainly, online resources provide data and feedback immediately upon entering this world. However, it takes time to understand the environment, engage with the audience and build a following that will respond, before determining the success or failure of this resource.

So, have you planned your social media participation strategically? This year, get on board with a strategic goal and action plan that’s in line and in support of your marketing efforts. Social media can help contribute to building your brand, as part of your overall marketing plan. Ensure you’re messaging correctly and devoting the resources needed to be successful in this ever-changing and continuously evolving medium. Don’t waste time.  There never seems to be enough anyway!