“Paid social media is easy to turn off and on as needed, just like other forms of advertising, but organic requires an ongoing business commitment,” said Julie Atherton, founder of Social Media Advisory and Marketing Consultancy, Small Wonder.
Social media is home to over 57.1 million active users in the UK, making the opportunities for brands to experiment with their marketing efforts extensive. Social commerce is the inevitable trend that is driving the UK market, creating authentic connections with their target audience. Currently, brands are using strategies to enhance customer engagement and drive higher ROI. However, leaders still require to pause and rethink their approach towards a crisis management strategy.
We spoke to Julie Atherton, founder of the social media advisory and marketing consultancy Small Wonder, and the author of Social Media Strategy and B2B Social Selling Strategy. She discusses challenges, how brands can cut through the noise on social media, and offers advice on mitigating potential reputational damage on social channels.
Excerpts from the interview:
How have UK brands embraced social media channels for marketing?
Social media channels are completely embedded in every aspect of marketing, from paid social advertising campaigns to consumer-led social communities, from social commerce to customer service, from influencer marketing to employee engagement and everything in between.
There is a big challenge around clarity of purpose. Paid social media is easy to turn off and on as needed, just like other forms of advertising, but organic requires an ongoing business commitment. As more channels are created and new tools and plugins are continually added it becomes harder and harder for businesses to keep up with the skills, experience and level of resource needed.
This means that brands need to be very clear as to why they have an organic presence and make tough decisions to drop existing channels as they add new ones to improve the quality of output and ROI.
How can brands cut through the noise and create meaningful, authentic connections with their audience through social media?
Creating content pillars that focus on a differentiated customer value proposition and using these to guide social media content is the best way to have a consistent and ownable presence. Brands that do this really well also have a strong brand personality and tone of voice on social media, which attracts followers and engages them in the conversation.
The B-corp loo roll company Who Gives A Crap is brilliant at this with its cheeky, irreverent tone of voice and focus on the pillars of fun, sustainability and being an eco-champion.
How should brands navigate customer sentiments on social media platforms, and what strategies can be most effective in mitigating potential reputational damage?
It’s important for every business to have a monitoring system to ensure they know what people are saying about them on social media and a tested crisis management plan which can be activated as needed. This doesn’t mean that you have to react or respond to every negative post, but you do need to know what normal looks like for your business and be able to identify difficult conversations from an outright crisis.
To mitigate reputational damage in a crisis, have a clear and tested plan which includes:
- Monitor your brand and respond quickly and empathetically to emerging issues
- Have an identified crisis management team with specific decision-makers
- Use private social messaging to support instant and transparent communication internally
- Remember, the public sees your commercial and consumer activity as one, so pull advertising until the crisis is over
- Take advantage of your established news media relationships. The public trust these news outlets so give them truthful and helpful information to share.
- Never speculate, be honest and don’t get angry.
- Remember, people are entitled to their own opinions about you, but they are not entitled to their own facts. You are always entitled to correct the wrong information and present the correct version. Just don’t get hung up on correcting every minor comment.
- Do a ‘lessons learnt after every crisis’ meeting and improve your crisis management plan.
- Use your common sense – ask yourself “how does this make us look”?
How can businesses strike a balance between personalisation and respecting customer privacy concerns on social media?
Taking a personalised approach can increase engagement and build loyalty and trust but it needs to be done transparently and within the data privacy guidelines. Brands that use relevant data to provide tailored offers and content are most effective. For example, Zara segmented their social media audiences and personalised social posts with products relevant to their audiences’ location and interests to increase brand awareness and drive sales.
How do you envision the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning in optimising social media marketing campaigns?
AI is already having an incredible impact in content generation, social media management, social listening, social advertising and influencer selection and management. The biggest challenge currently is the lag between AI usage by businesses and the lack of trust in AI by consumers. In recent research, Hootsuite found that while brands expect to significantly increase the use of AI, 62% of consumers are less likely to engage with and trust content if they know it has been created by an AI application.
What advice would you give to businesses looking to enhance their B2C social commerce efforts in an increasingly competitive digital environment?
Social commerce or social shopping happens when the whole journey occurs within a social platform. Tools like Meta’s Shop and Shopify plugins enable most social channels to deliver the experience and can reduce purchase friction and increase conversion rates considerably. Slower to take off than originally predicted, perhaps 2024 will be the year of social shopping. To make it work for you, remember:
- Take advantage of the video to demonstrate products in action
- Use tools such as shop tabs and hashtags to ensure visibility and ease of purchase
- Include customer reviews or UGC to increase confidence
- Work with influencers to expand reach and create a wider range of content
- Keep prices under $70
- Test different prices and offer combinations