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Are there social media rules of engagement?

Why marketers need to tread carefully on social networks - and some top tips for success

I’ve always been really strict about gaining permission to communicate with customers via email but now that I’m developing my social media strategy the lines are a bit more blurred. Are there any ‘rules of engagement’ in a social media environment?

Nigel Arthur writes:

Reaching consumers in a personal, targeted way is the key to successful marketing campaigns. It is surprising then that many still fail to put this into practice, especially in multichannel marketing programmes using email, SMS, and social media.

A recent ExactTarget study found that 70% of Facebook users who “like” at least one company on Facebook don’t believe they have given companies permission to market to them. Moreover, 40% of those users don’t believe marketers are welcome in social networks at all. This would also suggest that Twitter users who “follow” the Twitter feed of a brand, have not consented for that brand to approach them with information.

These statistics reflect the discontent felt by consumers with regard to businesses invading social networks and interrupting the conversation with promotions and company plugs. It’s an approach that has eroded consumer confidence and one that could ultimately prove disastrous unless businesses are willing to make social media more about conversation and less about a call to action.

And although the new frontier of social media may feel like a no-holds barred environment, if you truly want to put the customer at the heart of your communications, you still need permission.

The good news is that you don’t need a huge budget to field successful permission-based email or multichannel social media campaigns. What you do need is good planning, creativity and above all, a respect for the essential individuals that have ticked the box for marketing. The solution to developing powerful online engagement is simple – ask the consumer what they want and then deliver it in the channel in which they have given permission.

Giving customers an easy way to identify how and where they want to hear from companies can be achieved by:

  • adding a simple registration form on websites
  • expanding existing email registration pages to include SMS opt in and links to follow a brand on Twitter or Facebook
  • giving customers a reason to hear from a company; offering discounts or early product announcements are tried and tested ways to drive engagement, it’s even more successful if these offers are personalised and relevant to the individual customer
  • providing the opportunity to sign up via SMS while they are shopping in store. This increases the sense of uniqueness around the brand experience and gives an opportunity to extend the relationship beyond the visit
  • offering a chance to subscribe to communications as part of the payment process online

Every customer is different in the way they engage with brands across various interactive channels. Businesses should celebrate those differences and provide ways for consumers to join brand communications from Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS. This allows customers to identify their channel of choice and provides the business with meaningful information to shape communications. Making communications more personalised creates an immersive brand presence that drives loyalty and increases conversion.

The massive adoption of email and subsequent explosion in social media has changed the face of interactive marketing. But consumers want more than marketing, they want engagement and expect to receive relevant, meaningful and consistent content across all channels. Now more than ever, businesses need to recognise that consumers hold the power. Connect with them in the right way and reap the rewards in new levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty; market to them in the wrong way and messages will be deleted, your Twitter account unfollowed and your Facebook page defriended – with your brand reputation suffering as a result.


Nigel Arthur is managing director of digital marketing specialist ExactTarget

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