The ability of social media to draw attention and target specific segments of the online community is unprecedented. It is increasingly a medium where businesses can inspire and energize their consumer base. How should companies make use of the online platforms while navigating through the risks of a new frontier of communication? Industry experts from tech giant Facebook and social media-focused communications agency Text100 advise on strategies to fully leverage social media for your business

By Nan-Hie In

Social media is a powerful tool for businesses, with the medium’s ability to draw consumer attention and the potential to target and reach audiences with precision. It is increasingly a place where businesses can inspire and energize their consumer base. When done right, it can generate buzz for a brand and amass huge responses quickly, which bodes well for any firm looking to connect with its stakeholders. When gone wrong, it can mean disastrous consequences provoked by a stream of negative news about a company.

The social media landscape is evolving swiftly, and organizations are adapting quickly to make use of the online platforms to grow their businesses and to reach their current, past and potential customers while at the same time navigating through the risks of a new frontier where multinational companies (MNCs) as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can punch above their weight in building brand loyalty.

At Facebook, with 1.65 billion users monthly, a rising trend is mobile users. Of 4.9 million users in Hong Kong, 4.5 million access the social network through smartphones, says Elizabeth Hernandez, Head of Public Policy at Facebook for Asia Pacific. “Think about that as a marketing professional or someone who wants to promote their business. Everything you design should be for that tiny screen on mobile phones, and you have to be a mobile-first company to be able to use social media effectively.”

Platforms such as Facebook Live and Snapchat are dominant channels in Asia, concurs Rosemary Merz, Vice President and Managing Consultant of Text100 Hong Kong, a global communications agency. She says social media trends are fickle and that companies should recognize them but not necessarily hop onto those shifts. “Consider [first] which channels should be a good fit; if the goal is to build awareness, excitement, advocacy or sales conversion, then pick social channels that are most relevant to you.”

And there is a need to rethink marketing in a new world that is conducive to a two-way dialogue with social media. The challenge, though, is a tendency of companies to focus on accruing fans and followers rather than fostering engagement. It is the equivalent of publishing content in traditional media, say, 50,000 copies of a magazine or newspaper, Merz says. That’s because they were without the ability to create and maintain a channel for a large volume of feedback from readers. And if somehow no one read those newspapers, such efforts were likely futile.

Whereas in social media, if you can track 50,000 people who are actively participating in a conversation online with their ideas or simply by sharing your posts, then engagement is more prevalent, and it will be more relevant to your business and brand than the number of followers, she adds. “It’s important that engagement in social media is educated throughout the company, otherwise your efforts may not be as effective as they can possibly be.”

Facebook tips

Start with a “page” Set up a page instead of a personal profile. A key difference is that the former offers additional features designed for brands and businesses, including advertising and audience-targeting features, data analytics and more. In addition, a page can broaden the scope of audience by making it easier to follow or “like’ and a source of regular updates and information about a particular business, says Hernandez.

Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez

Regarding the type of information companies should put onto their page, one way is to think of the site as a store of your business, Hernandez points out. To put in another way, when customers walk in, what is it that a company would want them to know about the business? The next step is to furnish the page with details so that people who have shown interest in the business can learn more about specific features or characteristics of a given product or service.

Create captivating content An effective site requires regular posts about a business, with videos, photos or text updates. Content should be creative and less formal as authenticity is key to viewership and consumer engagement on most social media platforms. According to Hernandez, users tend to continuously scroll through Facebook’s stream of content or “newsfeed,” and you have three seconds to grab the attention of viewers.

These days, it takes an engaging video with an emotional hook, Hernandez says. And videos do not have to be professionally produced. “Today, people seem to be looking for more authentic and raw videos as a way to get engaged,” she explains, highlighting the power of creativity and the value of producing clips which can tell a story with emotional resonance to garner impact.

Brevity is key to good storytelling on Facebook. “A lot of times people make the mistake of putting everything on a post,” she says, adding that the short attention span of viewers on social media means users tend to bypass long posts. The idea is to keep posts “catchy, simple and short.”

Promote your posts Use the advertising features such as targeting tools to boost visibility of the posts. One can specify the desired demographic of a target audience, based on age group, geographic reach and more. The distribution of content can be tailored for small- or mass-market reach. “You can invest as little as US$25 and start very small [in terms of reach] with your post,” says Hernandez. She suggests users explore such features to find a fit that suits a particular set of marketing goals and budget.

Measure performance Track the performance of content through various data metrics using Facebook’s Insights. “You will know how many people ‘liked’ it; what kind of reach your post is having; the kind of engagement your post is getting including the number of ‘shares’ [it has generated]; and whether they were viewed by men or women,” Hernandez explains.

The information can be invaluable to business organizations trying to grasp what content resonates with an audience and can help refine one’s social media strategy, says Hernandez Moreover, by having a better understanding of competitors’ activities and engagement with the general public through their Facebook pages can provide business intelligence and a benchmark to measure performance against others.

Risk management

Social media can be a double-edged sword, and it is imperative that companies are prepared for potential risks by having strong oversight and a guideline of conduct in place. There are different views on the issue. “One side sees social media as a way to be informed about your market and to understand the intricacies playing out within your market across social channels, including where issues come from,” Merz says.

On the other hand, there are those who take a wait-and-see approach and only deal with issues whenever they arise, she adds. “We see this as a key social media risk.” She notes that comments on social media can help companies understand consumers. In turn, such information can help with the relevance of your business in the market. And companies need to consider how comments play into their overall strategy and how they could better engage with the audience. Should it be through influencers or videos, for example?

Having to deal with platforms flooded with negative comments is a common challenge – an aspect for which businesses should be prepared when participating on social media platforms, mindful of the fact that people are entitled to their opinions but within reason, Merz points out. Companies should outline a set of rules of engagement on their social media pages.

One example is to make clear rules on how users should speak with respect in conservations free of defamatory or foul language and to provide customer support through a moderator. “For those that do not abide by the rules, you have the right to say ‘we will remove your comment’ or to deal with them with more guidance and authority on how they should behave on your page,” says Merz.

Any social media channels, she adds, should be in lockstep with the customer services of a business as they understand how to response and resolve issues. “There are cases where you’ll find comments of customers about their parcel on a social media platform of a logistics provider. Our response is: we hear you, and we will put you in touch with customer services in your local market. This way, you can connect them and take it [offline] to address the problem.”

On brands that get social media right, Merz praises GoPro and Lululemon, which focus on the outcome of what their products can deliver rather than the technical capabilities of products themselves. She also credits Asia’s Next Top Model, a Text100 client. “It’s on all the different social media, it’s multi-market, it’s got a really complex feedback loop for ongoing engagement and improvement, and strong issues management,” she says.

Sentiments are often expressed on social media channels, and they can be inflammatory when groups criticize each other and engage in a heated debate based purely on emotions. “We diffuse it by not shutting down those comments but using hashtags [in response],” Merz says. The role of social media is to help people engage positively and stay connected with brands and issues they are passionate about. When there is significant organic growth as a result of these platforms, it is indicative of good content and a good social media strategy.