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4 principles of smart social campaigns for business

Robert Strohmeyer | Jan. 31, 2012
There's no shortage of talk about engagement in marketing circles, but really honestly engaging with people (not just customers, but any target audience) is a lot harder than most of us are willing to admit. It takes real work. It takes creativity. It takes a sincere desire to understand the people whose influence can elevate your brand. And, critically, it takes a commitment to create social content that resonates with the personalities you're trying to reach.

There can be little doubt that the Domino's leadership fought through some tough internal struggles on its road to social recovery, but the fact that the company now uses the phrase "We were one of the worst offenders" in its new ad campaign displays a delightful capacity for self-awareness and offers customers a reason to give the company another try.

3. Be Transparent

It should seem obvious, but the fact that the social web is a two-way channel seems to elude many companies. Earlier this month, McDonald's re-learned this lesson the hard way when its #McDStories hashtag was highjacked by Twitter users poking fun at the company's reputation for budget dining and minimalist service. Within an hour, it was clear that the attempted campaign had run completely off the rails, and the company has since become more associated with the hashtag #McFail.

While one could argue that the misstep here could have largely owed to a shortage of self-awareness within the organization (did they know what people really think of the brand?), the company also made some of the same mistakes we saw in Nestle's 2010 Twitter meltdown. They were just too slow to respond, and rather than tackle the problem with direct acknowledgement, they tried to simply pull the hashtag from use (a hopeless cause), leaving it entirely in the hands of jokers and pranksters.

When in doubt, be direct. There's no place to hide on the social web, and you can't trick people into liking your brand (or shutting up when they don't). However, a little transparency and humility go a long way with social media users, and a company that gets involved in an ongoing discussion and shows the public how hard it's trying to do the right thing will generally stand a very good chance of turning the conversation around.

What's more difficult -- but potentially much more rewarding for the brand -- is a more exhaustive policy of social transparency. Don't just leave social media to underlings. Get involved from the top down. When CEOs tweet, people listen, and it can be very good for the brand.

4. Be Proactive

For most businesses -- especially smaller ones with regional or local brands -- the idea of a full-scale #McFail or Nestle-style Twitter fiasco would be something to aspire to. Rather, it's often hard enough to get anyone to come interact with your brand. But if you're listening strategically and responding transparently to your customers, you'll likely spot plenty of opportunities to proactively drive engagement.

In good times, that means listening to the praise you're getting online and rewarding vocal customers by reaching out to them with special offers (not canned specials, mind you, but real special offers just for those users who've been so kind to your business). In tough times, that means responding to criticism with genuine interest and concern, and taking the initiative to turn critics into fans by solving their problems. Comcast pioneered this approach with its Comcast Cares Twitter feed, and the practice has spread to most forward-thinking brands on the social web.


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