New, social, and worth investing in

Not long ago it was being said that social or new media was just a fad and that it would soon vanish, even more recently the same was being said about Twitter. While Twitter’s use is clearly still dominated by the likes of Britney Spears  and Stephen Fry telling us what they had for breakfast (and let’s not forget building their own ‘brand’ in the process), we are now seeing more and more businesses and organisations using the platform for their own PR and communications purposes.

For a while plenty of firms have been using Twitter to tell us about their ‘latest sale’ or as another distribution point for their press releases, but the smarter ones have come at new media with a willingness to engage, rather than just ‘sell’.

One solid business ‘endorsement’ of the Twitter platform was announced a few days ago by Gatwick Airport who are going to actively encourage live feedback on their service via Twitter. While this is initially just a trial, it is hoped that this 24 hour customer service approach will take-off, so to speak. What is interesting about this communications move is that if a company like Gatwick Airport is taking the plunge into using Twitter in a fairly serious way, then surely many others will soon follow their lead.

It’s undoubtedly the case that organisations can and have been using a range of new media tools to assist or even define the way they communicate but as with more traditional methods, it can horrible back-fire when done badly.

BT Care gained some good PR out of a potential crisis last year by responding very quickly to a customer complaint. The frustrated customer had no luck calling the BT helpline (ironic?) and so made himself heard by tweeting his problem. BT Care was quick to reply and show they wanted to help resolve the situation. This case of course highlighted the failure of one part of the company while showcasing the effectiveness of BT’s in-house social media team – not exactly an overall success but it did stop a problem from getting worse.

Another company who you might expect to be on top of social media, claimed that they achieved over $1m of sales, in just one year, thanks to Twitter. As a ‘reward’ to all their Twitter followers, Dell released specific discounts and deals on their feed which ended up handing them a massive revenue boost. Even if you are cynical about this claim and about Twitter itself, this is certainly a sign that companies are putting their weight behind social media.

Gatorade has even gone as far as to create a veritable ‘war room’ which monitors everything that’s being said about their brand in real-time. The fact that they have devoted such resources to social media interaction is another example of the shift in marketing methods that businesses are now taking.

However, for all the positive stories on the web, there are of course plenty of negative ones, for example the Nestle fan page on Facebook which eventually caused one of their PR advisors to apologise for making mistakes and for being rude.

Another company which has faced a backlash is BP, which was the subject of their own spoof video; ‘BP Spills Coffee’. The clip swept across YouTube pages like wildfire and showed a group of executives displaying utter incompetence when trying to clean up a simple spillage. Also, a fake BP Twitter account set up to mock the company’s crisis response has almost 200,000 followers and is still growing.

Using social media platforms to build a client, or customer relationship and market a brand is clearly able to pay dividends for many organisations but as with all communications strategies it needs to be approached with some care, thought through properly and then persevered with, otherwise you may find your brand is the butt of a joke in the latest viral video.

Written by Will Edwards – – July 2010

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