Online Exclusive

Selling Social Media to Your CEO

Social media is all the buzz. For some, utilizing new media tools may come as second nature. For others, however, entering the world of social media means taking a giant leap into the world of online communications.

Each and every day, social media tools change the way that organizations interact with their users. Not only do these new platforms offer more personal one-on-one interaction than traditional mediums, but they represent the essence of niche marketing.

Today, utilization of many social media tools is seen as an "added-value" opportunity. As society transforms, these tools will quickly become a necessity for those looking to communicate. It will be imperative that you are equipped with the knowledge and ability to meet your customers where they are conversing.

Gone are the days when having a Web site was the extent of your online presence. Gone are the times when your only microphone was a daily newspaper and nightly television broadcast.

Even today, many traditional outlets are tapping into social media tools to broadcast consumer news. Front page stories, radio interviews and television programming are being built around consumer-generated content. Why? These tools give full and direct access to their target audiences. What's more – is that these tools allow them to not only push information outward, but interact with their users throughout the process.

In this sense, anyone with a computer and content has become an instantaneous journalist. Certainly with interaction and consumer-generated information, comes risk. Many organizations and CEOs are fearful of losing control over their brand and message. The truth is, consumers and end-users can affect and discuss your brand via these social media outlets regardless of whether you have an account or not. Ignorance is not bliss.

All organizations are encouraged to listen as a first step. Observe the activity on these social media outlets to see what people are saying. This will enable you to begin understanding the types of conversations happening amongst your target audience, and the need for a response.

One of the most frequent questions encountered is, "What if someone says something negative about your organization? This is such a public and visible platform." The response: 1) People have the ability to talk negatively about your organization right now; whether you're listening or not. Regardless of whether you even have an account setup. 2) Given that it's a visible platform, your organization has the opportunity to respond in a very public way – and potentially alter the opinion of not just the individual who made the negative comment, but all those watching.

Prior to development of these online tools, organizations would receive hand-written letters, phone calls or in-person complaints. Many still do. These channels of communication are not simply vanishing. However, online conversations need to be considered and evaluated in the same manner.

Social media has proven to be a powerful and cost-effective communication tool for many organizations across the globe. Specifically for transit or commuter organizations, the constant motion of activity gives the unique need to keep users up-to-date. These new media platforms allow for more personalize real-time communication yielding such results as increased ridership, awareness and community support from stakeholders.

One of the key benefits of social media as a communication tool is its flexibility. These tools have the ability to take on many shapes and sizes – depending on your organizational goals and needs. Social media can be used as a PR tool not only for promoting events and updates, but also for crisis control and prevention. It gives your agency the opportunity to frame a story and release all of the applicable facts to the public before traditional media has an opportunity to broadcast the news.

Social media can also be used as a marketing tool helping to engage, educate and inform users about transit services. Engaging users online can foster a positive relationship between your organization and potential consumers. The personalized nature of social media can result in strengthened community partnerships and outreach.

Social media can also be used as a customer relations tool, where the efforts of transit call centers can also be devoted to monitoring and responding to customers via social media. Often times, users are more apt to complain about an issue using a social media tool than they would via phone call or letter. By monitoring keywords, your organization will be able to respond to complaints you were previously unaware of, and preempt backlash that could grow from a user's negative experience.

The truth is, to connect with consumers your organization must evaluate and understand which tools they are using to communicate. By turning a blind eye to these online tools, your organization risks overlooking key segments of the population.

Social media tools are ever-evolving, as each day new platforms are created. As with anything unfamiliar, at first these new tools and guidelines will be overwhelming. (It's alright if your head is spinning.) Begin with listening, then get plugged in and start talking. Experience is truly the best teacher.

Communication is moving in this direction – with or without your organization. Get onboard.

Kelly Robertson is a principal at BowStern Marketing Communications.