Should Some Companies Not Use Social Media?

Ted Hunt, Comms Manager at Innocent (the smoothie company) raised an interesting question yesterday at Media140. He was pointing out that, even before social media marketing had emerged,...

InnocentTed Hunt, Comms Manager at Innocent (the smoothie company) raised an interesting question yesterday at Media140. He was pointing out that, even before social media marketing had emerged, Innocent was already actively engaging with customers in a quirky, fun kind of way. He put this down to the character of the founder, Richard Reed, who has a naturally humorous and laid-back way with people and, as a result, is exactly the kind of person who thrives engaging in cheeky banter and chat on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the like. With a brand built in that image, Innocent were always going to have a popular blog and Twitter account.

The question being – does the character (or “brand”) of a company dictate how successful it is likely to be in social media? Does a laid-back, fun-loving, youthful company stand a better chance of success on Facebook, Twitter and the like than an ancient, grey, corporate monolith?

Well, as Amelia Torode of VCCP (who was on the same panel as Ted) pointed out, some large corporates have such torturous processes and regulations that it takes at least  48 hours for a Tweet to be approved by the lawyers – if indeed it is approved! This would make for rather stilted conversations, to say the least. In my experience the unwillingness for companies to free up staff and allow them to engage with customers via social media is subsiding – but there are undoubtedly still a large number of bosses who don’t “get” social media and shudder at the thought of their IT Support guy talking to customers.

But the question goes deeper than mere attitudes. Should the ethos of a company preclude it from engaging in social media? Or, put another way, are some companies so dowdy and uncool that encountering them on Facebook would feel like getting a friend request from your dad?

The fact that BT, Dell and other huge corporates have successfully integrated Twitter into their customer services offerings proves that, if the need exists, people will engage with corporates via social media. Now, it’s tempting to say that this isn’t marketing – it’s “customer services” – but I think the days of those silos have gone. In social media customer services IS marketing precisely because it’s SOCIAL. In these terms the BT brand – which definitely isn’t young, hip and cool – is doing just fine using social media.

So perhaps the question is: does being a funky, relaxed kind of brand help a company to engage via social media? Well, I think it might help in terms of the tone of voice. There’s nothing quite like the fear of getting the sack for killing off any cheeky comments and jokes you might want to share with customers. If the organisation is more easy going, the real character of it’s staff can come through online – and that’s absolute gold in terms of online engagement. Witness the huge success of Amelia’s Compare the MeerKat Twitter account, in which Aleksandr the Russian Meerkat and his IT guy, Sergei, entertain 30,000 followers with their Meerkat price comparison chatter.  Price comparison ain’t that interesting, until you add a couple of speaking, Russian, Meerkats. There’s a lesson for big business in there somewhere.

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