Social media is one of the most powerful forms of communication in modern-day society. In its early days, it was a tool to connect with family and distant friends. However, it has fast become a hugely influential device, arming the regular person a public voice that can reach millions in a matter of seconds.
Rather than subjecting themselves to long, costly and arduous phone conversations with major, multinational company, consumers are contacting corporates through Facebook and Twitter, and receiving responses within minutes. The benefits of this are mutual – the customer’s problem is resolved quickly and the company scores public points for its quick competency.
But, while companies such as Virgin and Vodafone can use social media to its marketing advantage, could it be too risky for brokers?
The director of Australia’s Atomic Social Media, Stewart Dawes, pictured below, weighs up the pros and cons.
“Social media can create a huge PR factor for a broker but only if it is done well and the company commits to it at an advanced level,” he says. “But the company has to be willing to step ahead of its competitors.”
As the Australian public increasingly use social media to gage opinion on companies and issues, Dawes believes companies that devise a comprehensive social media strategy, can easily score brownie points with customers.
“There is potential for clients to look in touch with the trends and social media savvy customers,” he explains. “If a broker fixes a customer’s problem and is seen to be doing so in social media, that can be hugely positive.”
“You can ask customers what they want from your business and how you can improve customer service. This way the company is perceived as having a culture of customer engagement and perhaps that perceived culture is more important than the actual service provided,” he says.
Dawes also points out that brokers can also save on staff costs.
“It is much cheaper to interact with customers via Twitter or Facebook than via a phone call or face-to-face,” he explains. “It can save you money on staff costs over time.”
But he warns against brokers using social media to market products and services.
“If you have sales-driven pursuit and use social media to broadcast you message or flog your products and services, people will turn off,” he says. “By doing that you are not being very social. People do not use social media to be spammed.”
However, social media, for all its benefits, can potentially cause reputational damage. In the run-up to Sydney’s mayoral elections, candidate Clover Moore took to Twitter to ramp-up her campaign, using (hashtag) #teamclover. However, a number of social commentators hijacked the hashtag and used it to verbally abuse Moore.
“Every third or fourth tweet was negative,” Dawes says,"But she had enough support to not let the negative social media affect her campaign. I’m not sure small brokers will. They might find there is a definite risk in engaging in social media. It can open them up to community backlash that they did not think was possible.”
While Dawes says social media can be extremely beneficial, “there is also the potential to look like a laughing stock if the strategy is ill-thought out.”
Top tips for engaging in social media
“Social media is a PR and branding exercise,” Dawes says. “If sales department handles your social media, you have a serious problem.”
“If you stick your logo on Twitter or Facebook, you’re social media strategy is likely to fail. If you humanise it by making a person the face of the company, it’s likely to succeed. Richard Branson, for example, is clearly the face of Virgin. The broker needs someone to be the John Newton of insurance.”
“Get an expert in to help you build up your audience; otherwise you will be stumbling along wondering how everybody else does it.”
“You need to look good very early on. You cannot go into social media half-baked.”
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“Have social media policies for your staff. Plan your strategy carefully.
“It will take up a lot of resources. Any notion of return on investment should be suspended for 18 months to a year. Think of the bigger picture.”