Getting on the Social Media Bus

If company x does not tell its own story, someone else will.

While it may be hard to believe, company x in the above quote is actually the US Air Force.

In their recently released “New Media and the Air Force” guide, this quote was published at the end of the introduction.  Further, the Guide states that this new policy is not a major shift of resources from traditional media to new media.  Rather it is the recognition that digital communications provides a new toolset that can be leveraged by the Air Force and it’s more than 300,000 Airmen.  If organizations like the Air Force and other military groups which have traditionally exercised tight control in their media relations are adding social media to their PR arsenal, then it’s about time for Corporate America to get on the “Social Media Bus” too – and follow the Air Force’s lead.

Social Media Bus

Social Media Bus

Yet many companies, especially in the b2b space, are ignoring social media channels.  I don’t get it and furthermore, there is no excuse today for not participating.

First, participating is social media is generally a cost effective way to find out what people are saying about your brand or product.  The leading social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are free to use and the only expense is the time it takes to start learning and participating in interactive dialogues with your customers, prospects and partners.

Second, participating in social media allows you to find out all sorts of interesting tidbits that can improve your brand, support and sales.  For example, just by searching for your company name in Twitter would yield results for most companies that are selling a product or service.   You can quickly identify product champions and passionate users, address unknown support issues before they get out of hand and uncover potential sales leads.

Here are few things that companies can do to get on the “Social Media Bus”:

Start listening now – The first step is to find out what is being said about your company.  You can start by setting up some alerts on your company name and competitors using Google Alerts, view Twitter feeds using Tweetizen and find Facebook groups that are related to your industry or prodict.

Test the waters – Companies do not have to “jump in feet first”, but need to get started now by experimenting with various social media tools.  For example, set up a Twitter account and start building up followers by seeing who is talking about you or your industry.  (see my Simple Advice for Brands on Twitter blog post from April for more info.)  Start writing a corporate blog to share interesting information about what is going on in your company.  Or you could set up a LinkedIn group or Facebook fan page to augment your brand.

Be open – One of my constant reminders to people getting started in social media activities is the importance of being open and transparent.   You are never going to be able to control the conversation – however, participation shows that you are a caring and concerned company who is actively trying and listening.  Customers will appreciate and reward the effort.

Engage your troops – While you may want to control and set directives from a centralized location, the companies that will succeed in social media are companies that encourage their employees to participate too.  In the US Air Force Policy Letter from September 2006 on engaging all 330,000 Airmen in public relations efforts, the Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne noted that “success of this effort will rely on making every Airman an ambassador for our Air Force, at home and abroad.”  Ultimately, social media is all about telling and sharing stories and employees are in the best position to share those stories better than anyone else.

So, who do you want telling your story?

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