5 Ways to Integrate Social Media into your Communication Strategy

Social media use by businesses and brands doesn't have to be restricted to marketing. Twitter, Facebook and other social media can be integrated into an organization's complete external communication strategy as well (disclaimer--it's true, just about anything a business or brand does can be reduced to marketing, and I don't mean to say that any of these elements are not).

External communication strategies help organizations understand where they want to go, they build goals and create processes that make the machine of the organization run smoothly. While there are numerous communication efforts that make up a comprehensive communication strategy, here are five that can integrate social media to better reach the customers, users and consumers.

1. Messaging

This one is fairly obvious: we can use social media to shape the message about our brand and business. However, what I mean to focus on is what other users say about us to shape our brand and message. Again, no surprise, but what is surprising is that so few organizations are taking advantage of this.

How many brands have, for example, Delicious accounts where they've bookmarked positive 3rd-party reviews of their products or services? How many have devoted portions of their website to bring together that content and showcase it for other customers? Very few. In fact, Adobe is the only one that has really gone out of its way to gather all of the content out there for other users, through social bookmarking and the community it hosts.

And consider the fact that customers often trust 3rd party independent sources for reviews about information. This has been found true in study after study. Most recently this result was found again but specifically focused on bloggers. The study found that 88% of active blog readers trust the information they get from familiar blogs, and over 50% make purchases based on the blog's recommendations.

Knowing this, why wouldn't we aggregate every positive review, video, forum entry, tweet and post that we can find to one place?

2. Technical Support

Social media-based technical support has been growing in popularity recently, as pointed out in a recent article posted on Yahoo!. Two weeks ago, ticked off at the interruption of Netflix streaming--always happens around 9pm or so--I sent a nasty tweet about @qwest. Turns out, @qwest isn't even the data services company, but someone named Anantha Padmanabha, who gets a LOT of nasty tweets.

Anyway, I was a bit surprise when an hour later I had a mention from @Qwest_cares telling me to DM them my information and they'd get right on top of it. I can't tell you how much nicer this is than calling Qwest, which I would rank just under getting a root canal without pain killer. 

Many companies are doing this, like Dell and HP, and according the article by PCWorld, these companies have plans to expand, not cut back on such support.

Twitter isn't the only channel either. Companies are using Facebook in a similar manner: replying to posts and answering questions either through messages or as replies to a comment or wall post. At the very least, businesses and brands should get a Twitter account similar to @Qwest_cares. Monitor mentions and messages, and begin connecting with people immediately and solving their problems in the social environment.

3. Crisis Communication

After the 2007 massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech, most universities scrambled to form some type of crisis communication strategy. I was teaching at the University of Memphis at the time, and the strategy they implemented was pretty much the strategy implemented at universities and colleges throughout the United States.

If an emergency occurs (which began as serious events like the shooting, but quickly devolved to include bad weather), first, the campus sends email alerts to all faculty, staff and students. Then, the university sends out a text message to mobile phones.

And that's it.

In combination with faculty and staff roaming the hallways to tell students and others what to do, the colleges relied on email and tm's. The problems with this strategy should be obvious. For starters the message needs to be instantaneous and read by the people it's aimed towards. Email alerts are great if we're at a desk with a "You've Got Mail" or some other cue to let us know we got a message, but otherwise they might prove useless. And as for the TM plan, as I found out, you had opt-in to the system, which about 10% of people did.

When I became director of web communication at New Mexico Tech I started looking for ways to better leverage the popularity of our social media presence. While only 10-12% of students are signed up for text message alerts, almost 60% are Facebook Fans. Our new plan involves the phone messaging and email alerts, but also: an automated system that places a pre-scripted message at the top of the news items on the homepage of NMT's website that syndicates the message to both Facebook and Twitter.

We've used the system only for hazardous weather conditions and it performed brilliantly, keeping faculty and staff at home and telling students that there were no classes. A similar program should be put in place for every business that may need a crisis communication plan to ensure the maximum amount of exposure to important alert messages.

4. Training and Tutorials

How many how-to videos are there on Youtube? A quick search of "how to" in Youtube turns up almost 3 million videos. Some are goofy, like the 3rd one I see now, "How to Look Good for a Date" but nevertheless there are a lot of them. Now, imagine you make a product with a ton of uses, configurations, or settings. You know of course that you need to show people how to use it, but imagine the cost of demonstrating every different method.

Instead of wasting your own resources, why not harness what your customers are already doing? That's exactly what Adobe does (and no, I don't work for them, but they really seem to get it). Through their community site Adobe promotes expert users who aren't necessarily affiliated with Adobe, but who create content to train others users. They also actively promote this system to other users and solicit feedback throughout this content.

Start by searching out content your customers have made that demonstrates how to use your products or service. Create a site or area that consolidates this information into a single place, and encourage customers to create more. If they create content that corrects or extends the instructions and training you make, don't view it as competition, instead look at it as work you didn't have to do.

5. Technical Documentation

Social media is easily search-able, easily shared, and easily syndicated to mobile devices. These factors make it a perfect platform to provide technical documentation and user-assistance to customers. It could be as simple as Dell's support tab on their Facebook page, or as complex as a wiki site devoted to the Linux system. In either or any case, businesses and brands that distribute technical documentation should take advantage of using social media to share that information.

A further benefit is that social media provides the opportunity for feedback, which is often needed and always welcomed. Traditional documentation is pretty removed from the customers it's designed for, and feedback--like pointing out missing or wrong information--could be difficult to bring to the attention of the writers who created the documentation in the first place. And once made aware of the mistakes there's often a pretty long timeline before that information makes it into the next series of deliverables. Social media removes this chasm between reader and writer, and let's businesses and brands update information as soon as it's needed.

Word One Consulting
clint @ wordoneconsulting.com
2263 S. Main
Las Cruces, NM 88005