If Twitter were a real-life party, the average Canadian marketer would be the one standing alone in the corner. He’s often the first one to arrive to stake out his position in the crowd. But he’s not quite sure what to do while he’s there. Should he wait for someone to talk to him? Or should he strike up a conversation with other partygoers? Should he carefully listen to what people are saying and interject when the timing’s right?
Some of the other guests wonder why he bothers showing up if he isn’t there to socialize. But it always seems like a good idea at the time, because he’d rather be there doing nothing, than on the outside looking in.
When it comes to the adoption of a new platform or technology, Canadian marketers are often there—like with Twitter. But five years after the site first hit the scene, marketers are still standing in the corner. Some companies don’t know what to do with it, how often to use it, how to respond to mentions, how often to respond to mentions, or who should even run the corporate Twitter account.
When it comes down to it, Canadian businesses are not utilizing social media resources to engage their customers to the extent that they could, or should. A new survey by SAS Canada and Leger Marketing conducted in January 2011 found that less than one-fifth (17%) of Canadian companies regularly monitor and post to social media sites.
“You have to have a strategy in place and you have to understand [how to navigate this space],” says Donna Marie Antoniadis, co-founder and CEO of ShesConnected Multimedia Corp, a Toronto-based agency that provides online community management services for brands and agencies looking to target the female consumer.
Canadian companies are still trying to get comfortable with Twitter and understand that it can do everything from build a brand to provide customer service—all in 140 characters or less. Within the framework of brand guidelines, Twitter offers a great opportunity to have both a “consistent and fluid brand experience, tailored to the consumers’ questions, thoughts or opinions,” says Maggie Fox, founder of Social Media Group.
So why aren’t Canadian companies better at Twitter? What has them running scared?
Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, says brands are still learning how to deal with consumers one-on-one in a very public way. Twitter is a volatile barometer of public sentiment and many companies don’t necessarily want to discuss every issue in that environment. In the past, dissatisfied customers would call a customer service line and deal with the company directly, and privately.
If a company was dealing with a crisis management issue, the media relations team or legal department were put on damage control. The issue was addressed by way of a press release or an official statement. Either way, the company had more control over what print or broadcast media outlets were saying.
“Companies have never interacted with consumers this way and so what you’re seeing is companies reacting almost as if their people are media entities,” he says.
Joel suggests looking at it from the perspective of a consumer packaged goods company that until recently dealt only with retailers. Interacting with consumers forces a company to act and behave differently.
“Suddenly in this channel a lot of brands that have never had this interaction have to deal with their consumers… It creates a new culture and DNA within an organization.”
Because of the immediacy of Twitter, it does tend to see a lot of knee-jerk reactions and content from consumers, says Ed Lee, social media director at Tribal DDB. “Organizations have to make a decision how they want to deal with these reactions or if they want to lead the conversation around their brand.”
It’s important to have a Twitter plan in place. Know your objectives and strategy and, more importantly, how they fit in with the business objectives and culture, says Lee. If it’s appropriate, “give your employees permission to engage on Twitter without constraining them too heavily,” he says.
Twitter offers the opportunity to be both proactive and reactive—“sharing the human side of who you are and what you do with outbound messaging and news, as well as responding to inquiries in a way that consistently embodies your brand,” says Fox.
But give your brand a voice. “If it’s appropriate, give your employees permission to engage on Twitter without constraining them too heavily,” says Lee. “They are your people, they epitomize your brand and can be your greatest salespeople.”
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