Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The importance of integrated social media strategy

Two incidents in the past week have highlighted the dangers of businesses treating social media as a stand-alone communication channel that sits separately from the company’s core business.

The first will no doubt become a classic PR case study. On the day that British Gas chose to announce significant fuel price rises, its PR department went ahead with a planned Twitter Chat, hashtagged '#askBG'. The team had billed it as an opportunity to ask questions of the Customer Services Director, Bert Pijls. The timing simply couldn’t have been worse. The twitter storm that ensued was huge, as disgruntled consumers used the opportunity to post tweets such as:

"Hi Bert, which items of furniture do you, in your humble opinion, think people should burn first this winter? #ask BG"

The hashtag trended globally and ended up on the front page of the Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph. Similarly yesterday Ryan Air’s ‘larger than life’ CEO Michael O’Leary, took to Twitter for another live Q&A. The idea was that passengers could post questions to the airline’s boss, using the hashtag '#GrillMOL'. However the CEO seemed unaware that his inappropriate response to one of the first questioners – a woman – would be seen by everyone. His comment (“Nice pic. Phwoaaarr! MOL”) was rapidly re-tweeted and from there he was back-pedalling.

It could be argued that O’Leary’s combative entrance onto Twitter is simply another extension of the brand ‘that everyone loves to hate’. However it was his clear lack of understanding of the platform that suggested this was a mere add-on activity.

Both cases highlight how social media, despite its increasing importance to a brand’s overall presence, is still underestimated in terms of its reach, impact and how consumers use it. In order to use social effectively, those that are handling the platforms have to be ready to answer questions about every part of the business. Social is not a channel that can be controlled. Customers will use it to talk to brands about everything, so the message has to be plan, plan and plan some more. By ensuring that social is at the heart of every big announcement and each small detail, brands can use it as an incredibly effective customer engagement tool.

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